Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has a go at reactions to his “interview” with President Obama. I blogged earlier that I simply didn’t find the essay very good, even though on the issue of the morality of abortion, the bishop and I would likely be in total agreement. He seems to be reaching in this latest column. It’s a simple thing to cherry-pick through one’s objectors and find the ones with easy answers. More difficult, surely, would be these:
Bishop Tobin, your serious pro-life objectors aren’t concerned with being nice so much as being as effective as we possibly can be in the public realm. After all, I haven’t been very nice to you: I’ve said your original piece is poor journalism, unimaginative, and shows laziness. We simply need better writers than you, people able to persuade who needs to be persuaded rather than provide fodder for narcissistic cheerleading.
Because we’re criticizing you (at least for a few minutes), you rightly deduce we aren’t criticizing President Obama 24/7. You assume that because we aren’t criticizing the president and others all the time for their immoral stances, our consciences are somehow deficient compared to yours. But tell us: do you spend every waking moment of ministry on this particluar issue, the life of the unborn? Or are there other priorities, like writing a media column, for instance? You seem to assume that because we criticize you we haven’t written to the president or to other politicians who represent us.
Confronting moral evil was not a selective process for Jesus. When he was presented with a woman caught in the act of adultery, he was aware of the person’s sin, but also the undercurrent of self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers. The accusers were certainly correct in pointing out the woman’s sin, but there may have been a little too much enjoyment. That, I think, is one of the flaws of many in the political pro-life movement: an adoption of the cultural glee we have in America over one person stumbling and failing. We can bypass that and say, “Oh, but I pray for them.” Is that enough? And is it believable?
While being nice may be an overrated virtue, a Christian is called to be fair and just. Is it fair to put words in the mouth of one’s opponent, to make someone else appear stupid, wrong, dense, or immoral in comparison to our own insight, correctness, wittiness, and morality? That is where, Bishop Tobin, I think your original piece fails on moral grounds. I don’t care that you weren’t nice. My concern is that your pretense was unbecoming of a bishop and a Christian.
My final summation, Bishop Tobin, is not that you’re wrong on the issues, but that you’re not good enough to make this communication as effective as it needs to be. Of course, if the point of preaching is that the preacher preach the message and to hell with the listeners, then by all means, continue this line of reasoning. It’s for your own good anyway.