PRESS EDITORIAL: Political times too toxic for a prayer

You are well informed, understand how the federal and state governments work, have formed opinions based on your values about the issues and the elected and appointed political officials of government institutions who deal with them and enjoy expressing your own political views in discussions with others.

But you keep your mouth shut—unless you are absolutely certain the people with whom you share your ideas about government and politics will agree with you or at least not be offended.

That this walking-on-eggshells approach is the new normal for many Americans is a gauge of the width and toxicity of the political divide. Pretty much gone are the days when political disagreements could be aired in spirited discussions without offense being given and taken. Today, frankly expressing political views can destroy friendships and even divide families.

An example of the latter, which some political observers find titillating, involves a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. senator and his parents, who live in Mequon. The candidate is Kevin Nicholson, who was once president of the College Democrats of American, but has since been reborn as a conservative Republican. According to news reports, his parents disapprove of his political conversion so strongly that they have become generous donors to the campaign of Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who could face Nicholson in the general election in fall.

The resentful political air across the land is fueled in considerable part by emissions from the toxic environment that obtains in the U.S. Congress. This was on garish display last when it was revealed that House Speaker Paul Ryan had fired the House chaplain. The chaplain, Father Patrick J. Conroy, a Catholic priest, said he was asked to resign because Ryan and other members of the House did not approve of a prayer he offered when Congress was debating tax overhaul.

So, what was so offensive about the prayer given by a Jesuit priest ministering to lawmakers? Let’s see if we can figure it out by reading the part of the prayer that was reported to have led to Father Conroy’s dismissal:

“As legislation on taxes continues to be debated, may all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle. May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

Was it the reference to the radical notion of equal opportunity? Or the dangerous concept of fairness in sharing benefits? More likely, it was that Ryan and others heard a petition to God to guide lawmakers as a coded criticism of tax law changes that benefited the wealthy more than the poor. Only in this age of ideological intolerance could a prayer as innocuous as this be construed as a political statement.

After giving the prayer, according to Conroy, Ryan warned him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

Conroy, who has been the House chaplain for seven years, said he has never before been accused of mixing politics and religion. He is the first congressional chaplain in the history of the U.S. to be fired. Call it a sign of the times.

Catholic House members of both parties are quite upset by the firing. Some evangelical Christian members, on the other hand, seem to approve and have said that a chaplain from their own branch of Christianity should be appointed.

That would surely infuriate Catholic representatives. But replacing Conroy with another priest would antagonize evangelical Christian members.

We have a suggestion for Speaker Ryan. Take a cue from King Solomon, who is lauded in religious history for avoiding conflict in his decisions from the throne, and appoint neither a Catholic nor an evangelical Christian.

Since Christian guidance obviously has not done much to leaven the bitter partisan divide, name a rabbi, a Buddhist priest or a mulla as chaplain. A little diversity after all, is good for the soul.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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