Saturday, August 14, 2010

Newt Gingrich on Living the Message: Implications for Pastoral Leaders in a Sacramental Church

According to his ex-wife Marianne Ginther, when she asked Newt Gingrich how he could give a speech about traditional family values while having an affair, Mr. Gingrich replied:

It doesn't matter what I do.  People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live.

And this is precisely why I keep pushing against Michael Sean Winters' persistent attempt to charge Catholics of the left with reductionism, when we insist that how our pastoral leaders live the message they proclaim is part of the message.  In Winters' view, the truth proclaimed by the church's magisterium can be separated from the lives of those making the proclamation--as if those lives are not part of the message proclaimed.

Mr. Winters mounted this critique again recently in one of his ongoing series of articles about the papal encyclical Ex corde ecclesiae at National Catholic Reporter, which critiques "the reduction of the Gospel to a social justice message, a reduction that one finds on the left of the political spectrum."

This critique (and the ongoing defense of the bishops and Vatican that goes along with it) spectacularly misses the point.  The point is that, in a sacramental church, what a church's leaders do, how they live, is part and parcel of the message they teach.  

It is impossible to teach the gospel message effectively unless one lives it.  To say this is not to deny that all of us are broken sinners living in a broken world, who will always embody the gospel message imperfectly, and who will teach it imperfectly.

But it is to say that when the connection between what pastoral leaders live and do and what they proclaim grows insupportably wide, people will naturally turn away and stop listening.  A church in which many of the faithful come to see their pastoral leaders as versions of Mr. Gingrich (doesn't matter what I live but what I say) will not compel much respect in a world hungry to see authentic, lived signs of the gospel in the lives of pastoral leaders and the faithful as a whole.