Archbishop Chaput, Pennsylvania and the 2012 Election

July 19, 2011, 4:10 pm | Posted by

President Barack Obama’s outreach effort to win religious voters in heavily Catholic Pennsylvania just got a bit more interesting. Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, giving the Church’s most outspoken conservative leader the reigns of a large, high-profile diocese in a state that will be a fierce battleground in the 2012 presidential election. Veteran religion reporter Eric Gorski highlights Chaput’s hard-edged style in the Denver Post today.

During his 14 years in Denver, Chaput has emerged as a strong voice of conservative, orthodox Catholicism very much in keeping with the vision of Pope Benedict. Chaput has called on Catholics to follow their faith’s teachings at the ballot box — especially on the topic of abortion — drawing criticism that he was not-so-subtly promoting Republican candidates…Chaput gained national notice in 2004 for saying Catholic politicians who advocate for legalized abortion — a conflict with church teaching — should refrain from Communion. He continued to speak out on politics four years later, when he clashed with Catholic backers of Barack Obamaand called Obama the “most committed” abortion-rights candidate from a major party in 35 years.

Along with blasting the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to give a commencement address, Chaput has accused Catholic progressives working to broaden the moral values narrative in the media of betraying core Church teachings. Here’s what he said a few years ago about Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (my former employer) and Catholics United, two organizations that like the Church believe a “consistent ethic of life” means issues such as poverty, war, torture, health care and global climate change are also life issues bearing on human dignity.

Democratic-friendly groups like Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good have done a disservice to the church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn.

Unlike episcopal leaders such as Cardinal Donald Wuerl in Washington, who rejects turning the Communion rail into a political arena, or Bishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, NM, who has urged his fellow bishops not to “isolate ourselves from the rest of America”, or retired Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco, who warns that the Church is in danger of being perceived as choosing the Republican side in political fights, Chaput represents a wing of the U.S. Catholic Church that seems to enjoy publicly lambasting Democrats for deviating from church orthodoxy while taking a far gentler tone when it comes to conservative politicians’ contradiction of church teachings. In an exclusive interview today with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, Chaput identifies same-sex marriage as “the issue of our time” and again criticizes the Catholic Health Association for supporting health care reform legislation signed into law by President Obama last year.

Chaput will necessarily be focused on dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal in Philadelphia, where a damning grand jury report found the archdiocese failed to abide by even its own safeguards for protecting children. But as the 2012 election approaches, Chaput will likely use one of the most prominent perches in U.S. Catholicism to remain an outspoken leader in the political sphere. Catholics in this key swing state will have to decide how much Chaput’s confrontational approach will influence their decisions in the voting booth. My bet is that Chaput’s brand will alienate even faithful Catholics who believe our Church has an important voice that should be heard on urgent moral and political issues, but prefer religious leaders to be pastors rather than culture warriors.

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2012 Election: Faith and Politics Coverage Still Lagging

July 11, 2011, 4:09 pm | Posted by

Apparently, the Washington Post thinks it’s on to some big news that during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression even socially conservative voters who reject same-sex marriage and abortion also care about, drumroll please – jobs and the economy!

“South Carolina voters torn between values, economy,” the Post tells us in a recent headline.

The South Carolina Republican primary has accurately predicted the GOP presidential nominee for the past three decades, often in campaigns that revolved around guns, God and gays. That track record has established the state as a firewall that snuffs out insurgent candidates who may gain traction in the smaller, quirkier and far less diverse early-primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire. But with South Carolina saddled with a 10 percent unemployment rate — one of the highest in the nation — the struggling economy is upending the priorities of many so-called values voters, forcing GOP candidates to rewrite their campaign playbooks.

Can we please have some more nuanced media coverage of so-called “values voters?” News organizations dropped the ball back in 2004 when a flawed exit poll question separated “moral values” from broader concerns about the Iraq war, the economy, education and health care. This faulty premise assumed that Americans who care about economic fairness, immigration reform and other moral issues at the heart of their religious traditions left their faith and values outside the voting booth. It’s not a profound insight to imagine that social conservatives in South Carolina and other states where the Religious Right will play a powerful role in baptizing nominees can walk and chew gum at the same time.

The Tea Party may primarily be focused on taxes and government spending, but as Robert P. Jones of Public Religion Research Institute has documented the Tea Party movement also has plenty of social conservatives among its ranks. PRRI found that nearly half of Tea Partiers say they are part of the Religious Right or conservative Christian movement and are socially conservatives, not libertarians, on social issues. In fact, nearly two-thirds (63%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and less than 1-in-5 (18%) support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

Ronald Reagan is venerated by Republicans who identify as fiscal conservatives, but let’s not forget that in 1980 his campaign yoked itself to the Religious Right when the formerly pro-choice governor spoke before a major conference of religious conservatives in Dallas and famously said: “I know you can’t endorse me…but I endorse you.” (H/T to Mark Silk at Spiritual Politics). “Social conservatism is fiscal conservatism,” Michele Bachmann told social conservatives in Iowa a few months ago. Bachman is appealing to main street Republicans with her anti-tax, anti-government platitudes, but this weekend she also became the first Republican candidate to sign a pledge – “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family” -written by a socially- conservative advocacy group in Iowa that, among other things, endorses the view that homosexuality is a choice.

Let’s hope that reporters on the faith and politics beat can dig a little deeper in the months ahead. Tired headlines that pit “values” against “the economy” won’t cut it.

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Romney’s Refusal to Sign Anti-Abortion Pledge Highlights GOP Tensions

June 20, 2011, 5:28 pm | Posted by

Romney-01.jpgEarlier this month, we reported on emerging signs of tension between the GOP and the Religious Right, including the suggestion that using life issues as a litmus test for social conservatives may divide Republicans and distract the party from their White House goals. This is confirmed by the current controversy around Mitt Romney’s decision not to sign an anti-abortion pledge sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List.

