Catholics have a critical role in bridging the divides of today’s polarized society, one outgoing Catholic congressman says.
“We live in a very polarized society, and I think that’s bad for our society, bad for our country,” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an outgoing eight-term Catholic congressman from Chicago’s South Side, told CNA in an interview on Wednesday.
“It seems very clear to me,” he said, that “more and more people are making their political party their religion.”
“I believe that Catholics can show the way and, hopefully, bridge that divide in our world between the two polarized sides,” he said.
Lipinski, one of the last pro-life Democrats, has served in the House since 2005. He said that he has worked to be a “bridge” in Congress between the two parties because he took issue-positions championed by both sides.
“I worked to serve as that bridge, because we don’t have dialogue anymore in this country. We have very little dialogue,” Lipinski said.
The two-sided battles are extending beyond party politics into every facet of society, he warned, pointing out that even during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Americans are not uniting together but rather are rallying into two camps on how to respond to the virus.
Catholics, he emphasized, need to put their faith ahead of their politics and show their fellow citizens a “third way” of approaching issues—and they are not doing that.
“Catholics are very split—almost evenly split—between the Democratic and the Republican Party, but the most important thing is to be Catholic first,” Lipinski said.
“If we’re truly going to be Catholic, we should make sure that we put our Catholic beliefs, and how that moves us when we enter the public sphere—we should put that before partisanship. And I’m just concerned that people are not doing that.”
After surviving a narrow victory in the 2018 Democratic primary for Illinois’ heavily-Democratic third district, Lipinski lost his rematch on March 17 with challenger Marie Newman.
Known as a pro-life, pro-union, pro-environment member of the House, Lipinski was willing to vote against his party to defund Planned Parenthood, bring in a 20-week abortion ban, and protect babies who survive botched abortion attempts.
Lipinski was attacked by the progressive Marie Newman, who mounted a successful primary challenge against him earlier this year, on the life issue, and also for not supporting liberal policies such as the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All.
Newman had the backing of pro-abortion groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and was supported by progressive Democrats including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Lipinski, meanwhile, received no vocal support from House Democratic leadership, despite being the incumbent in the race.
The abortion lobby poured money into primary challenges against Lipinski in 2018 and again in 2020; He told CNA that around $3 million total was spent against him in each cycle. NARAL teamed up with other liberal groups to invest $1.4 million in the final weeks of the 2020 race, running ads targeting Lipinski’s pro-life record among other issues.
The Congressman said that the headwinds he faced from the abortion lobby revealed the level of their concern to silence a pro-life Democratic voice.
“They found it very important to get rid of me from the party, so I think that should be a message to the pro-life movement,” he said.
“The pro-life movement needs to support pro-life Democrats.”
As one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, Lipinski said that the future of the pro-life movement must be bipartisan—and this means accepting people who might share different views on other issues such as the economy or the environment.
Any successful coalition, he said, makes room for different views on the spectrum of issues as long as members support the key issue, which in this case is the life issue.
“That’s when you’re successful, is when you say ‘as long as you’re with us on this issue, we accept you, we want you as part of our movement.’ I think that’s important for the pro-life movement to continue to expand.”
While needing to promote a “third way” of dealing with politics, Catholics need also to be concerned about those young people who are leaving religion altogether, he said—a phenomenon described as the rise of the “Nones.”
Last year, the Pew Research Center reported that fewer than half of Millennials (49%) now identify as Christian, and four-in-ten are unaffiliated with any religion.
The current crisis is also a golden opportunity, he said, as the pandemic is forcing people to grapple with their beliefs on life and death.
“I want to be someone who reaches out—especially to young people, whether they are raised Catholic or not—to try to draw them in to the Catholic Church, introduce them to what Catholics believe and understand, and our faith,” Lipinski said.
“And that’s something that I want to continue to do, especially as I leave Congress and move on.”