This Life with Gracie: Was Chaplain Conroy really canned for praying for the poor?

It goes without saying that not all Christians think alike.

Still, I couldn’t help wondering what in the world Speaker Paul Ryan could’ve been thinking recently when he forced the Rev. Patrick Conroy to resign.

As recently as a few days ago, it wasn’t immediately clear why the House chaplain was dismissed. Some said it was because of lawmaker complaints that the priest wasn’t fulfilling his pastoral duties. Others have said it was because of Conroy’s political leanings and more specifically a prayer he gave during last fall’s tax debate urging lawmakers not to “pick winners and losers” but spread benefits equitably.

Thursday, of course, we learned in a Washington Post story, that Speaker Ryan reversed course and agreed to keep the Rev. Conroy at least through the end of the year.

God knows what lead to Ryan’s reversal but I do know prayer changes things.

Conroy, who had served in that position since 2011, is a Roman Catholic priest from the Jesuit order.

RELATED | House chaplain’s firing sparks uproar among Democrats

According to the Rev. Lyn Pace, chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University, here’s why that and what he said regarding the poor is so important.

“Jesuits have a long history of seeing their calling to be public theologians, meaning that faith can and should have a role in the marketplace or the everyday,” he said. “I believe that the Christian faith has more than just a private role; it’s meant to be communal and often that means that it’s also political just as its founder was.”

Pace said that if the Congress is going to have a chaplain then its members need to understand that the role of a chaplain is not just to offer “nice” prayers.

“In this particular case, as a Christian and more specifically a Jesuit, Father Conroy saw his role to embody Jesus, one who stands in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable in society,” he said. “Seems like that ought to be the role of congress too.”

We talk a lot about separation of church and state but in the 17th chapter of John, Jesus makes it plain that a Christian’s ministry is to this world, not a select few.

Isaiah 58 defines true worship of God as living lives focused on justice and mercy and taking care of those in need. Matthew 25 calls us to be in ministry to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the stranger.

And Proverbs 14:31 says that “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”

For as long as I can remember that has been the hallmark of every Baptist church I have been a member of since age 10, when I first gave my life to Christ.

RELATED | King’s last crusade: The Poor People’s Campaign

I’m going on 61 now and that has never changed. At Antioch Baptist Church North, where my husband and I worship, not a day goes by when we aren’t reminded that our purpose is to serve the least, the less and the lost.

On any given Sunday, we carry all of our beliefs, including our politics, to church. By the same token, we’re called to carry our faith out into the world.

As I understand it, that is what it means to live in the world but not be of this world.

At a time when politicians seem to be saying poverty is a ‘life style choice,’ Scripture, indeed life itself, is a reminder that poverty can touch any of our lives in a multitude of ways and a mountain of reasons.

Ever looked at a beggar on a street corner and wondered what might be his story?

RELATED | Meet the keepers of Gideon’s Promise

A Christian faith that is lived out, Pace said, is one that understands the role of narrative or story.

“Christians are shaped by gospel stories about Jesus and his ministry,” he said. “As a Christian I’m called to care about my story but also the story of my neighbor, any neighbor, and especially vulnerable neighbors.”

Make no mistake. There’s nothing wrong with being poor. Turning our backs on the poor is wrong and worse, a sin against God.

I’m not advocating government dependency here. I’m just saying our faith needs to be lived out to others.

If Speaker Ryan is indeed a Christian, and I have no reason to believe he isn’t, he has to know what I’m talking about.

If he doesn’t I suggest he read James 2:14-16:

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”

It’s a good question.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

This Life: Atlanta attorney forsakes his dream job to help immigrants
This Life: Atlanta attorney forsakes his dream job to help immigrants

After five years of practicing law at two of the country’s premier firms, Chris Richardson had finally landed his dream job as a U.S. diplomat. Not only was he able to travel the world, he could serve his country, assisting American citizens abroad in danger and interviewing visa applicants seeking to visit or reside in the United States. He...
KISS announces farewell tour (for real...we think)
KISS announces farewell tour (for real...we think)

We’ve heard this song before, but it seems genuine that KISS’ upcoming “End of the Road World Tour” will be exactly that. The band announced the decision to pack up the pyro after a performance on Wednesday’s finale of “America’s Got Talent.” "All that we have built and all that we have conquered...
OWN’s ‘Greenleaf” will be back for fourth season
OWN’s ‘Greenleaf” will be back for fourth season

After strong early ratings season three, OWN quickly gave “Greenleaf” a fourth season. The megachurch drama, which is shot in metro Atlanta but set in Memphis, drew 2.3 million viewers last week (Live+3 DVR usage) and drew the most African-American viewers of any TV program that night.  The series is on Oprah Winfrey&rsquo...
Things to do in and around Atlanta for Thursday, Sept. 20
Things to do in and around Atlanta for Thursday, Sept. 20

As summer (or Indian Summer) hangs on with a vengeance, spend this 90-plus-degree day with some theater, or some music, or get some ideas for the patio. VEERE GRENNEY AND SUZANNE KASLER AT BUNGALOW CLASSIC Decorating personalities Veere Grenney and Suzanne Kasler will discuss their new books, Grenney’s “On Decorating: A Point of View...
“Divorce Court” shooting in Atlanta and Lynn Toler needs more local couples
“Divorce Court” shooting in Atlanta and Lynn Toler needs more local couples

Over 60 years, some form of “Divorce Court” has floated around TV. The latest incarnation featuring former municipal court judge Lynn Toler debuted in 2006 but for the first time, the show is shooting in Atlanta at Tyler Perry Studios. The daytime judge show moved from Los Angeles to take advantage of Georgia’s generous...
More Stories