There’s been yet another casualty in the culture wars that have raged in the United States over the past decade. On August 18, 2004, Deal Hudson, publisher of the conservative Catholic journal, Crisis , resigned his position with the Bush campaign as an adviser on how to court the Catholic vote. The scandal surrounding Hudson stems from an accusation of sexual misconduct with a female student approximately ten years ago at Fordham University where he was a tenured philosophy professor.
This might not even merit a mention, considering the lurid personal tales that the American public has been treated to over the past few years (Bill Clinton, William Bennett, and James McGreevey come to mind), but Hudson’s case is particularly interesting because, unlike some other public figures, his ability to operate in a political sphere is based in large part on his credibility in moral matters. Hudson is a convert to Catholicism who has turned his enormous passion and zeal for his faith into an inroad into right wing politics.
In the late 1990s, Hudson published a study that discussed how Republicans could lure church-going Catholics away from the Democratic Party. Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, signed Hudson on to help with the 2000 presidential campaign and now counts him among his close friends. Hudson, in turn, has tried to marry Catholic teachings to some of the ideals of the Republican Party and, in the process, began lambasting anyone in the Church who dared to question his version of Catholic orthodoxy. Deal Hudson was an insider who sat in judgment of the worthiness of others and pushed everyone who didn’t measure up to the outside. For someone who worships a God who once said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” Hudson certainly seems to have done a lot of stone throwing in his day.
In much the same way that Jimmy Swaggart’s indiscretions so many years ago held a certain satisfaction for anyone who was sickened by his self-righteous moralizing, it is tempting to rejoice in the downfall of someone like Hudson. But how many more scandals need to be made public before we’ve had our fill?
The fact of the matter is you can’t be a Christian without being intimately familiar with hypocrisy. The gospels are filled with stories of religious and political leaders who are blind to their own arrogance and abuse of power. Jesus’ own disciples betrayed him; even Peter, the “rock” upon which Jesus built his church denied knowing him three times. The real question should not be why do these scandals continue to occur but why are we still shocked by them instead of being surprised that they don’t happen more often?
Certainly a person’s character is important (former Louisiana state representative David Duke’s membership in the KKK was definitely a relevant bit of personal information) but character assassination is an entirely different matter. Will our desire for making a tawdry sport out of moral superiority ever be exhausted? Even the institutional church itself has swung wildly from its former practice of protecting predatory priests to now showing no mercy and, arguably, restricting the right of due process toward priests who have simply been accused of wrongdoing.
Even though Deal Hudson’s misdeeds have now landed him on the outside of Pennsylvania Avenue looking in, that isn’t necessarily the end of the story. Fortunately for us, those gospel narratives of betrayal and sin are incomplete without mercy, forgiveness and redemption. What if Hudson’s fall from grace is not a joyful occasion for those of us who disagree with him, but an opportunity to help complete the story?
Not long ago, Ono Ekeh , the founder of a “Catholics for Kerry” online discussion board was a target of Hudson’s wrath. Ekeh, at the time, was working at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and, in Hudson’s judgment, working for the bishops and supporting John Kerry were simply incompatible. Moreover, he took Ekeh to task for “going so far as to defend Kerry against the explicit directives from the Vatican.” Because of Hudson’s very public pressure (the story was published in newspapers around the country), the Bishops asked Ekeh to resign his position.
ith all that’s happened to him, Ekeh wouldn’t need to justify a desire to dance on Hudson’s grave in jubilation, but that’s not the case. “I think it is all unfortunate because it never should have come to this” said Ekeh just after Hudson’s bad news became public. “I know firsthand that it is a very uncomfortable experience to be the subject of unwanted and unfavorable attention, to put it mildly. While I passionately disagree with him on many things, I take no pleasure in watching Hudson and his family, go through a difficulty like this. I hope the lesson here is that we can all disagree about politics, doctrine and other things, but remember that, in the end, we are all children of the same Father.”
Though Hudson’s demise was due to his own actions, perhaps, in a sense, we all share in the blame when we choose to contribute to a culture of polarization by gleefully picking sides and gearing up for war. Ekeh’s response reminds us that when we wield the weapons of mercy, forgiveness, dialogue, and inclusion, the inevitable end to battle does not necessarily have to be mutual destruction.