LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Catholic Church must proclaim Jesus Christ “boldly” and “creatively” in the face of new secular movements that promote “social justice,” “wokeness” and “intersectionality,” among other beliefs, as the answer to all of society’s ills, Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said Nov. 4.
“We need to tell our story of salvation in a new way, with charity and confidence, without fear,” he said. “This is the church’s mission in every age and every cultural moment.”
Archbishop Gomez made the comments in a videotaped address for the upcoming 23rd Catholic and Public Life Congress in Madrid, which organizers said will focus on political correctness and “the dangers of this mega-ideology,” such as preventing debate and limiting freedoms.
He spoke on “the rise of new secular ideologies and movements for social change in the United States and the implications for the Catholic Church.”
The church needs to understand these movements “as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs,” he said, because “they claim to offer what religion provides.”
“With the breakdown of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the rise of secularism, political belief systems based on social justice or personal identity have come to fill the space that Christian belief and practice once occupied,” he said.
“We all know that while there are unique conditions in the United States, similar broad patterns of aggressive secularization have long been at work in Spain and elsewhere in Europe,” he said.
“An elite leadership class has risen in our countries that has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions or cultures,” said Archbishop Gomez, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“This group, which is in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments,” he said, “wants to establish what we might call a global civilization, built on a consumer economy and guided by science, technology, humanitarian values and technocratic ideas about organizing society.”
“There is no need for old-fashioned belief systems and religions,” he added. “In fact, as they see it, religion, especially Christianity, only gets in the way of the society they hope to build.”
Secularization means “de-Christianization,” as many popes have pointed out, he said. “For years now, there has been a deliberate effort in Europe and America to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”
Archbishop Gomez noted the congress’ program alluded to “cancel culture” along with political correctness.
“We recognize that often what is being canceled and corrected are perspectives rooted in Christian beliefs — about human life and the human person, about marriage, the family and more. … The ‘space’ that the church and believing Christians are permitted to occupy is shrinking,” he said.
Amid the pandemic and government response to it, everyone noticed “dramatic social changes,” he said, but these changes were already at work and were just “accelerated” by the pandemic.
“The new social movements and ideologies that we are talking about today were being seeded and prepared for many years in our universities and cultural institutions,” he explained.
In the U.S., amid the tension and fear created by the pandemic and social isolation, “these movements were fully unleashed in our society” with the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by a white policeman and the protests that followed in many cities, Archbishop Gomez said.
“For many people in my country, myself included, (Floyd’s) tragedy became a stark reminder that racial and economic inequality are still deeply embedded in our society,” he said.
These new movements are part of a wider “absolutely essential” discussion “about how to build an American society that expands opportunities for everyone, no matter what color their skin is or where they came from, or their economic status,” Archbishop Gomez added.
But people are increasingly turning to these “woke” movements, rather than religion, for “an explanation for events and conditions in the world,” he said. “They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community. … Like Christianity, these new movements tell their own ‘story of salvation.'”
“Now more than ever,” he said, “the church and every Catholic needs to know” the Christian story, “and proclaim it in all its beauty and truth.”
Because, he said, there is another story out there — “a rival ‘salvation’ narrative that we hear being told in the media and in our institutions by the new social justice movements.”
Catholics and other Christians, he said, believe “we are created in the image of God … and we are saved through the dying and rising of Jesus Christ … (who) calls us to follow him in faith, loving God and our neighbor, working to build his kingdom on earth, all in confident hope that we will have eternal life with him in the world to come.”
The “woke” story, he explained, says that “we cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin color or our position in society. … We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.”
“We all want to build a society that provides equality, freedom, and dignity for every person,” Archbishop Gomez said. “But we can only build a just society on the foundation of the truth about God and human nature. … Unless we believe that God is our Father, there is no reason for us to treat others as our brothers and sisters.”
“Today’s critical theories and ideologies are profoundly atheistic,” he continued. “They deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness. They reduce what it means to be human to essentially physical qualities — the color of our skin, our sex, our notions of gender, our ethnic background or our position in society.”
“No doubt,” he added, “we can recognize in these movements certain elements of liberation theology. They seem to be coming from the same Marxist cultural vision. Also, these movements resemble some of the heresies that we find in church history.”
The Catholic Church must “understand and engage” these movements as “dangerous substitutes for true religion.”
“These new movements have lost the truth about the human person” because they deny God, he said. “No matter how well-intentioned they are, they cannot promote authentic human flourishing.”
In the United States, “these strictly secular movements are causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance and injustice,” he added.