Over the past few years, the melding of politics and the church has become inescapable, especially for those whose political ideologies clash with the ideals of a religious group.
“At least 239 incidents have occurred across 42 states and the District of Columbia since May 2020. Incidents include arson, statues beheaded, limbs cut, smashed, and painted, gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to them burned, and other destruction and vandalism,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website.
The number of incidents has increased, with the number in 2022 being nearly triple that of 2020.
“In 2018, there were 50 incidences of hostility against churches; in 2019, there were 83, in 2020 there were 54; in 2021 there were 96; and between January and September 2022, there were 137,” according to a report by the Family Research Council.
With the increasingly volatile political climate in the U.S., archdioceses across the country have been targeted for a variety of reasons.
Local faith leaders said the Catholic church has recently faced opposition from progressive groups who disagree with the Christian belief that life begins at conception.
Deacon John De Gano of St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic Church in Riverside said the overturning of Roe v. Wade caused his church’s leadership to worry for their safety.
“We’re across the street from Planned Parenthood,” De Gano said. “If there was some kind of a rally, it’s likely we would be the focus of their attention because we’re so close.”
Though De Gano’s church has only experienced occasional graffiti, the Queen of Angels Church in Riverside was not so lucky. Reverend Beni Leu, the pastor of Queen of Angels Church, said that an unknown individual destroyed the church’s mailbox sometime in January.
This is not the first time they have experienced vandalism. A few years ago, Leu said, someone sprayed various profanities along the outside of the building with graffiti.
De Gano also referenced an incident at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, where a group of people dressed up as characters from the Hulu show “The Handmaid’s Tale” and interrupted mass.
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, is about a totalitarian society that tries to control women’s fertility, implying that these individuals blamed the Catholic Church for state abortion laws.
“There are also those who like to stir the pot like to cause trouble, and so they will create opportunities to put down faith or religion,” De Gano said.
Sarah Mandzok, sophomore pre-nursing student and a practicing Catholic, argued that these people falsely ascribe a political agenda to Catholicism, when their ideologies are instead rooted in morality.
“I don’t think people understand the Catholic church itself never takes a side in American politics,” Mandzok said. “The church calls for us to be informed voters. You can see the teachings of the Catholic church in both sides of the political spectrum. There is no left or right, just what the magisterium teaches.”
De Gano provided another outlook, saying that politics and the church have always been linked. However, instead of labeling politics as explicitly dangerous, he made the case that church members have a right to voice their ideals in a political context.
“Can you argue that we’re playing politics?” said De Gano, contemplating the role of politics in the church. “Well, we’re standing up for our faith, standing up for what we believe, and this is what democracy is about. So we’re really not any different than someone who’s speaking out on any other issue.”
Another issue arises if lawmakers attempt to twist the ideals of Christian denominations and appear to use them for political ends.
De Gano referenced an advertising campaign in the Midwest funded by Gov. Gavin Newsom that referenced Matthew 22:39 — in which Jesus says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” — to extend California’s access to abortion to those from out of state. De Gano said he did not appreciate the connection of Jesus’s words to the campaign.
He stated that his principles are a product of faith in the Lord and his teachings. He argued that politics are not the cornerstone of religion, as there is often disagreement even among members of the church regarding these issues.
“We’re supposed to leave our politics at the doorstep at the church,” De Gano said. “Because when we come, we’re coming to glorify God, coming to gratitude to God for what God has for us. And our communion service — our mass — is about coming together to unify. Politics is not about unity.”