Will the Last Religious Politician Please Turn Out the Lights?
If at one time being a member of a church was almost a requirement for anyone running for office, that time has long since passed. These days, portraying a candidate as a "fine, upstanding Christian" is enough to send any potential office seeker to the political graveyard. Due to constant stereotyping by liberals, such a description now conjures an image that is a combination of Boss Hogg, Huey Long, and Elmer Gantry.
The result, among others, is that the openly Christian candidate is out of favor with the political establishment here and abroad.
Across the pond in England, antagonism toward those who are churched and who openly express their religious beliefs has long prevailed. According to "Erasmus" a columnist for The Economist, Margaret Thatcher may well have been the "last British prime minister openly and emphatically to acknowledge the influence of Christianity on her thinking, in particular terms not fuzzy ones. [...] In her religious origins, she was informed by a passion that was foreign to the English establishment."
Erasmus goes on to explain that openly professed religious sensibilities evoke such revulsion from the British establishment that former Prime Minister Tony Blair experienced a great deal of pressure to keep his faith to himself: "Tony Blair is passionately religious but was famously discouraged by his advisors from 'doing God' in public because of the fear he might sound nutty. "
The feelings of revulsion toward "nutty" people of faith certainly have not been confined to Britain. Most Western establishments, political or otherwise, are hostile toward openly Christian politicians, reserving their most vicious attacks for those who frankly profess their faith in Christ. In America, the vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin, to whom liberals assigned the perspicacity of Elmer Fudd, was a prime example of how worked up leftist wolf PACs become at the prospect of a conservative Christian running for high office.
When did the political tide turn against Christians and other people of faith?
It was Sir John F. Kennedy, knight of Camelot, who as a candidate in 1960 would help rewrite the playbook liberals would use to attack and muzzle overtly religious politicians and Christians in particular. The reasoning behind liberals' attempts to marginalize the Church and Christians is clearly laid out in Kennedy's speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers.
Kennedy's talk turned out to be less about the constitutionally guaranteed right of a Catholic to run for office and more about a newly minted, progressive formulation of the First Amendment. His speech was a clear statement of progressive views concerning the separation of church and state, views which when made official public policy would eventually effectively excise religion itself from the public square.
Though Kennedy said he would address the issue of his Catholicism, he felt personal religious beliefs unimportant in view of more pressing concerns such as the spread of Communism, the lack of respect for American power, hunger in America, the desperation of the elderly, the farming crisis, slums, and the need to compete with Russia's space program. "These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers."
The "more important issues" theme would become a mantra for Democrats as well as for Republicans who sought to keep conservatism confined to economic issues. The new mantra generally was and is expressed as follows: "I'm an economic conservative but a social liberal." The translation: Conservatives who think social issues rank right up there with and sometimes supersede economic policies are worrying about inconsequential stuff.
Kennedy was also basically announcing that people of faith and the church at large had nothing to say about the political philosophy undergirding the policies he considered important. He essentially ignored or openly discarded the contributions of Christians not only to economic and political policies, but to great social problems such as the abolition of slavery and the push for civil rights.
He said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president... how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference..."
JFK was clever to put his concerns into terms that intimated some clergy were ready to dictate to the president and to seize the reins of government. He, Sir John, would courageously fight back. He knew his Protestant audience, some of whom were anti-papists, would unanimously repudiate any outright ecclesiastical rule over American politics.
But Kennedy had to have known on certain levels just how radical his views on the First Amendment were and are. In one fell swoop, he essentially endorsed and helped to create a political climate where no counsel from the Pope, other ecclesiastical leaders and by implication the Church itself is warranted or desired; where religious views are a "private affair;" where religious conscience is subsumed under the rubric of merely pragmatic national interest, and where Christian candidates for office were to be viewed with suspicion and found unwelcome within the establishment.
Kennedy essentially embraced the idea that multicultural relativism should prevail while the almighty state should be the final arbiter of all things political, domestic and foreign. Allegiance to any higher authority than the State or the president was openly and firmly repudiated. The idea that certain ideals, the individual conscience and the Church itself transcended the power of the state was scuttled.
