God, man & the U.S. Senate

During one of his shifts wielding the U.S. Senate gavel, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas found himself reflecting on faith, politics and some of the most famous words in the Gospel According to St. John.

Looking down from the dais, he thought: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

It was the second half of the passage -- especially the word "condemn" -- that hit him as he watched his colleagues slog through another day of business, said Brownback, speaking at the first annual Robert Casey Lecture on Faith and Public Life at the John Paul II Center in Denver.

As controversial as it may sound, Brownback began to think less about the senators' votes and more about their souls. He started to study each of those famous faces.

"What do you see," he asked, "when you see Ted Kennedy walk into the room? What do you see when you see Ben Nighthorse Campbell walk into the room? ... I had to confess and admit that what I saw -- what my mind was immediately doing -- was categorizing and judging people."

The conservative Republican also realized that when he rushed to judge these senators, he was making it easy for them to return the favor. Yes, they had undeniable political differences. But this cycle of judgment was not helping anyone, he said. "When I saw these individuals -- my colleagues -- walk into the room, I was immediately sorting them and judging them into friend or foe, liberal or conservative. ... It was something I was doing subconsciously."

What was the point of this political parable?

Brownback said he believes that lawmakers who are believers cannot afford to separate faith and work. Since converting to Catholicism a year ago, he has become even more convinced that public life cannot be disconnected from morality. But politicians must remember that faith must shape how they relate to people as well as policies, he said.

The bottom line: Hypocrisy is a sin.

It's risky to talk openly about these issues. This is an age in which activists, politicians and journalists dissect political speech looking for telltale signs that saints or sinners have veered out of bounds in church-state territory.

Catholics lawmakers, for example, know Rome is watching. But so is the New York Times.

Ask Sen. Tom Daschle, who has long clashed with Catholic doctrine on abortion and scores of other moral issues. Now, there are news reports that Sioux Falls Bishop Robert Carlson has told the South Dakota Democrat to stop calling himself a Catholic.

After all, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently stated: "A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals."

Ask Sen. Rick Santorum, who is caught in a media acid bath after bluntly stating -- among other things -- his belief that homosexual acts, adultery and bigamy are "antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family." This conviction is not surprising since he is a traditional Catholic.

Or ask Brownback himself, since he has recently taken fire because he has an apartment in a Capitol Hill home subsidized by the "Fellowship," a non-profit group that organizes the National Prayer Breakfast. He shares the house with five other Christian lawmakers -- two Democrats and three Republicans. There have been no accusations of improper lobbying or access.

The shocking news: The lawmakers dine together once a week for Bible study.

The crucial issue, said Brownback, is that believers -- whether doctors, lawyers, teachers, carpenters or politicians -- are supposed to let their faith shape their beliefs and actions. They are called to find this "unity of life" on Mondays as well as on Sundays.

"That call involves our cooperation with God in the transformation of our hearts, our entire lives, our families and in the conversion of our culture," he said. This includes "the culture we create around us and the culture in our nation."