Finding a Way
John Paul II & John XXIII offer models of how to evangelize in a context of political upheaval
In the last week or so I’ve had two friends ask me the same hard question about evangelizing, though in different ways. What follows is how I answered them. If nothing else, I got some practice in answering questions that Catholics, as strangers in a strange land, need to address.
My friend Tim, with whom I discuss Aquinas in a study group, asked me how we could evangelize without “politicizing” the Gospel. (A follow up question, I suppose, is how we could respect the Eucharist without “weaponizing” it.) In reply, I said that we could look to the social encyclicals of St. John Paul II as models of how to evangelize in a context of political upheaval. And we would do well to look back to St. John XXIII and his Peace on Earth (Pacem in Terris).
Both saints understood full well that the Gospel has profound political implications. Both underlined its implications for life, for freedom, for economic justice, and for peace. They called for civic friendship.
The Gospel, they understood, is sharper than any two-edged sword. It is unapologetically divisive when we need to call things by their proper names. Not surprisingly, both insisted that an unjust law is no law at all.
Another friend is thoroughly political. He’s a serious campaign consultant. I met Ilya while campaigning for a new mayor for my adopted hometown, Inglewood, California. We lost, and now we’re saddled with two NFL teams. Concussion City, USA.
Ilya met with a couple of focus groups to test the message of the American Solidarity Party, which is the message of my own campaign in the special gubernatorial recall election. Turns out, Ilya reports, that the focus groups are positive, except for our insistence on legal protection for unborn babies.
Based on his polling, Ilya asked whether we could limit ourselves to speaking about our economic position and emphasize our support for good prenatal care. We’d have a better chance of reaching folks if we did. Given his Russian background, Ilya also pointed out that the abortion rate in Russia is being steadily reduced simply by using economic incentives for growing families.
Well, I thanked Ilya for his research. I understand why he asked the question he did. In a follow up email I wrote:
With regard to abortion, here are a couple of considerations.
1. Not making legislation protecting the unborn a priority today is like not making legislation against slavery a priority in the past.
2. Russian culture has been less scarred by the possessive individualism than is contemporary America.
Most of the Republicans opposing Governor Newsom oppose abortion but do so as quietly and infrequently as possible. But the American Solidarity Party is persistently and proudly pro-life for the whole of life.
As for Russian culture, it has been more scarred by state-sanctioned atheism than American culture has been scarred by the new agnosticism of the “nones.” But the enduring legacy of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, both favorites of Dorothy Day, is a brake on the “mine-mine-mine” mantra of possessive individualism.
I’m waiting for Ilya to get back to me on my reply.
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