pro-abortion, anti-communion: when religion becomes a weapon

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

pro-abortion, anti-communion: when religion becomes a weapon

religion can be used as a lot of things. it can be used as a way to bring seemingly disparate people together. it can be used as a mode of transcendent conversation. it can be used as a way to connect thousands of years of generations of people and to bring hope to people who might otherwise feel hopeless. certainly, it can be used for many, many great and noble things.

but it can also be used in very dangerous and divisive ways.

sadly, those who choose to use religion as a weapon of politics has become more and more frequent and severe.

so is the case between senator patrick kennedy and roman catholic bishop thomas tobin. in an increasingly public dispute, it came out a few days ago that the bishop informed the senator that he would refuse kennedy communion due to his pro-choice stance.

religion, indeed, as a weapon.

the catholic church takes one of the hardest lines against abortion than any other denomination or religious group. their teachings have been very clear concerning this issue, and there’s actually been a bit of a precedent set for this type of religious/political denial of one of the most sacred and personal sacraments.

rather than getting into all the details of this particular scenario (which you can find here), i wanted to explore our current religious/political climate that had led to this type of conflict.

it’s worth stating that i am pro-life. i oppose abortion, the death penalty, war, economic disparity and unattainable/unjust healthcare disparity. all those things are equally important to me. equally. abortion isn’t the trump card. i find abortion one of the saddest realities of our society, but no more sad than a war that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent (or even not-so-innocent) people for the gain of a nation.

so where do we draw the line at where/when we use religion as a political weapon?

senator patrick kennedy supports abortion. he is refused communion.

what about the soldier who kills all the inhabitants of a small village in the name of the united states of america? is he refused communion?

what about the entrepreneur who profits at the expense of others? is he refused communion?

what about the person who pulls the switch on the electric chair in a state-sanctioned killing? is he refused communion?

these are all issues of sanctity and value of life, so where do we draw the line?

but it isn’t just these issues of life. if we take seriously that god doesn’t weigh one sin differently than another, then we run into other majors problems.

what about gossip? what about reckless sexual activity? what about lying? what about gluttony? what about alcohol abuse? which of these are or are not denied communion?

every single week, bishop tobin and thousands of other clergy serve communion to their congregants—congregants who do all the aforementioned listed things: gossip, lying, abuses of all sorts, etc.

bishop tobin: serve senator kennedy. serve the killer and the gossiper and liar. and remind them all that when we partake in the body and blood of jesus, we acknowledge the reality that those sins were wiped away by that very broken body and spilled blood.

religion can be used for so many beautiful and healthy things. but not as a tool of political coercion or punishment. when religion is hijacked and used as a weapon of politics, it leaves everyone a prisoner to a tragic abuse.


  1. wearethestories says:


    I agree mostly with this post, however, I do think it's important to keep in mind that it's not just a person who sins and comes to the cross repentant who is refused communion, but someone who is unrepentant of their sin who is refused communion.

    I disagree with the Bishop's decision (as I am "choose life" rather than pro-/anti- either abortion or "life" in the political sense), but it does make sense if indeed supporting abortion rights is sin. That's the judgment call I don't feel qualified to make.

    This is the same reason that The Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church and the PCUSA Church are coming under fire for their support of clergy/bishops in same-sex relationships. It's not that those who sin are not offered communion, but those who PERSIST in sin and are unrepentant of it that are removing themselves from communion with the rest of the Church. Again, this is how the Bishop sees Sen. Kennedy. The Bishop might even ask, in his defense: Should we offer communion to the mercenary assassin who kills for money and is unrepentant? Should we offer communion to child molesters who continue in their perversion without remorse? Should we offer communion to the one who blasphemes the Holy Spirit?

    Is there anyone to whom we should NOT offer communion? Must they even be baptized?

    (For the record, my opinion is that, unless someone flatly denies the Messiah or the creeds, as long as they are baptized, they should be offered the elements of Eucharist.)

