An acquaintance vigorously spoke the same thoughts I had verbalized to relatives and friends: It’s too bad the Catholic Church didn’t remove priests who molested kids as quickly as it removed Father Pfleger for his political comments in the pulpit – in the pulpit of a non-Catholic church and a predominantly black church, I might add. This acquaintance pointed out that he was white and Catholic, and that he had thought Father Pfleger’s performance was better than most stand-up comedians. He had laughed and laughed at Father Pfleger’s performance but knew that Father Pfleger spoke the truth. Hillary Clinton was the person Father Pfleger chose as his focus, but his words didn’t have to be about Hillary. His words spoke to a sense of “white privilege” in America (the world?) – an attitude assumed by too many whites and protected and worshipped by too many non-whites.
All of the media coverage of Father Pfleger’s words and his suspension sent me rushing to the Internet to see what I could find on Father Pfleger as well as the Black Church. The majority of parishioners in Father Pfleger’s church, St. Sabina, are African-American. As a part of St. Sabina’s outreach, there is an employment resource center, a social service center, and an elders home. Father Pfleger has been and continues to be a social activist and has sometimes defied cardinals, as, for example, when he adopted sons. He has been involved in anti-drug campaigns; targeted Jerry Springer and Howard Stern as immoral programs; reached out to prostitutes to urge them to change their lifestyle; charged the Southside Catholic Conference with racism when it refused to admit St. Sabina’s parish school because it considered the St. Sabina neighborhood to be unsafe; erected “Stop Listening To Trash” billboards across Chicago to help “end the violence and disrespect of women … including the music industry”; generated controversy with Cardinal George for inviting Al Sharpton to speak during Black History Month celebrations; and has been arrested with Jesse Jackson for anti-gun protests.
The debate about separating Church and State becomes a matter of semantics when caring for the poor or needy. Is it the responsibility of the State, the Church, or both, to address hunger, crime, racism, unemployment, elder abuse, etc.? The Civil Rights Movement relied on the participation of black churches. Black churches, as well as non-black churches (for example, the Quakers), have a history of outreach and activism that includes political involvement. Just last week, National Public Radio broadcast comments from ministers involved in the Poor People’s Campaign, some of whom spoke to the complacency of too many ministers and churches today when churches should be the nation’s moral conscience.
Rev. Arthur Price Jr. said, “There still needs to be a charge from the pulpit to ignite people … to let them know that they do have a responsibility to the least of these.” If I remember my Sunday school lessons from a half-century ago, along with feeding the masses with food and words of encouragement and faith, Jesus, the “Son of God,” also overturned tables in the temple when he felt the activities there were inappropriate.
“Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s,” remains a riddle for me. What is Caesar’s and what is God’s, and who decides which is what?
*Cardinal – Roman Catholic official appointed by the Pope.