The 2016 election is transforming the religious landscape of American politics.
It’s hard to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate receiving a mid-campaign invitation to speak at the Vatican.
But on Friday, Bernie Sanders put out word that on April 15 he’ll attend a gathering of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, his front-running rival, have regularly praised Pope Francis.
And on the day of Sanders’s announcement, Francis released “The Joy of Love.” The groundbreaking document signaled what can fairly be called a more liberal attitude toward sexuality and the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.
The pope didn’t change church doctrine on gay marriage but was offering another sign that he’s pushing the church away from cultural warfare and toward a focus on poverty, economic injustice, immigration and the plight of refugees.
On the Republican side, the conservative evangelical movement is divided over Donald Trump’s candidacy. Many of its leaders have denounced him in uncompromising terms they usually reserve for liberal politicians.
One of his toughest critics has been Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Can conservatives really believe that, if elected, Trump would care about protecting the family’s place in society when his own life is — unapologetically — what conservatives used to recognize as decadent?,” Moore wrote early this year in National Review.
He added: “Trump’s willingness to ban Muslims, even temporarily, from entering the country simply because of their religious affiliation would make Jefferson spin in his grave.”
Such denunciations are good news for Ted Cruz, who began his campaign at Liberty University, an evangelical intellectual bastion, and had hoped to unify evangelical conservatives.
But in primary after primary, Trump has won a large share of self-described “born again” or evangelical voters, particularly in the South. In the Southern-inflected Super Tuesday contests in March, his showings in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama were exceptionally strong.
Evangelicals made up 77 percent of Alabama’s Republican primary electorate, and Trump carried them 43 percent to 22 percent over Cruz. Among non-evangelicals, Trump beat Cruz 41 percent to 18 percent, with roughly a third in this group casting ballots for either Marco Rubio, who has since dropped out, or John Kasich.
Even in defeat in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump did about as well among evangelicals (he won 34 percent of their ballots) as among non-evangelicals (36 percent).
In one sense, it is not surprising that the politics of white evangelicals are evolving. Their social issue frame and the most important institutions in their movement were created in the late 1970s and 1980s. But this year’s developments do suggest, as Elizabeth Bruenig (now of The Post) argued in the New Republic, that “the old-fashioned model of reaching evangelicals no longer appears functional.”
Robert Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute (and with whom I have collaborated), sees many evangelicals now as “nostalgia voters.” Writing in the Atlantic, he said they are animated less by “a checklist of culture war issues or an appeal to shared religious identity” and more by an anger and anxiety arising from a sense that the dominant culture is moving away from their values.
A backlash around race, which led many white Southern evangelicals toward the Republicans in the 1960s even before the rise of the religious right, also appears to be at work. It is conjoined with opposition to immigration. And evangelicals, like other Republicans, are split by class and their degree of religious engagement.
Were Cruz to secure the Republican nomination, traditional patterns of white evangelical voting might well reassert themselves.
But with Pope Francis lifting up what can be called social justice Christianity, cliches that religion lives largely on the right end of U.S. politics might finally be overturned.
This view was already flawed, given, for example, the long-standing activism of African American Christians in the politics of economic and racial equity. Clinton especially has been engaged with black churches from the outset of the campaign.
Her own deep commitment to her Methodist faith and its social demands is central to her identity. It could be the key to solving her much-discussed “authenticity” problem, because faith is a powerfully authentic part of who she is.
In the meantime, a Jewish socialist presidential candidate will head off to the Vatican to make a case about climate change and social justice quite congenial to Francis’s outlook.
In today’s American politics, religion is working in mysterious ways.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 11, 2016
The Vatican on Friday tried to tamp down a firestorm ignited by Pope Francis’ comments assailing Donald Trump’s views on U.S. immigration as “not Christian”, assuring the Republican presidential front-runner that it was not a personal attack or attempt to influence the U.S. campaign.
