For several days NewsBusters has been chronicling media outrage over Catholic bishop Tom Tobin asking pro-choice Patrick Kennedy to refrain from the sacrament of communion.In all of their indignation over a church being involved in politics, they must have forgotten about the recent past when President Obama asked churches to help him push government-mandated healthcare. When ministers stepped into the politicial discussion back then, media outlets were more than willing to celebrate it.
In late August of this year, President Obama held a meeting with left-leaning religious leaders to convince them that government mandated healthcare was a "moral imperative," and that ministers should be involved in educating their fold on the issue.
The media protrayed the meeting as a great idea and praised the ministers who attended. MSNBC ran an article from CQ writer Jane Norman that gushed with excitement over sermons laced with politics and prayer meetings aimed at congressional districts:
The "40 Days for Health Reform" initiative by the interfaith groups will include prayer services in congressional districts, meetings of religious leaders with members of Congress and a "Nationwide Health Care Sermon Weekend" with preaching from the pulpit on the need for a health care overhaul. The leaders say they're the ones who see up close the problems with the insurance system and the need for change.
Was Norman worried about this kind of activism crossing a cultural line? Not really. To the contrary, she quoted one of the ministers involved who encouraged churches to directly take on angry town hallers:
"There are people in the country who want to stop an honest, fair, civil and moral conversation about health care. They're organized and they really want to shut down democracy and we can't let that happen," said Wallis. "The faith community is literally going to stand in the way of those who want to stop a conversation."
So it was okay for churches to actively "stand in the way" of conservative protestors in order to further a liberal agenda. Nowhere in the article did Norman quote any critics or attempt to defend the protestors' position.
The NY Times joined the party then too, covering the meeting in an article that was clearly sympathetic to Obama's goals. The Times recounted that Obama used the meeting to ask "a coalition of religious leaders to help promote the plan."
Just like MSNBC, there was no thought given that religious activism might be frowned on as part of that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. The article quoted Republicans who were critical of Obama's plan, but no one could be found to criticize Obama using churches as a political platform.
The most outrageous coverage of church activism in August came at the hands of the Philadelphia Inquirer. That paper found a spokesperson from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State to explain that churches were more than welcome to help the state as long as they took up causes that met his personal approval:
Where religion and politics have often converged on divisive issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, Rob Boston, spokesman for the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said the health-care debate represents a different dynamic.
"In recent years, we have seen progressive religious groups being a little more vocal . . . and I think this is part of that," Boston said.
And yes, you guessed it, no one was interviewed by the Inquirer who might have thought government healthcare was not such a worthy cause as to warrant church activism.
How times have changed. Now that a Catholic bishop was thrust into the spotlight - not for writing political sermons or standing in the way of protestors, but for simply asking all of his members to respect basic principles - these same media outlets saw religious meddling as a problem.
The NY Times reprinted an AP article on November 12 that called the issue a "clash," a "feud," and an "uncomfortable tangle of faith and politics." Tobin, the bishop at the center of the story, had apparently "bashed" liberal politicians in the past, and his response to Kennedy's story was full of "scathing criticism."
The article predictably found someone to say that priests had no business being publicly vocal about politics:
''I don't think there's any winner here,'' said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a church observer and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. ''I think this is the kind of thing that would be better discussed between a member of Congress and his bishop behind closed doors.''
So government healthcare was an issue worthy of politically-charged sermons, but being pro-life was best kept behind closed doors.
NewsBuster Tim Graham reported on Tuesday that the NBC Nightly News suggested priests were "crossing the line" by witholding communion from liberals and called Tobin's position "political blackmail" for criticizing a famous Kennedy.
According to the mainstream media, politics are only divisive when a conservative position is taken, and only conservative ministers should expect their churches to be separate from the state. If a religious leader uses the pulpit to advance liberal politics, the media can be expected to celebrate it.
Separation for thee, but not for me.