Lynn writes as part of an On Faith roundtable on how social issues will resonate in 2012. Lynn answers, “What do the religious controversies surrounding the leading Republican candidates tell us about the state of the social conservative movement? What do social conservatives want in 2012?” Read David French on How abortion frames conservative politics.
On Faith columnist Lisa Miller writes this week on overblown claims of Perry and Bachmann’s religious beliefs in Beware false prophets who incite fear of evangelicals.
The 2012 election is shaping up (or down, maybe) to be all about religion. There won’t even be a value in resurrecting the slogan famously used in the Bill Clinton campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid”.
Now, this does not mean that abortion, school prayer and same-sex marriage will necessarily be persistent front-page topics. It will be more subtle than that. Many Christian conservatives read the Bible to find “proof text” answers to every contemporary issue from debt ceilings to immigration to climate change. I recently received Politics According to the Bible, a 600-page book by Wayne Grudem that even finds a biblical basis for determining what new fighter planes the Air Force should buy (F-22 Raptors, in case you wondered).
When the “supercommittee” of 12 senators and representatives comes out with its “take it or leave it” budget cut recommendations close to Thanksgiving, fundamentally inclined “proof texters” will be able to cite chapter and verse about why virtually all government spending is anti-biblical, anti-family and a veritable slap in the face of God.
At the risk of driving traffic to his website, just take a look at how Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the most effective religious right lobby, gives the biblical bead on economic and foreign policy matters on a daily basis, along with obsessing over contraception, gays in the military and dirty magazines.
Attempts to supplant sound economic policy (and other vital decisions) with Bible passages will be a part of the problem. But it gets even worse: Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have indicated that God has selected, anointed or otherwise chosen them for their current (or- in Santorum’s case, former) political positions and is mightily pushing them further along the governance trajectory. This is presumably the same God who let Mike Huckabee know that he should just stay on television. So, if there is one and only one God, at least two of those candidates must have fallen asleep wearing earphones connected to their iPads and are mistaking the lastest Rush Limbaugh podcast for the voice of God.
Even with this level of confusion it is unlikely that God will resolve the matter by taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times. This undercurrent of “God likes me better than the other candidates” is likely to continue for a long time.
President Barack Obama has managed to avoid direct references so far to any divine assistance in his re-election bid. His “religion problem” seems to be that he is afraid of some powerful religious interest groups. I do not know with certainty why he has refused to keep his 2008 campaign promise to end the practice of giving tax dollars to religious charities that discriminate in their employment practices, but I have a theory. His White House is heavily lobbied by both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and evangelical Protestant relief agencies like World Vision, groups that want the legal right to hire only people of their faith for even solely secular jobs at their government-funded programs. The administration fears that these groups will threaten to stop doing their good works if any strings are attached to their receipt of tens of millions of tax dollars.
Why has Obama decided against having regulations written to explain the modest Medicare reimbursement to physicians for “end of life” conversations as part of an annual health checkup? Again, I’m betting that it has to do with the furor evangelical groups will ignite by resurrecting fears of “death panels” and urging grandma to go both gently and quickly into that good night.
This is all very disturbing to me. Couldn’t candidates from all parties just stick to some basic principles about the American constitutional system they want to serve?
Finally, some advice to the candidates. Don’t stop going to church, but quit telling us about it (or, in Rick Perry’s case, organizing bigger services). Always find a secular basis for decisions about policy (and if they happen to parallel your own ethical understanding, fine). Do the right thing by constitutional standards even if some in the religious world criticize you by their idiosyncratic theological standards (as in, we feel better working only with our “own kind”).
Barry Lynn | Aug 19, 2011 2:43 PM