Francis told reporters during a conversation on his flight home from Mexico on Thursday, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
Trump has said if elected president, he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep immigrants from illegally entering the United States.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio the pope’s comments, in response to a reporter’s question on Trump, were an affirmation of his longstanding belief that migrants should be helped and not shut out. He said the pope believed people “should build bridges, not walls”.
“In no way was this a personal attack, nor an indication of how to vote,” Lombardi said.
Trump, who leads Republican candidates in opinion polls, lashed out on Thursday, dismissing the pope’s remarks as “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.
“If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS (Islamic State), which as everyone knows is ISIS’ ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president,” Trump said.
Later, during a television appearance, he rowed back, calling Francis “a wonderful guy.”
EXCHANGE MAKES HEADLINES
The extraordinary exchange between the billionaire real estate developer and leader of the world’s 1.25 billion Roman Catholics, which occurred days before Saturday’s Republican nominating contest in South Carolina, was headline news around the world.
On Friday, New York’s Daily News gave it the front page. Against a backdrop of an image of Trump, a headline blared: Anti Christ! The New York Post ran a front page photo of Trump and the pope wearing boxing gloves with the headline: Trump & pope: Bible belters.
It was unclear what, if any, effect the tussle might have on the vote in South Carolina, a conservative state that is home to many evangelical Protestant Christians.
Patrick Hornbeck, chairman of the department of theology at Fordham University in New York, said on Thursday that Francis’ words were not surprising given the poverty he had just seen in Mexico.
“There is very little common ground between Pope Francis and Donald Trump,” Hornbeck said. He predicted the pope’s words on electoral politics would have little effect on any U.S. Catholics who liked Trump as a candidate.
At a CNN town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, on Thursday night, Trump said he had “a lot of respect” for Francis but that the pope had been influenced by hearing only Mexico’s side of the border issue. The pope’s statement also had been exaggerated by the media, he said.
“I think he said something much softer than it was originally reported by the media,” Trump said.
Earlier on Thursday, Thomas Groome, director of the Boston College Center on the Church in the 21st Century, said Francis’ comments were entirely in keeping with his focus on mercy.
“The pope is commissioned to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s his job,” Groome said. “So when he was asked a direct question, he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said we have to be sure he said this, but if he said this, it is not Christian.”
By: Emily Flitter, The National Memo, February 18, 2016
Donald Trump is aiming ever higher on his list of political enemies. The latest: Pope Francis, who has suggested that Trump is “not Christian” — to which The Donald has responded that Francis will only wish he had been president “if and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS.”
During a phone appearance last week on the Fox Business Network, Trump first responded to the various calls by the leader of Catholic Church for compassion on behalf of Latin American immigrants.
“So I think the pope is a very political person and I think that he doesn’t understand the problems our country has,” Trump said, alleging that the successor to St. Peter was being manipulated. “And I think Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
But this Thursday morning, ABC News, a reporter asked the Holy Father if “a good Catholic vote for this man?” as the Holy Father was on a plane back to Rome after his tour of the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Thank God he said I was a politician, because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ So at least I am a human person,” responded the esteemed Bishop of Rome. “As to whether I am a pawn — well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people.”
He continued: “And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”
This got Trump pretty fired up, judging from his statement Thursday afternoon:
DONALD J. TRUMP RESPONSE TO THE POPE
If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been President because this would not have happened. ISIS would have been eradicated unlike what is happening now with our all talk, no action politicians.
The Mexican government and its leadership has made many disparaging remarks about me to the Pope, because they want to continue to rip off the United States, both on trade and at the border, and they understand I am totally wise to them. The Pope only heard one side of the story – he didn’t see the crime, the drug trafficking and the negative economic impact the current policies have on the United States. He doesn’t see how Mexican leadership is outsmarting President Obama and our leadership in every aspect of negotiation.
For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian and as President I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened, unlike what is happening now, with our current President. No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith. They are using the Pope as a pawn and they should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, especially when so many lives are involved and when illegal immigration is so rampant.
Donald J. Trump
Next up: Donald Trump will allege that Pope Francis has a birth certificate in Argentina — and it’s got a different name written on it!
