Engaging culture

It is easy to get discouraged and think that those of us concerned about moral decline in our society can have very little positive influence. Something as simple as posting a story on Facebook can result in an all-out viral assault, making us want to unplug, go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads. But despite all this, there have been some very strong examples to remind us that we can make a difference and that we’re not alone.

One of the most prominent was the surprising apology, actually two apologies, from Joy Behar, the co-host of ABC’s “The View.” Behar raised a lot more than just eyebrows in February, going far beyond the usual daily dose of crass commentary, when she likened Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith to mental illness. She was reacting to an interview the vice president had conducted regarding how his faith impacts his life. In general, he said he believes he receives guidance from Jesus through prayer and daily Scripture reading. Behar just could not comprehend the idea that God actually speaks to us in a variety of ways.

“It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called mental illness, if I am not correct, hearing voices,” she said.

Ironically, shortly after the vice president spoke publicly about his faith, Oprah had done an interview on CBS saying she was waiting for a sign from God to help her decide whether to run for president in 2020. Well, if you’re waiting for “a sign” from God, wouldn’t it follow that you’re also used to getting direction or receiving guidance from God on a regular basis? So why was there nothing but crickets on the part of Joy Behar and her cohorts on “The View” when it came to Oprah “hearing voices” and yet such bigotry and contempt when it came to the vice president’s prayer life?

Well the blatantly obvious double standard on the part of Behar was just too outrageous for many a member of their TV following and others to bear. Over 40,000 Americans phoned in their complaints. Several organizations, including The Family Research Council and the Media Research Center, launched a petition targeting advertisers. Even the head of Disney Corporation, owners of ABC, told shareholders at a recent meeting that Behar had privately apologized to the vice president in a phone call.

Pence even weighed in, saying that while he forgave Behar and appreciated the phone call, she still needed to apologize to the public. The next day, Behar did just that, saying, “I think Vice President Pence is right. I was raised to respect everyone’s religious faith, and I fell short of that. I sincerely apologize for what I said.”

A majority of my social media followers were grateful for the apologies. Some took a defeatist attitude, saying her apologies most likely were forced and wouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

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Whatever the reason behind the apologies, two important results happened: Christians and others concerned with the comments said “enough is enough.” The pushback got the attention of the network, and they couldn’t ignore it. Second, “The View” audience and the rest of the world had the chance to hear and see the vice president talk about forgiveness as well as taking responsibility for one’s actions. When is the last time we heard much of anything about those topics on the secular airwaves?

Regardless of whether the turn of events prompts change, the important thing is that people tried. The success isn’t up to us. But as St. Teresa of Calcutta reminded us, being faithful is, and at least trying to make a difference is.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio, and the author of “Beyond Sunday: Becoming a 24/7 Catholic” (OSV, $14.95).