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Religion and Politics

Clint Reilly

The carefully plotted hijacking of the word “faith” by the Republican Party in the 2004 presidential election ought to be warning to church leaders to stay out of partisan politics in the 2008 presidential election. Religious fundamentalists careened across the median line between church and state like drunk drivers. Ignoring lifelong commitments to public service, social justice, and peace by many Democratic candidates, a few church leaders applied litmus tests on selective social issues which were heavily weighted in favor of Republicans. This partisan involvement by religious denominations has ultimately backfired, as the repugnant policies of a Republican Congress and a Republican President has led to a Democratic takeover of both the House and Senate in 2006 and a likely Democratic president in 2008. Today, more Republicans are deserting ship as key Republican Senators and Members of Congress announce their retirements. President George Bush’s job rating is at an historic low. Polls show a disillusioned Christian movement – in no shape to line the barricades for the Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

In 2004, Christian churches fell for a con job, orchestrated by chief strategist Karl Rove, that portrayed Republicans as the party of faith and Democrats as amoral secularists. Isolated members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church attacked the Democratic candidate, John Kerry, and, in effect, endorsed George Bush’s reelection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and assorted prominent Catholics in the House and Senate were subjected to politically inspired smear campaigns challenging their faith and commitment to family values. The Republican buzz word was “values” – a code word for regimented conformity to Christian conservatism. Waves of Christian volunteers were seduced into a Bush grass roots army mobilized to turn out voters across Midwest swing states like Ohio. Their messianic efforts tilted the outcome.

No sooner had the election passed than Republican leaders found themselves on the defensive for moral lapses. Representative Mark Foley of Florida resigned over relationships with male pages. Since 2006, there has been a succession of scandals such as a married Republican senator’s relationship with prostitutes or another senator’s recent arrest for allegedly propositioning a police officer in a Minnesota men’s room.

Like Sinclair Lewis’s morally flawed preacher, Elmer Gantry, the veneer of Republican moral superiority has been shattered by true stories of infidelity and lurid conduct played out in the tabloids, front pages and TV exposés.

More relevant has been the virtual implosion of the Bush presidency. The contradiction between Christian principles and Republican policy is ugly: unrequited bloodshed in Iraq; preferential treatment of the rich and corporate interests; obstructionism on global climate change; benign neglect on disease and poverty in the Third World; the veto of health care reform – even for children. The abyss between Jesus’s commitment to the underdog and Bush’s continuing embrace of the privileged is simply too wide for honest Christians to ignore.

The long term results of the 2004 election represent an embarrassing defeat for fundamentalist Christian leaders’ experimentation with activism. This must certainly be true as well for the few conservative Catholic bishops who condemned prominent Democrats. Wisely, the American Catholic hierarchy maintained official neutrality in the 2004 presidential contest. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington DC, then head of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Task Force on Catholics in Political Life, remained studiously neutral. As a group, the United States Bishops pointedly did not make public moral assessments of the candidates or their positions – an implied rebuke to those few conservative bishops who condemned specific candidates or elected officials from the pulpit.

As the 2008 election nears, social conservatives are rallying at events like the “Values Voter Summit” where Republican presidential candidates are competing for an endorsement. For this election, however, rather than a sign of moral righteousness, their imprimatur will likely be the kiss of death.

Comments (1)

  • The kiss of death for the wacko-fundy Protestant conservatives?
    I can’t wait to see them flush themselves and their End Times-preaching, pseudo-messianic Christian Dominionist, “Let’s Conquer
    the World for Jeezus!” ideas into the sewer of history…right where
    they belong.

    (my apologies for the gross oversimplification)

    Posted by: Julian the Apostate | May 21st, 2008 at 10:37 am

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