The role of religion in politics has rarely been so openly controversial as today. Religious conservatives are trying to reverse decades of their diminishing ability to determine political outcomes. It’s all about tolerance.
In our own Catholic diocese, Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s Family School Agreement reverses the traditional tolerance that Catholic schools have shown toward non-Catholics. That Agreement would require non-Catholic families of students at Catholic schools, including Our Saviour and Routt and schools in Springfield, to attend weekly Mass and donate 8% of their income to the Catholic Church. It’s hard for me to imagine, for example, how any Jewish family could accept those conditions and the disrespect for Judaism it implies. This shift back towards intolerance was prompted by Paprocki’s intolerance for homosexuals. He initiated the Agreement when a same-sex married couple enrolled their children at Christ the King elementary school in Springfield.
In Kentucky, Kim Davis has catapulted from county clerk to conservative celebrity, one of a number of public officials who refuse to follow the Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
The Republican presidential candidates are divided on this issue. Those who are more conservative and more supportive of fundamentalist Christianity echo her argument: she should be able to put her religion ahead of the law, even when acting as a government official.
The issue is again intolerance for homosexuals, but also part of a larger agenda and a broader intolerance. Note Senator Ted Cruz’s statement: “Those who are persecuting Kim Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office. That is the consequence of their position. Or, if Christians do serve in pubic office, they must disregard their religious faith — or be sent to jail.” For Cruz, a “Christian” opposes gay marriage. Other ideas can’t be Christian.
Tolerance eventually leads to equality. Advocates for equality, as far back as we can see, argued for tolerance and tried to exhibit it. Those who said “no” were not willing to tolerate people they felt were inferior and so should be unequal.
These are skirmishes in a bigger battle between religious fundamentalists and more tolerant Americans within their own faiths, as well as between fundamentalists and more secular Americans.
For Cruz and many other conservative Christians in politics, religion always trumps the law. The highest law at any time must be their brand of faith. Government must serve Biblical law. This political ideology is called “dominionism”, deriving from the passage in Genesis which gives to men “dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, over the cattle and over all the earth....” Although there is nothing about one group of humans exerting dominion over others, Christian fundamentalists assert their own interpretation, as written by Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of so-called Christian Reconstructionism: “every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion.” Rushdoony denied the Holocaust, said democracy was the enemy of Christianity, and called Southern slavery “benevolent”. Among current Presidential candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee follow this line of thought, intolerant of any religious interpretation except their own.
The politics of our major religions mirror wider American politics. Not only Catholics and Protestants, but also Jews and Muslims are divided into factions, one which cannot tolerate equality for gays, women, and any other religion, and one which preaches tolerance and supports equality.
That split has always existed. But as the center has moved inexorably toward equality, traditionalists have become angry. They are doing everything they can to slow down the future.
As Pope Francis pulls the whole Catholic hierarchy explicitly toward more tolerance, conservative Catholics push back. As Protestant denominations open their doors and their offices to women, to immigrants, and to gays, fundamentalists shut them out.
The ultimate battle is not just about religious practice. Conservative Christians claim that they are only defending freedom of religion, but there is no attack on their freedom to worship and believe as they like. They want more. They want laws which apply to all Americans to reflect their religious beliefs. They demand the right to disregard laws they don’t like. They want their religion to be our politics. They want dominion over the fish and birds and the rest of us.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, September 15, 2015