The pledge requires signers to commit to anti-abortion measures such as defunding Planned Parenthood. Although the majority of the Republican candidates signed on, Romney declined, echoing the same point Eliot Spitzer made to Tony Perkins about the dangerous redefinition of federal funding. In an essay published in the National Review Online, Romney clarifies his position:

“As much as I share the goals of the Susan B. Anthony List, its well-meaning pledge is overly broad and would have unintended consequences. That is why I could not sign it. It is one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood; it is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America. That is precisely what the pledge would demand and require of a president who signed it.”

Romney’s decision is already affecting his standing with the Religious Right. In a statement released yesterday, the president of the SBA List expresses doubts about Romney’s commitment to active anti-abortion leadership: “Our next president must recognize the urgency of addressing over a million abortions per year…Governor Romney refused to take the pledge and his explanation raises more questions than answers. In good conscience, we cannot let this rest.” And Deal Hudson, the president of Catholic Advocate, wonders whether anti-abortion advocates will see this as a simple disagreement or as a deal breaker. As he points out, some conservatives may look at Romney’s failure to sign the SBA pledge as an “example of why the former governor of Massachusetts cannot be trusted as the 2012 GOP nominee.”

Although Romney is currently leading in the polls, can he maintain his popularity if the Religious Right continues to criticize him for being too weak on abortion issues? And if he wins the nomination, will these organizations continue to oppose him or suddenly change their mind for “party unity”?

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The Inevitable Consequences of Anti-Islam One-upmanship

June 15, 2011, 12:14 pm | Posted by

Monday’s Republican presidential debate included a troubling segment in which all of the candidates (with the notable exception of Mitt Romney) tried outdo the others in proving their “anti-sharia” bona fides.

After Herman Cain tried and failed (again) to explain his support for making any Muslim appointees to his cabinet swear a “loyalty oath,” Newt Gingrich stepped in and pushed the envelope even more, seemingly suggesting a return to the Red Scare mass paranoia tactics of the 1940s and 50s. Think Progress has the video:

GINGRICH: I just want to comment for a second. The Pakistani who emigrated to the U.S. became a citizen, built a car bomb which luckily failed to go off in Times Square was asked by the federal judge, how could he have done that when he signed — when he swore an oath to the United States. And he looked at the judge and said, “You’re my enemy. I lied.” Now, I just want to go out on a limb here. I’m in favor of saying to people, if you’re not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period. We did this — we did this in dealing with the Nazis and we did this in dealing with the communists. And it was controversial both times, and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country. And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say no.

Not only is this horribly offensive and unconstitutional, it doesn’t even make sense. Adam Serwer breaks it down:

So in other words, loyalty oaths are useless, because a genuine radical will simply lie. Gingrich, for some reason, regards this as an argument for making Muslims who want to work in government take special loyalty oaths, rather than an example of how pointless they are.

Every time I think I’ve seen a new low in anti-Muslim babbling, I seem to be proven wrong.

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Signs of Fissure Between GOP Establishment and Religious Right

June 9, 2011, 5:17 pm | Posted by

Last weekend’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, intended to unify the Tea Party and conservative Christian wings of the GOP base, interestingly highlighted some latent but emerging fissures between these two camps.

In his opening remarks, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said, “We cannot fix the fiscal until we fix the family.” He also made a less-than-subtle jab at Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who only just recently announced he would not seek the Republican nomination for president because, as he put it, “In the end, I was able to resolve every competing consideration but one. The interests and wishes of my family, is the most important consideration of all.” From Perkins:

You know, the voices of division cry out that America’s fiscal and economic crisis deserve all of our attention. They argue that government spending, budget deficits, and the national debate are out of control, and other matters are unrelated and must be put aside. One prominent political figure, a man who actually has compiled an impressive record on fiscal issues, educational policy, health care, and other topics even called for a truce on the core social issues. Ironically, the priority of his own family–a priority I commend him for embracing–has dissuaded him from seeking higher office.

Perkin’s use of irony here seems to serve as both a subtle personal dig at Daniels and a disingenuous way to suggest his “truce” represented an abandonment of other families.

Most of the presidential and almost-presidential candidates in attendance at the conference kowtowed to Perkins’ prioritization of social issues. However, Mississippi Governor and political heavyweight Haley Barbour, who like Daniels recently announced his decision not to run for president, made a push for party unity by pointing out that, “statistically speaking,” whichever candidate attendees chose to support likely wouldn’t win the Republican primary. Barbour, who ran against an evangelical Democrat in his 2007 reelection for governor, instead told the crowd:

In political campaigns, in great crusades, in the effort to get our country back on the right track, we got to stay focused on the main thing. The main thing is winning the election. We can’t change the country like we want it unless we win the election. Okay? Remember, purity, in politics, purity is the enemy of victory. Okay?

Barbour’s appeal met with a luke-warm reception from the crowd, and caused a bit of a stir among conference speakers. At an afternoon panel on Catholic grassroots action, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser pushed back on Barbour’s suggestion by warning that “We could win back the Senate, we could win the White House and if we weaken on the fight for life and marriage, we will lose the entire battle and what will it have been for?” But fellow panelist Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate, echoed Barbour’s sentiment, suggesting the governor was just asking social conservatives not to “start getting into the game of ‘are they pro-life or pro-marriage enough,’ don’t start parsing it too far.”

It will be interesting to see how this tension plays out in the coming Republican primaries and the 2012 election, especially if religious conservatives don’t get their candidate of choice.

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