Cardinal J. Francis Stafford told an audience at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. in November that the election of Barack Obama was a "cultural earthquake." The media responded to this comment by calling it a "rant" and a "diatribe." This is the same media that sees the new president as the consummation of all things progressive and as "that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet . . ."
Which is it? Colin Powell says Obama has the potential to be a "transitional figure." I think this gets a little closer to reality. If you take Obama's record on some issues, especially on abortion, bio-medical ethics and civil unions then he could create a "cultural earthquake." But I tend to think he merely reflects where the country is already going so his election is simply another step in a decidedly different direction. Some of this may prove to be good. Some not so good. Time will tell, not Obama's past record per se.
Doug Kmiec, the former dean of Catholic University's law school, sees Stafford's comments as "caricature" and declared that "President Obama has far more in common with our great faith tradition than
any political administration in recent memory." He added that the "change" President Obama speaks of is the same cultural transformation that Cardinal Stafford has been working for over many years. The problem is clearly in the eyes of the beholder I think. Kmiec, to put it mildly, has stirred considerable interest and controversy for endorsing Obama after supporting Romney in the primaries last year. (His own parish priest refused him communion for his support of Obama!)
Obama appealed to all the radical groups that want to remake the cultural direction of the nation to move it toward a new social ethic. Among Catholics the debate is over whether Obama will move us more toward natural law or further away from it. Is America moving toward new unity or deeper division? My own guess is that it is some of both and always will be some of both. We are seeing a huge generational shift, make no mistake about this. We hear new calls for peace, justice and unity. But what is the moral basis for this call and how will it work unless we see spiritual transformation in the church, and then in the culture?
I do not agree with Cardinal Stafford, at least not in a simple way. But I do not think he is entirely wrong either. The culture is moving. Some of this movement I welcome. Some I fear. This is why my concern is much more with the church, which exists to serve and advance the kingdom of Christ, than with the government or what it does in the next four years. We cannot transform culture in any sense unless we first transform the church. Is it not obvious that the church needs transformation and thus the real earthquake we need is one that breaks open the people of God to the gospel of the kingdom and the ministry of the Holy Spirit? Having fought for cultural change through political means isn't it time we rethink this strategy?