  2. ryanByrd says:


    thanks for the great/thoughtful comment. i appreciate it.

    my stance is that no one should be denied communion by a member of the "clergy". i believe the decision to take communion is a matter between the individual and god, alone.

    i think you're exactly right regarding matters of repentance. however, i believe those issues are to be sorted out by the individual and not a judgment call by a pastor, bishop, etc. while there are certainly sins that i think we can all (generally) agree upon, there are many, many grey matters that we must all seek out answers to (abortion, homosexuality, use of alcohol, cohabitation, etc.). now, certainly, one might say that's the job of the church, via clergy or an overseeing agent or denomination, etc. i would suggest, though, that those judgments are left to the individual—assuming that the church has properly equipped people to engage scripture, the community of believers and god to make these judgments.

    ultimately, though, as a pastor, i can't foresee a situation (though i guess never say never…) where i would ever deny someone of communion based on their personal sin issues. i will certainly do my best to teach that communion should be taken after a close self-examination and repentance, but that they alone are the proper mediator between them and god—not me.

  3. Kimberly says:

    We have taken to reciting the following (from a Mennonite song book)as part of our welcome to the communion table:

    This is the Welcome Table of our Redeemer, and you are invited. Make no excuses, saying you cannot attend; simply come, for around this table you will find your family. Come not because you have to, but because you need to. Come not to prove you are saved, but to seek the courage to follow wherever Christ leads. Come not to speak but to listen, not to hear what’s expected,but to be open to the ways the Spirit moves among you. So be joyful, not somber,for this is the feast of the reign of God, where the broken are molded into a beloved community, and where the celebration over evil’s defeat has already begun.

  4. Morgon77 says:

    Communion celebrates not only our joining with Christ, but with other believers.

    If there are those who claim a role in that community, but actively act against it, it can be the role of the spiritual leaders to state that it is harmful for the individual for them to be offered a place in the Eucharist precisely because they are lying not only to the community, but to themselves about the role that the Eucharist has in their lives.

    The Eucharist is something that reminds us, in a mysterious way, of the relationship between the Vine and the Branches. We don't understand this mystery, but we uphold it's place in the tradition of our people.

    But all Spiritual Leaders will state that at some point, if people continue to partake in the rituals of the church while actively pursuing lives of sin, unrepentantly, that for their own protection they must be denied that fellowship, lest they damage themselves, let alone the others around them.

    I think that on the other hand, if the Bishop is going to withhold the Eucharist from this Senator, then certainly he also has to withhold it from anybody who voted Democrat in any election since Abortion was legalized.

  5. ryanByrd says:


    that's a beautiful recitation worth thinking about more. thanks for sharing!


    i think you hit on several key and important points in the conversation. there's nothing here that i inherently disagree with, but it sounds as if we may arrive at a bit of a different place.

    as stated, i am opposed to denying someone communion. i think the role of a pastor, bishop, etc should be more conversational than disciplinary. in other words, i 100% agree with your summation that people's individual sins can have serious consequences on a community of people, but i would rather approach it with a conversation or series of conversations—as a leader, friend and fellow believer—with the person in question to help them understand the consequences of their sin both individually and communally. what i hope to do is guide them in a way that helps them to become repentant or ultimately not take communion if they so choose to engage in their behavior.

    still, though, the impetus for making a decision of whether or not to partake in communion is between them and god—not me. i can counsel them in hopes that they understand the weight of their sin and eventual sharing in communion, but i don't think it's anyone's place to deny them the opportunity.

    ultimately, as i touched on in the blog post and as you touched on in your final sentence, where do we draw the lines? "social" sins are no more destructive to a community of believers than those sins that seem hidden, so we would have a very difficult time making a case for denial. in the end, i think it comes down to trust—do i trust individuals to take responsibility for their own spiritual wellness and make decisions that honor both god and the faith community in which they are apart? it's extremely hard to do that sometimes, but i think we're left with little choice.

  6. Nate says:

    …Senator Kennedy, being a pro-murder(aka 'pro-choice' to the politically correct) politician who was out advocating this tragic disgusting sin publicly had no business calling himself a Christian in the first place, much less disgracing the taking of the bread/wine with his participation.

    You can't have a saving relationship with Christ and at the same time advocate slaughtering babies in good conscience. It just doesn't work.

    So Patrick Kennedy doesn't sound like much of a Christian if he thought some infants don't deserve a chance at life. So if he's not much of a Christian, what business does he have taking communion? And if this priest was standing up for what's right, what business is it of yours to criticize him for it?

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