Things used to be easier for Republicans. In their efforts to make all abortions, for whatever reason, illegal again, and then in their efforts to allow employers to opt out of the requirement that all health plans offer contraceptive and family planning services, they always had the Catholic Church on their side. They had the Pope in their hip pocket. He’d side with them – and then there was a new Pope, and Pope Francis’ immense personal popularity became a problem, not an asset. This new Pope said nothing new about abortion and birth control, but he trashed free-market capitalism – he did call how we’ve arranged our economy the “idolatry of money” – so he trashed trickle-down economics in general – and thus our tax code and refusal to regulate much of anything and our pathetic social safety net too. Our Republicans were not happy with any of this, and now this new Pope is about to release an encyclical on the environment that will frame doing something substantial about climate change in terms of an absolute moral responsibility to future generations. This new Pope was no help at all. It’s hard to proclaim the moral authority of your political agenda, claiming all of it is the innately right thing to do, when the Pope says most if it is pretty damned evil.
Then their battles against gay marriage were lost in the courts, because they had already been lost in the court of public opinion. Jeb Bush traveled to Virginia to give the commencement address at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, to talk about how Christianity was under attack, with folks saying religious freedom isn’t the freedom to refuse to offer goods and services to gays, or even hire them – when clearly religious freedom should exempt Christians from following any antidiscrimination laws. But that was only a curiosity, given the wave of tolerance that has been slowly blanketing the nation, making a surprising number of people accept gays and lesbians as human beings, and non-sinning ones at that. That was discussed here with this insightful comment – as if it matters now. That battle is over. These guys were ambushed by tolerance.
That’s what Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has been saying, recently in this column on Mike Huckabee’s candidacy – the culture wars are over and so is he. The Democratic strategist and blogger Ed Kilgore doubts that:
Bruenig has a different definition of “culture wars” than mine. Maybe for her it means full-on combat against secularism, or conversely, something very narrow like the failing fight against marriage equality. But the faith-based fight against reproductive rights sure isn’t over, by any stretch of the imagination; you can make the argument the bad guys are slowly but surely winning, as a matter of fact, and if a Republican wins the presidency next year, Roe v. Wade will hang by a thread. And if that transpires, and abortion policy is again set at the state level for the first time in more than four decades, we will see “culture wars” in pitched battles all around the country.
Perhaps so, but Bruenig argues that all the “religious liberty” laws represent a massive retreat into self-defense:
These laws aim, in effect, to create enclaves of protection for the practice of conservative Christianity, a far cry from the aspirations of the evangelical politics of yesteryear, which generated enthusiastic support precisely because they sought to rescue America wholesale, and to stop the evils that begin with the cultural ruptures of the 1960s.
Kilgore doesn’t see it that way:
As is clear from the immense controversy over such laws amid claims that their proponents are seeking to turn the “shield” of self-protection into a “sword” against other people’s rights, it’s not at all clear they are defensive in intent or effect. They could, moreover, serve as a strategic position from which to continue to contest “secularist” laws and practices by denying their applicability in broad areas of American life, and thus challenging their acceptance.
But he thinks she’s right about Huckabee:
The fact is that Huckabee is a candidate who has outlived his time. The days of just-kings and their trusty prophets have passed, as has the era of TV pastors achieving influence beyond the (admittedly daunting) reach of the Oprah Winfrey Network. Evangelicals are frightened and angry and looking for the sort of president who will protect them from the onslaught of the world around them, which is still rapidly changing. Huckabee, with his folksy charm and church basement coffee-talk demeanor, was their preferred protector in 2008, and perhaps always will be. But he won’t get anywhere near the White House. …
Maybe Bruenig means the particular kind of appeal Huck offers as an embodiment of Old Time Evangelical Christianity and the era of a confident Moral Majority has come and gone. We’ll see. But even if the culture wars have entered a new phase with the shocking success of the marriage equality movement, the idea that they are “over” strikes me as still quite premature.