He said, "I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none [...] and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation. [...] I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as president -- on birth control, censorship, gambling or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates."
The absorption of the Kennedy way by liberals explains at least partially why the Democratic Party has gone so far Left as to reject any and all religious moorings, so much so that God was literally booed at the latest Democrat convention. The party is now firmly committed to radically leftist views.
It also explains why Democrat leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden can with complete equanimity participate in the Eucharist, meet with the Pope and yet endorse abortion "rights" and other secularist political doctrines inimically opposed to the teachings of the Catholic Church. They see public policy as resting on other bases such as national interest and a radical pragmatism devoted to statist progressive policies and therefore as completely separate from Christianity, including their own professed Catholicism.
The gradual acceptance of the radical permutations of the Kennedy doctrine of church and state also explains the Obama administration's attack on all conservatively inclined religious denominations via Obamacare health regulations. The administration's insistence that abortifacients and sterilization procedures be included in all health insurance policies offered to employees of any given institution, religious or non-religious, is based on the assumption the State is the supreme arbiter of all consciences. Public policy is to dictate to and to trump any and all religious sensibilities. The Church is to bow to the State.
During the more than half century since Kennedy's speech, the harassment of Christians running for office, the attempts to consign practice of religion to personal piety and in-house church rituals and the push to marginalize religious influence in the broader culture have increased exponentially. The ever increasing hostility has even morphed into attempts to categorize evangelical and Roman Catholic churches as the equivalent of terrorist organizations. How ironic is it that things have turned full circle since 1960? How incredible is it that Catholics and evangelicals may be considered unfit to run for office because they are "extremists?"
In general, Christians within conservative leaning denominations have been kerflummoxed by the Kennedy interpretation of the place of religion and faith in politics.
One reason is that many have accepted the notion that religion always involves belief in God -- God being the God of the Judeo/Christian world view. The fact of the matter is that every person has a religion. Everyone worships a god of some sort.
Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian, pointed out one's religion comprises the principles one holds most dear. Therefore every man and woman has a "faith" by which he or she lives regardless of whether that faith is overtly Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or secular. Those deep seated, if often incompletely articulated principles and convictions, including those of paganism or secularism, are what undergird the policies of any given person or administration. Thus the progressive who believes in the supremacy of the state is worshipping the god of the State and working for the welfare of the state. The fact is that the efforts of secularist public policy makers to change society are as deeply religious as the beliefs of Catholics who believe the Church transcends and informs all earthly institutions.
Christians also have had trouble repudiating forcefully the canard that religious folk should not "force their morality" on society. Policy and law are always based on morality. Further, the law always involves force. It all depends on whose morality prevails.
The problem of good and evil within society always exists. Christians need to accept the challenge to participate in constructing and maintaining a truly good society. While their churches may wish to eschew direct allegiance to a particular political party, Christians can and should be among the mix in the public square and should not be excluded from it on the grounds of a false interpretation of the separation of Church and State. They should resist the attempts of the Left to assign Christians to political and cultural backwaters.
Margaret Thatcher's Christian granddaughter, nineteen-year-old Amanda Thatcher, understands the message of Christianity that all societies are in a grand and noble battle between good and evil. She understands it is imperative that Christians fight for the right in whatever arena they find themselves in. When she spoke at her grandmother's funeral, she recited a passage from the Apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesians:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (NIV)
The words of the apostle are the antithesis of the Kennedy doctrines concerning the Church and the State.
The relativistic secular establishment will always be hostile to Christians and other people of faith who see matters, political or otherwise, in terms of a battle between good and evil; right and wrong.
But Margaret Thatcher and her good friend Ronald Reagan understood the battle between good and evil, particularly as it applied to the power struggles between Western democracies and dictatorial regimes. Reagan once famously described the former Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire." And indeed it was. That is why Thatcher and he engaged in warfare against it and the odious ideology animating it.
Both Reagan and Thatcher would have understood the words chosen by Maggie Thatcher's granddaughter perfectly. Both would have repudiated Kennedy's doctrines.
May their tribe increase.
Fay Voshell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org