Bishop Tobin says faith community must engage secular society


Beige is a good color to paint a house, but not for practicing the Christian faith, said Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. "It is not acceptable for a Christian commitment to be beige, to just blend in with everyone else around you," Bishop Tobin said during the Massachusetts Family Institute's 19th annual fundraising banquet on Oct. 14.

"Christians have to be vibrant, bold and stand out to make a difference."

Bishop Tobin was invited to give the keynote address to the Massachusetts Family Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to strengthening the family.

Michael Gilleran, director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, introduced Bishop Tobin by highlighting his support for the unborn and marriage, and credited him for "pulling the mask" off politicians who "claim to be part of the faithful."

The bishop's speech focused on the role that the faith community can play in shaping the culture.

"I believe Jesus wants us to be involved in the life of the world," he said.

"Jesus sent his church into the world to teach, to preach and to lift up the people. I believe I was not ordained a priest or a bishop to be irrelevant."

The faith community's efforts to engage an increasingly secularized society is not always welcome, the bishop noted, adding that whenever he speaks publicly on an issue such as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research or immigration, the blogosphere heats up with commentary about him violating the separation of church and state.

"As I understand it, the doctrine was meant to protect the church from the state and not the other way around," Bishop Tobin said. "This philosophy is not intended to cleanse society from every religious influence. Indeed it's been abused and confused."

The bishop said the nation's founders never envisioned a public square where religiously-informed debate was disallowed. He said the growing secularism is not religiously neutral, but rather anti-religious.

"A truly secularized United States would be a nation without a soul, a nation with a hole in its chest," said Bishop Tobin, who urged those in attendance to not be intimidated into silence.

"You have every right to be part of the conversation," he said.

Hope Hallett, of Dartmouth, Mass., said she enjoyed the bishop's speech, which was peppered throughout with jokes.

"I think he gave us a well-balanced encouragement to press on with Christian values with humor and insight," she said.

Philip Moran, the president of the Pro Life Legal Defense Fund in Massachusetts, said the bishop's remarks were "fabulous."

"I thought his analogy of Catholics in particular being beige was just directly on point as to what's wrong with the Catholic Church today," Moran said.

Bishop Tobin said people of faith have an obligation to fill their historic prophetic role in speaking truth to power, and to offer hope in the midst of suffering.

"Without a doubt, we have problems and challenges, but as believers, we speak of spiritual values, a better way, a higher road that points beyond this world to the world to come," he said.

Printed with permission from R.I. Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.

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