Religion and Politics in the US

Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.

Bridging the impossible gap… From Virginia to the Vatican

 

Remember a time in the 1960s when Catholicism was synonymous with democratic voting? John F. Kennedy was elected by the Irish, the Italians, the Poles, and the Hispanics; pretty much anyone who wasn’t a W.A.S.P. During this time, the evangelicals had the luxury of despising Catholics and vice versa due to deep-seated fears that Kennedy was trying to sell America to Rome. Recently however, the Republican Party has seen Catholics and Evangelicals climbing into bed after an unlikely, possibly shotgun ‘marriage of convenience’[1]. It seems that now, in the year 2014, the real rivalry is not that between the Christian denominations, but rather between those who would attend any church on Sunday against those who would not.

 

Even in the Deep South where attendance at a Catholic service would qualify you for a burning cross on your front lawn, political hopefuls are combining church attendance in the most unlikely ways. Journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey stated that: “these prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost unsurmountable”[2]. For example, Dave Brat, American economist and member of the GOP, is one of many that believes Catholics and evangelicals can do more together than against each other. Also, rather amusingly, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich[3] – after previously being associated with two different religions throughout his life – in 2009 converted to his third wife’s religion of Catholicism. Ironically therefore, Gingrich has spread his loyalties across three different women, and now, coincidentally, three different religions. These dubious alliances and conversions seem mightily convenient for the RNC (Republican National Committee) at a time when the real extremists and conservatives of America, those illustrious forces in the Tea Party movement, are becoming increasingly popular. On social teaching, Catholics and evangelicals are away from the libertarians – naturally, as they both follow the same religious text – agreeing loosely on many socioeconomic issues such as gay marriage, abortion and government spending. Evidence of this can be seen in ‘Table A’ above, which contains research put together by the Pew Research Center. Therefore, Republicans’ efforts to reach out to religions outside of the usual realm of the ‘Bible Belt’ could simply be seen as a push for more votes, rather than a change of heart. The teaming up on moral conservatism of issues such as gay marriage and abortion are all very well, however we wonder how comfortable these right-wing politicians – with no focus on social responsibility – are with Catholic teachings surrounding “economic justice that seeks to balance personal rights with social responsibilities”[4]. No sooner have Republicans squared their moral values with the teachings of the Catholic Church, than the new Pope, Francis, has sought to reaffirm what Sister Simone Campbell calls “the heart of Jesus’ message – care for those who are left out of our economy, not just with charity, but with justice.”[5]

 

If we go back just a few decades, the polls would show a clear divide between Catholic and Protestant voters, Catholics mostly voting Democrat and Protestants, Republican. Now, however, what we can decipher from ‘Table B’ drawn up by the Pew Research Center is that the divide between those Catholic and evangelical voters is becoming a lot less visible. Chad Connelly, former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina, expressed his concerns that after travelling the country in 2012 working for Mitt Romney’s election campaign, he noticed that: “the faith vote was an afterthought in a lot of places.”[6] Connelly found that taking this largely evangelical Christian base for granted was a huge mistake that had very negative effects on Romney’s campaign. Therefore, Republicans’ recent efforts to try to include the Catholics in their community seems to be working in their favour, with many Catholics now voting Republican which would be unheard of, in the not-so-distant past. For the Republicans, it now appears that going to church at all – even if kneeling to the scarlet woman of Rome – is enough to gain you membership.

 

It is important also, to consider the voices of the East Coast, where Catholicism is deep rooted and evangelicals hold less sway. A senior Republican of New Jersey, in private conversation with the author, expressed that “based on observations in recent election cycles, I do not consider Roman Catholics to hold an allegiance (one way or another) toward a political party.” In that way, Catholics differ from evangelicals, the latter who are generally identified as being conservative and hence Republican. He mentioned that during the upcoming Republican Presidential primary, especially in southern states, “you will see candidates jockeying for endorsements from evangelical leaders. No such express pandering occurs with regard to Catholics.” There are of course dissenting voices, such as this, from the argument this article holds, nowhere more than in suburban New Jersey. For instance, Mick O’Donovan, an Irish, Roman Catholic Republican voter, originally from Cork in Ireland, now based in Cranford, New Jersey expressed his views: “if you like paying taxes and big government then go Democrat – but that’s not for me”. An honest and simple explanation of why he votes Republican, with no reference to the religious affiliation of candidates, suggesting that maybe the voice of God is not quite as loud as the voice of Mammon after all.

 

Maybe this ‘marriage of convenience’ between evangelicals and Catholics will be short-lived with them rolling out of bed before the sheets are even warm, but at least for Mr. Gingrich if he were to seek out a fourth marriage, we at least know him to be adaptable. Just as the Republicans warm to the idea of Catholic social teaching being helpfully compatible with theirs, they discover a Catholic who seems determined to spoil it all, that Catholic being Pope Francis. Politic religious conversions are nothing new, as can be seen over four hundred years ago when the Huguenot Henry IV became King of France for the small price of becoming Catholic. Perhaps this convenient abandonment of ideals will have a familiar ring to modern day Republicans.

[1] Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. Article – June 16, 2014. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/16/meet-evangelical-catholics-remaking-gop/

[2] Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/16/meet-evangelical-catholics-remaking-gop/

[3] Adaptation of part of Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s Article – http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/16/meet-evangelical-catholics-remaking-gop/

[4] Gehring, John. Article – http://www.uscatholic.org/teaparty

[5] Campbell, Sister Simone. Article – October 14, 2014 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/how-republicans-became-more-conservative-than-the-pope-111861.html#.VFoOJE1VqUl

[6] Gibson, Dave. Article – June 27, 2014. http://www.religionnews.com/2014/06/27/republicans-launch-digital-effort-rally-evangelicals-polls/

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This entry was posted on December 3, 2014 by in Uncategorized, Vol 2, 2014/15.
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