Monday, September 11, 2017

Bannon Is Almost Right. But It's Not A Sin.

Chris Cillizza in his "The 48 most revealing lines of Steve Bannon's 60 Minutes interview" got it right about Donald Trump (not) specifically being a counter puncher, but somewhat wrong responding to one of Bannon's most controversial remarks.

He quotes Bannon as "Because unable to really to come to grips with the problems in the church, they need illegal aliens, they need illegal aliens to fill the churches" and responds

Um, what? By Bannon's logic, the reason the Catholic Church opposes the repeal of DACA is because they know the faith is struggling and the only way to make their numbers is to allow undocumented immigrants to pack into their church services.

Bet you didn't know that.

He's right- I didn't.   That's because as phrased by Cillizza, "the only way to make their numbers is to allow undocumented immigrants to pack into their church services," the statement is accurate. A year ago, the Public Religion Research Institute (report here; analysis here) found

While non-white Protestants and non-Christian religious groups have remained fairly stable, white Protestants and Catholics have all experienced declines, with Catholics suffering the largest decline among major religious groups: a 10-percentage point loss overall. Nearly one-third (31%) of Americans report being raised in a Catholic household, but only about one in five (21%) Americans identify as Catholic currently.

(In the interests of full disclosure: the decline among mainline Protestant denominations is even greater than in the Roman Catholic Church but increases among evangelical denominations keep the overall Protestant drop below the Catholic drop.)

Religious denominations generally, and their member congregations specifically, recognize that the decline in church attendance and affiliation is especially severe among young people. PRRI noted

And while 21% of the total population currently identifies as Catholic, only 15% of young adults ages 18–29 say they are Catholic, which is not a particularly encouraging trend line for the Catholic Church.

Nonetheless, Bannon was off when he prefaced the statement quoted by Cillizza with "The Catholic Church has been terrible about this. The bishops have been terrible about this. By the way, you know why- you know why." He strongly implied the need for numbers was the sole reason for the church's stance.  By contrast, the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan responded to the initial report of Bannon's charge by arguing

And the Bible is so clear, so clear, that to treat the immigrant with dignity and respect, to make sure that society is just in its treatment of the immigrant is Biblical mandate,.  It's clear from the lips of Jesus when he said, 'Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me. When I was a stranger,' meaning an immigrant or a refugee, 'you welcomed me.'

Sister Simone Campbell, the bus riding director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, already had slammed the Trump Administration's decision to shut down DACA in six months. Hearing of Bannon's complaint, she issued a series of tweets, maintaining "Bannon has forgotten that he is the son of immigrants and forgottten the teachings of his Church," one "whose members support,value & protect immigrant families rather than ter them apart" (although not so much her and ideological allies, it turns out).

There is a happy confluence of openness to immigrants on the grounds of compassion (and, they claim, religious faith) and the need to increase membership and involvement in Roman Catholicism. Further,it is likely that most immigrants from Mexico and points south are at least nominal Catholics.

Cillizza's reaction to Bannon's charge suggests unnecessary defensiveness over the latter motive. There is nothing nefarious in increasing numbers in the pews, without which it is difficult- as Christians might put it- to strengthen an individual's "walk with Christ." Exposing the "unchurched" to worship is a reasonable means of witnessing to non-believers, to which many devout Catholics and Protestants (especially the latter) are devoted.

Give Bannon a little credit, though. Although he is off-kilter, his pronouncement about the Roman Catholic Church's view of immigrants is bold, as well as  pretty good fodder for a blog post.

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