Update:: Trump has now read the statement aloud, at a rally in South Carolina
By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, February 18, 2016
“Pope Francis Will Not Help Your Political Cause”: Even The Pope Can’t Change The Fundamental Calculus Of Congress
“Pope Francis gets political in remarks at White House,” read the headline at The Hill.
“Pope Francis brings political agenda to Washington,” said Politico.
“Pope Francis wades into U.S. politics,” read The Washington Post.
Seeing all that, you might think that the pontiff had said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, and also, call your representatives and tell them to vote yes on H.R. 2451…”
Meanwhile, countless interest groups are sending out press releases saying the pope agrees with them on their issue of concern (the dumbest I’ve seen has to be the 30-page report from a Democratic group charging that the Koch brothers are “on the wrong side of the Holy Father”). But I have some bad news if you were hoping the pope would aid your particular partisan cause, whatever it is: The pope’s visit is not going to matter much.
I suppose you can’t blame the political press for interpreting the pope’s trip through the lens of politics, since it’s their job to view everything through the lens of politics. And it’s true that the pope is visiting the White House and giving an address before a joint session of Congress while he’s here. But is he really going to change the nature of any of the serious partisan arguments we have?
It’s not too likely, because no matter how popular Francis might be, nobody here is just going to do what he says on any issue just because he’s the pope. It’s strange now to look back at the 1960 campaign and see that people were genuinely concerned that John F. Kennedy would be taking orders from the Vatican instead of doing whatever he thought was best. We’d never accuse a Catholic presidential candidate of that today, less because it would sound intolerant than because it would sound ridiculous. When ordinary Catholics don’t take orders from the pope, why would a Catholic president?
Catholics have a lot of practice at picking the Church edicts they want to obey and those they don’t — and that applies to both liberals and conservatives. The conservatives take all that stuff about helping the poor with a grain of salt, while the liberals have decided to agree to disagree with the Church on matters like same-sex marriage. And most everybody disagrees with the Church on birth control; in this Pew poll, three-quarters of Catholics said the Church should permit contraception, and the overwhelming majority of Catholic women of childbearing age use it.
Of course, this isn’t just about obedience, it’s also about the pope’s ability to add his voice and moral authority to political questions. You could argue that when the pope talks about climate change, he makes concern about it seem like a mainstream position and not the province of lefties and liberals. Which is true as far as it goes, but in the U.S. today, that isn’t that far. In the intensely polarized environment in which we live, even a highly popular religious figure can’t change the fundamental calculus of Congress.
One of our two great parties has committed itself to fight any moves that might address climate change, a commitment that is unlikely to change any time soon. That’s true despite the fact that most of their own constituents believe we ought to do something about it. The dynamics of party politics mean that the Republicans who actually get elected are going to be the ones who are most doctrinaire, on this as on most issues. That means that as long as they control Congress, there will be enough of them to stop any climate legislation, which in turn means that action will only come through the kind of regulatory changes that the Obama administration has instituted. The only thing that will produce meaningful climate legislation is huge Democratic majorities in Congress of the kind they had briefly at the start of Barack Obama’s first term. Might there be a Republican member of Congress somewhere who wishes she could publicly advocate reductions in greenhouse gases, and will finally have the courage to do so now that she can claim Pope Francis as an ally? I suppose it’s possible, but I wouldn’t bet on it — let alone there being some significant number of Republicans who would join her.
The same is true of other issues: the more something matters to us politically, the less the pope is able to change anyone’s mind here in the United States, whether he’s talking about abortion or refugees or tax policy.
Even if some conservative media outlets are now going after Francis like he was Hillary Clinton because of what he’s said about climate and capitalism, they needn’t worry so much. While everyone is parsing the pope’s words to see if he supports their position on something or other — he said he’s an immigrant, so he must be criticizing Donald Trump! He said we need religious liberty, so he must be backing Kim Davis in Kentucky! — what will come out of this visit is a lot of selfies, a lot of media puff pieces, and probably a jump in the pope’s popularity. But politically, everything will stay just the same.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, September 24, 2015