In the history of bad ideas we almost always find that there is always room for another bad idea. This time it is the idea of a “Catholic Tea Party” as promoted by Deal Hudson and others. While I am largely in agreement with the aims of such, I think the name does more harm than good.
I don’t say this because Catholic should not be associated with the political Tea Party movement if they want to, but that the term is another unhelpful politicization of the Church. So many terms adopted from the political sphere become nonsense when applied to Catholic movements. Right, Left, Conservative, Liberal, Progressive, Far Right, Far Left become labels that in the end don’t tell you anything.
I’ve written before about prefix-Catholicism that always narrows the meaning of Catholicism. You don’t need a prefix for universal since any prefix narrows the scope. Ultimately there are only orthodox and heterodox Catholics. But among orthodox Catholics there is also large room for prudential disagreements on how best to live and to apply the Catholic faith.
When you confuse the faith with a political party it makes it easier for someone in the other party to dismiss you.
Fighting against abortion is not a conservative thing, it is a protection of the truth that we are created in the image of God and that the innocent can not be murdered. Doing what we can to help the poor is not a liberal idea, but again the protection of the truth that we are created in the image of God and that we can not limit the scope of the world neighbor.
In the area of prudential application of the faith, these actions often overlap into the political sphere and thus at times we must interact with that sphere. Foremost we need to determine if our prudential actions are indeed motivated by the faith or by a political party. Really everybody believes that we should be good stewards of the environment, to help our neighbor when they are in need, that we have a healthy economy that supports job growth and provides a fair wage. It is such nonsense in politics to accuse others of not having what are really basic agreements. The real disagreements come into place in regards to prudential decisions on how to best achieve these goals. Criticism of policies that don’t meet the goals of course are fair play, but the polemics of people saying the other side hates such and such is useless. These types of polarizations do way too much damage and as Catholics we really should assume good motives of others even if we totally disagree with their means of achieving something.
Some of these disagreements range into the are of the support of things that are intrinsically evil. Where a political party supports an intrinsic evil such as abortion, ESCR, homosexual acts, human cloning, euthanasia, torture, etc they must be totally opposed and every effort made to destroy the support and use of such evils. This should be done without lapsing into the hatred and demonization of those who hold opinions supporting intrinsic evils. Loving our enemies means both that we can have real enemies and that our primary motive must be to seek their repentance.
The identification of the Catholic faith with a specific political party is fraught with danger. In the last century Catholics largely identified with the Democratic Party and when that party started supporting intrinsic evils such as abortion it caused people to diminish this problem. Instead of Catholic Democrats revolting at this corruption, largely excuses were made and the Bishop’s conference decided to go into three monkey mode for decades in regards to this. With so many Catholics making up the Democratic Party then they should have been able to reject this perversion allowed under the corrupting auspices of a false feminism. Moral relativism became the standard in support of this evil and evidence of the trumping of the Catholic faith by political idea. The same thing happened when torture was used by the Bush administration and once again moral relativists decided that an evil could be promoted to bring a greater good. Way to few Catholics who were Republicans spoke against this outrage and mostly when on to advance the same moral relativistic arguments the pro-abortion types advanced.
This confusion between the Catholic faith and the sphere of political parties is a common one and something we must always be aware of. At one time I would have been politically described as a man of the left and now as a man of the right. It is a constant temptation for me to make the error I mentioned and I have to evaluate myself as to whether something I believe is a result of my Catholic faith or a sympathy towards a political party. I do not want to personally make the mistake the Catholic Democrats made when it came to abortion. I might have easily done this in regards to torture when looking for wiggle room in the magisterial documents and finding no such wiggle room. I only pray to continually be intellectually honest enough to not make this mistake in the future. Though it is also seems to me a temptation to say “A pox on both of their houses” since political parties can be useful to advance the common good, just never forget to do what you can on a personal level to do the same.
Now back to the topic of this wordy rant. I certainly think the name “Catholic Tea Party” is a bad idea. I think though the aim of it is mostly correct. The Church is always in need of reform because each of it’s members are always in need of reform. Renewal is always needed, with the caveat that G.K. Chesterton suggested “The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right.” I certainly think a general movement of Catholics who are orthodox in their faith is needed and much good can be done by those Catholics who reform themselves and seek to fully know their faith so that true reform can be achieved.
Now if someone had asked this lowly couch critic the name for such a movement I would have offered one much better than the “Catholic Tea Party”, I would suggest the “Catholic Trent Party.” The Council of Trent was a large leap in the right direction of necessary reform after the Protestant revolt. They made necessary clarification in response to the errors of the day and built upon the constant teaching of the Church to clarify and to achieve this. This reform included such saints as Ignatius of Loyola , Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Francis de Sales. Politicization of the Catholic Church did not achieve this reform, but saints and those living their faith.