The right-wing CNS News is reveling in a video clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking to the independent National Catholic Reporter’s Washington Briefing held in Washington last month. In the clip, Pelosi is seen discussing how she believes Catholic doctrine informs public policy:
[W]e have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word. The Word. Isn’t it a beautiful word when you think of it? It just covers everything. The Word.
Fill it in with anything you want. But, of course, we know it means: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” And that’s the great mystery of our faith. He will come again. He will come again. So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.
I say CNS is reveling because it wants to portray the publishers of the NCR and Pelosi, who are Catholic think independently of the Church hierarchy, as phony Catholics. Pelosi, CNS is quick to point out, “favors legalized abortion, voted against the ban on partial-birth abortion that was enacted into law in 2003.” So of course it questions her commitment to measure up to the Word.
CNS didn’t treat us to the entirety of Pelosi’s remarks — whether she applied Catholic social justice teaching to policy on, say, health care reform (which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops refused to support over supposed abortion funding) or immigration (which the USCCB will refuse to support if it includes spousal sponsorship rights for same-sex couples). For the conservatives, there’s only one kind of good Catholic, and Pelosi will never measure up.
But that’s exactly what this event designed to counter. The organizers portrayed it as important because “No longer are American Catholics called to simply ‘pay, pray and obey.’ Not only does a healthy church require the full, active participation of its members, informed Catholics are called to lead the way in building an inclusive, tolerant and just society. That makes information and networking at all levels vital if we are to provide clear voices and strong leadership on today’s pressing issues.”
We’ve been writing quite a bit about the Democrats’ faith outreach this week, and Pelosi’s speech at this event (where anti-choice Democratic Senator Bob Casey also spoke) appears to be part of what the party is doing, even while the religious outreach staff inside the walls of the Democratic National Committee has vanished. But I have serious doubts about whether a politician talking “authentically” (as the political consultants like to say) about their faith is actually seen as “authentic” by voters (particularly since it’s political consultants who have sold their services to help with that “authentic” talk). Voters want to see action, don’t they? Legislation, policy, stuff like that.
Like I said, CNS had an agenda in publishing that tiny clip — to harp on Pelosi’s pro-choice position and quite obviously also to get a rise out of secular progressives who don’t like to see the mixing of denominational religion and politics. But the clip points the ongoing tensions in Democrats’ religious outreach: saying that policy has to measure up to Jesus’ teachings — and in this case, the Catholic version in particular — turns off some voters and fails to move its intended audience if that policy doesn’t actually deliver.