Politicizing the House Chaplain

  In recent months, minority members of the House of Representatives, aided by an ever-willing and eager press core, tried desperately to politicize the selection of the House Chaplain. The story began when Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert selected Rev. Charles Wright as House Chaplain. Chuck Wright was a great choice, well known in Washington. But detractors challenged the choice, claiming Hastert passed over their recommendation, a Catholic priest. In the wake of the Bob Jones controversy, charges of anti-Catholic bigotry filled the air. The debate turned even uglier when minority members refused even to meet with the nominee, Chuck Wright. Then, last week, Speaker Hastert turned the tables, announcing that Chuck Wright had withdrawn, and on the advice of his friend, Francis Cardinal George, he appointed Fr. Daniel Coughlin, Vicar of the Archdiocese of Chicago, as chaplain—the first Roman Catholic Chaplain in the history of the House of Representatives. Make no mistake, what was really at issue here was not Chuck Wright's qualifications, or even the selection process. This uproar was part of an ongoing effort by the liberals to divide the emerging alliance between Evangelicals and conservative Roman Catholics, which represents the most significant religious movement in America today. I don't know Father Coughlin, but I know his boss, Cardinal George, and we have worked together for years on "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," and on conferences dealing with judicial activism and other social issues. Cardinal George is a strong conservative advocate on cultural questions, and I'm sure that Father Coughlin will be a strong moral influence in the House of Representatives. The attempt here to exploit this issue for partisan purposes has been shameless—even by Congressional standards. As I wrote in my recent editorial in the New York Times, the "cultural elite" are terrified of the emerging power of moral conservatives. Those of us who have been side-by-side in the trenches have formed what my friend, Timothy George, calls, "an ecumenism of the trenches," resisting the aggressive secular agenda in American social and political life. What impressed me most in this process, however, was the way Rep. Hastert, a Wheaton graduate and a committed evangelical, handled the situation. He never lost his composure. When others urged him to act quickly, his answer was always, "I need to pray about it." It was only after much prayer that the Speaker made his choice. In his dramatic announcement last Thursday, he went to the heart of the matter. He said, "Those who accuse me of anti-Catholic bigotry either don't know me or are seeking political advantage by making these accusations." He added, "In all my years of the Congress, I have never seen a more cynical and destructive campaign waged in the House. That such a campaign would be waged over the choice of a chaplain brings shame upon this House." And he's absolutely right. I applaud Dennis Hastert for his courage and wisdom, and for the great symbolism of this decision. Think of it—a conservative evangelical reaches out to appoint the first Catholic chaplain. Now that's a symbol that should send shivers through the ranks of the secular elite.


Chuck Colson


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