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"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

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Santorum Jumps The Religion Shark

Posted by: John Schroeder at 02:36 pm, February 18th 2012     —    10 Comments »

Sorry Santorum fans, but this is a bit too much:

Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) made some comments on Obama’s beliefs at a tea party rally here Saturday morning that are likely to raise some eyebrows.

Obama believes in “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology,” Santorum said, according to Steve Peoples of the Associated Press.

Worse yet, he doubled down on it:

At a news conference after an address to a conservative Christian group here, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum stood by his comments earlier in the day that President Obama supports “a phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” and fired back at the Obama campaign for calling the statement “just the latest low” in a negative GOP primary campaign.

Oh, this is just pregnant with irony.  We are getting rumors out of the Obama campaign that Mormon jokes, cracks and bigotry are the order of the day in Chicago HQ, so for Obama to get to call Santorum’s religious bigotry “a low” is definitely ironic – but worse yet is the fact that Santorum made that statement.

You judge one theology, you judge them all.  So how far behind can be Mormon attacks at Romney?  As different as Obama’s theology undoubtedly is, Romney’s is even more different.  And then there is the fact that Catholic theology is pretty radical stuff compared to typical Evangelical thought.  What’s Santorum gonna do if he starts getting hit for using Saints as prayer intercessors or the veneration of Mary gets carefully examined.  Most Evangelicals find that stuff pretty “weird.”

But We’re Not Done…

Gateway Pundit rightly excoriates Ed Kilgore and Washington Monthly for a grossly misleading headline.  But the underlying Santorum quote that the headline so wrongly characterizes is worth some scrutiny:

[O]nce the colleges fell and those who were being educated in our institutions, the next was the church. Now you’d say, ‘wait, the Catholic Church’? No. We all know that this country was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic but the Judeo-Christian ethic was a Protestant Judeo-Christian ethic, sure the Catholics had some influence, but this was a Protestant country and the Protestant ethic, mainstream, mainline Protestantism, and of course we look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.

Look, I am the first to acknowledge the decline of denominational Protestantism in the nation, but this quote, and his remarks in total, fail to acknowledge the rise of Evangelicalism in the void created by that decline – and so quite, quite wrongly blames denominational Protestantism for our cultural decline.  Simple logic dictates that rising Evangelicalism must have had as much to do with it as declining denominational Protestantism.  (Full disclosure: As a Presbyterian I am a denominational Protestant. Yes, I am evangelical in my focus inside of the Presbyterian church, but I am decidedly a Presbyterian.)

There are two things evident in these remarks.  First is a certain political fluidity.  Why did Santorum disregard the role of Evangelicals?  Could political expediency be part of that?  We Protestants are in such decline that we make an easy target (not to mention most of us are liberal), but you need Evangelicals politically if you are on the right.

Secondly, we don’t need to start pointing fingers at other religious groups – PERIOD!  If Santorum is willing to point the finger of blame for cultural decline at my church, what about yours?

Now for full consideration of the context:  Santorum’s remarks are made regarding liberal cultural attack.  He is saying that the left attacked, and succeeded in attacking, the Protestants.  But this is pregnant with the implication that our faith was not strong enough to withstand the attack.   What he is trying to do is urge Catholics to be stronger than we were.  To which I respond: “Where the *&^% were you when we were being attacked?”  You want my help now?  Strength lies in unity, not in divisive comments about one another.

Politically, the bottom line is simple.  In one case Santorum is completely religiously intolerant, in another he is taken out of context and placing him in context he make more sense but is still religiously divisive.  Santorum’s past is full of stuff like the latter – just overflowing with it, really.  He may not be as big an jerk as Gingrich, but he is still an oppo researcher’s dream.  He’ll be explaining out of context comments for the rest of the campaign.  Which means the left is defining the discussion, not us – which means we lose.

Worse yet, his truly intolerant comments concerning Obama pretty well disqualify him from holding office.  It is simply not the president’s job to be judging whose theology is correct and whose is not.

Lowell adds . . .

Giving Senator Santorum the benefit of the doubt, I suppose he might have been referring to the apparent liberation theology underpinnings of President Obama’s faith, which the president seemed to express in his speech to the National Prayer Breakfast a couple of weeks ago:

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others. [Emphasis added.]

There’s nothing new here. Democrats have been saying for years that redistributionist economics are consistent with, if not mandated by, the teachings of the Lord Himself. Now, if Santorum had attacked that notion, he’d be on solid ground. There’s no transcript of his remarks this morning, however, so the best we can say — as John notes above — is that Santorum has some explaining to do about what he really meant. It’s been around 12 hours since his comments, and still the only explanation is this one:

[Santorum] later suggested that the president practices a different kind of Christianity.

“In the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity,” he said. “If the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian.” [Emphasis added.]

Is it just me, or is that somewhat lame? In a different context, Santorum said the same thing about Romney on Fox News Sunday in January, as he dodged a question about Romney’s Christianity:

WALLACE: Senator, do you think Mormonism is a cult?

SANTORUM: No, I don’t.

WALLACE: Do you think that Mitt Romney, contrary to what this Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, said at the Values Voter, do you think Mitt Romney is a true Christian?

SANTORUM: Mitt Romney is a true — he says he’s a Christian. I believe he said Christian. [Emphasis added.]

In fairness to Santorum, he amplified his comments about Romney’s faith:

I’m not an expert on Mormonism. All I know is that every Mormon I know is a good and decent person, has great moral values and, by and large, with the exception of Harry Reid, by and large, pretty consistent in the values that I share and that things I want to see happen to this country. And that’s what he should be judged on.

But still…call me paranoid, but I hear just the faintest dog whistle there. “He says he’s a Christian.” Why not just answer “No,” and dismiss the subject?

Then there’s this, from Santorum’s Meet the Press appearance on June 12, 2011:

MR. GREGORY:  Let me ask you about being a Christian conservative in the race.  Do you think that Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, will have a problem in this race in the primary as Mormons?

SEN. SANTORUM:  I hope not.  I hope that people look at the, at the qualities of candidates and look at what they believe in and look at what they’re for, look at their records and make a decision.

(For some reason all of this reminds me of Santorum’s full-throated endorsement of Mitt Romney back in 2008. But I digress.)

If Santorum really did mean to attack Obama’s faith, then he has crossed a line, and what he says next — will he backtrack or truly double down? — may well be an important moment in this campaign, perhaps even an historic moment.

As we’ve said before, watch this space.


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