Letter to the Editor by AHI Executive Director Published in The National Herald
Washington, DC — The following Letter to the Editor by AHI Executive Director Nick Larigakis appeared in The National Herald on December 10, 2004, page 10.
Must Alter its Mindset To Become More Politically Mature
To the Editor:
I congratulate The National Herald for raising the point (in its November 20 editorial) that many of us in the Greek American community have been trying to make for years: specifically, our Church leaders should not be in the forefront regarding political issues.
The primary responsibility of our Church is to administer to the faithful as it relates to the teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This in and of itself is a monumental task without venturing into the quagmire of politics. The Archbishop is the spiritual leader of our community and has done a tremendous job in this capacity. But those who advocate for him to also assume the posture of a political leader do him and our Church a disservice and, in the process, contribute to marginalizing our effectiveness and influence with the political leadership of our country.
By the very nature of what he represents, the Archbishop can not be effective if he is placed at the forefront regarding political issues. The U.S. Constitution and American political tradition and practice observe a strict separation between Church and State in order, among other things, to preserve and protect religious freedom.
Any attempt by the Church to act as a political leader undercuts its spiritual and ecclesiastical independence, impedes the efforts of Greek American organizations, and is counterproductive to the effective presentation of public issues.
What happens when the Archbishop is present? Everybody else, out of a proper sense of respect, naturally defers to him. But it is precisely this deference that inhibits the full expression of our concerns, basically leaving it to the Archbishop to carry all the weight by himself. That’s not fair to His Eminence, and it’s not fair to our civic and political leadership.
Our community needs to understand that we will never be perceived as a mature partner in the formulation of policy, as it relates to our political issues with our elected officials, until we change our mindset regarding our leadership.
Having said this, I do not mean to suggest that the members of our clergy abrogate their First Amendment right to speak out and write about the public and moral issues of the day, including issues of particular national interest to the Greek American community, and specifically as it relates to the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Church has an important supportive role to play, and of course the Archbishop needs to be consulted. The Archbishop and the clergy should also encourage the community membership organizations and their lay leadership to be active in the political life of the Nation and give full support to their efforts.
The recent action by our government regarding the recognition of FYROM as the "Republic of Macedonia" may only be the beginning of many more unpopular moves by the Bush Administration regarding issues that interest the Greek American community.
We can no longer afford to be ignored by the foreign policy establishment that decides U.S. policy regarding Greece and Cyprus. We need to be consulted and be made part of the dialogue before decisions are made, as other ethnic communities are consulted. That means that we have to graduate past the photo sessions with Administration officials after policy has already been decided.
Mr. Larigakis is Executive Director of the American Hellenic Institute and an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.