Feb 27, 2012

That's the Way the Jeffersonian Wall Crumbles

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy spoke eloquently about his commitment to keeping church and state separate. In 2011, presidential candidate Rick Santorum announced that Kennedy's pronouncement made him "want to throw up." Yes, our political discourse has degraded to the point where presidential frontrunners talk like melodramatic teenagers... And then there's the whole trashing of the First Amendment thing.

In remarks last year at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., Santorum had told the crowd of J.F.K.’s famous 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.”

. . .

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

He went on to note that the First Amendment “says the free exercise of religion — that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.”

To Santorum's way of thinking, Kennedy "threw his faith under the bus in that speech."

Kennedy's speech was made in the context of fears about electing the first Catholic to the presidency. In that respect, he paved the way for a Santorum candidacy. But Santorum also benefits from the fact that there is no longer much friction between Catholics and Protestant evangelicals who have bonded over exactly the kind of social issues Santorum articulates with a vehemence I can't recall ever hearing from a presidential frontrunner: abortion, gay rights... contraception (?!!)...

With his comments about Obama's"phony theology" that isn't "based on the Bible," Santorum did not simply bring his faith with him into the public square. He dragged numerous sectarian divides into the political process. He's made this campaign about acceptable and unacceptable religious views and, in so doing, ran afoul of the Constitution. But he hasn't done it alone. Outrageous as it seems, Santorum's religious focus is about pitch perfect in a GOP primary that has become all about religion and which seems to flagrantly spurn Article VI which prohibits a "religious test" for anyone pursuing public office.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

This has become a debate not only over Christianity vs other religious beliefs (or the lack of them) but between Christian sects and over what constitutes a "good Christian." Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the legendary Billy Graham, really upped the ante when he repeatedly hedged on the question of whether or not President Obama is a Christian.

The upshot? People have to be taken at their word that they're Christian unless Graham disagrees with their political choices... or if they're Mormons like Mitt Romney. "Most Christians" don't view Mormons as Christian, according to Graham. Personally, I don't think Graham is in a position to speak for Christians everywhere so I'd want to see some stats before I accept that statement at face value. Certainly Robert Jeffress doesn't. As previously discussed, Jeffress believes the Mormon Church to be a cult. Of course he's said the same thing about Catholicism. So, of course, Jeffress has been dragged out in front of the cameras again to weigh in on the issue of who is and who isn't a proper Christian. So this is a completely bizarre exchange with gaping holes in logic about a completely bizarre exchange with gaping holes in logic.

Jeffress believes Obama is a Christian. He will take him at his word even if Graham won't. Mormons? Not so much. And he'd have to "hold his nose" to vote for the Mitt Romney.

Jeffress explains that Mormonism isn't in line with "historic Christianity" and asks, if Mormons and Christians believe the same things, "Why are they always on my front doorstep trying to convert me?" Pithy. But by that logic, a great number of evangelicals are not Christian because they actively proselytize to mainstream Christians who haven't been "born again," or "saved," and therefore won't get into heaven.

Such minutiae may make for an interesting theological debate but why on earth is it being hashed out in the political arena? Oh. Right. Because Rick Santorum questioned Obama's "theology." He assures us, though, that he never meant to imply that Obama is a Muslim (heaven forbid) and insists he was referring to his environmentalism... even though that doesn't make any sense.

Obama is too soft on Muslims, though, and this business of apologizing for the accidental Qu'ran burning incident that has sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan, just makes him look "weak." Santorum reasons that you don't apologize for things you didn't do on purpose.

"There was nothing deliberately done wrong here. This was something that happened as a mistake. Killing Americans in uniform is not a mistake ... when that is occurring, you should not be apologizing for something that was -- an unfortunate -- say it’s unfortunate, say that this is something that should have been done," Santorum said. "To apologize for something that was not an intentional act is something that the president of the United States, in my opinion, should not have done."

"But if it was a mistake, isn’t apologizing the right, important thing to do?" asked ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.

"It suggests that there is somehow blame, this is somehow that we did something wrong in the sense of doing a deliberate act wrong," Santorum replied. "I think it shows that we are -- that I think it shows weakness."

I know when I bump into total strangers with my grocery cart, I apologize. And I almost never bang into people in the supermarket on purpose.

And if Santorum thinks it's inappropriate to apologize for inadvertent errors, why did his own press secretary call to apologize for accusing President Obama of "radical Islamic policies" on national television? She swears she meant to say "environmental," as she struggled to explain Santorum's reference to Obama's non-Biblical "theology." Her offside comment smacked of the kind of Freudian slip so brilliantly depicted by the Kids in the Hall, as an award winning actress accidentally thanks Hitler.

Santorum has walked back his nauseous protest of the late President Kennedy's remarks just enough to allow that the government should have zero influence on the church and it's ability to deny birth control to employees of church affiliated institutions, even if they're not of that religion and even if the church isn't actually paying for it. Yes, religious freedom, according to this latest dust-up over birth control coverage, means the freedom of the church to control the behavior of all their employees, even if they're not of that religion and are acting according to their own conscience.

And, of course, Santorum and his church have long reserved the right to interfere in the choices of Americans everywhere by pressuring federal, state, and local governments to restrict access to abortion and to prevent gay marriage. I guess that's, again, where Santorum sees the permeability in the Jeffersonian wall that would allow people of religious conscious to bring that influence into the public square... unless they're conscience is non-Biblical, like those wacky Muslims and environmentalists with their weird theologies.

Dizzy yet? I know I am.

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