In short, there may be a wave of tolerance sweeping the nation, but it’s not a tidal wave. Still, Bruenig keeps at it, now offering The Deterioration of the Christian Right Is Imminent:
It isn’t enough to be overtly Christian anymore, or to represent conservative Christian values. Every GOP candidate will pay the very same lip service to God and family that Huckabee will. Republicans will therefore base their choice of candidate not on Christian values, but on free market street cred. So why does it matter if Huckabee is unceremoniously abandoned thanks to his support for the status-quo in terms of Social Security and Medicare?
It matters because of what it reveals: that business-friendliness has now come into direct confrontation with Republicans’ much-vaunted Christian values, a phenomenon especially visible when it comes to gay marriage.
It is safe, in other words, for GOP candidates to rail against business, so long as their protests remain at the level of frustrated grumbling. What the conservative media machine’s destruction of Huckabee demonstrates is that the free-market, anti-egalitarian wing of the GOP establishment has less patience for the Christian wing than it used to…
Ed Kilgore puts that this way:
Bruenig views the rising conservative attacks on Mike Huckabee for economic policy heresy as a sign the Corporate Wing of the GOP has lost patience with the Christian Right, and is willing to do without it, substituting instead a watery commitment to Christian evangelical rhetoric they can get from any number of less troublesome presidential candidates. Bruenig hopes that in turn that the scales will fall from the eyes of true conservative Christians, who will finally realize they’ve sold their birthright for a mess of pottage and turn elsewhere – where I’m not sure – for vindication of their values.
He’s not buying it:
I wish I could agree with this analysis, but it depends crucially on the belief that support for capitalism is extrinsic to conservative evangelical Christianity, and has been undertaken as part of some sort of bargain – corrupt, perhaps, but still a bargain – between the agents of God and of Mammon. If the bargain is broken by the merchants of greed, then presumably their half-willing Christian allies may bail. But from everything I’ve read and seen, the spirit of capitalism and many of its associated impulses have deeply sunk into the American Christian, and especially conservative evangelical, worldview. And that’s not at all surprising, since the people we are largely talking about have in the meantime traveled from farm to small town to city to suburb, and are living lives fully integrated with the market economy and mentality. They’re as likely to object to Huckabee’s heresies on trade and entitlement as to support them.
So Huckabee isn’t in any conflict:
I don’t know that Huckabee’s (or for that matter, Rick Santorum’s) economic “populism” has any particular religious foundation. He’s trying to exploit a very simple contradiction between the economic views of Republican politicians and of their voters: the GOP “base” is heavily concentrated among older and non-college-educated white folks. Few of them care for “entitlement reform” – if it comes at their perceived expense – and a decent number have never supported “free trade,” either. Huckabee is clearly trying to break out of his conservative-evangelical political ghetto into a broader neighborhood of potential allies against the GOP Establishment people who rejected him back in 2008. Whether or not it works, the Christian Right has no inherent dog in this fight…
In fact, Bruenig cites Kevin Kruse’s recent discussion of his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America – “Post-Depression big business needed a makeover after so many Americans were stung by the implosion of the economy, and a few enterprising Christian leaders figured they could make a few bucks and expand their political influence by forging a friendship with wealthy industrialists. And they were exactly right, for a time.”
Maybe they’re still right, and the blogger BooMan adds this – “The unfortunate reality is that the rise of the Christian Right as a political force cannot be divorced from the corporate interests that financed that rise. As a result, there is no genuine egalitarian or Christian viewpoint that could grow away from business interests.”
They’ll work things out. If the wave of tolerance for gay marriage means that opposition to treating gays with any sort of respect is bad for business, the evangelical right will find a way to be grudgingly tolerant, or lovingly tolerant – and guys like Huckabee and Santorum will be marginalized into obscurity. That’s happening already. No one wants to be ambushed by sudden national outbursts of tolerance. If opposing immigration reform is bad for business, they’ll work that out too – unless Bruenig is right, and those sorts of tacit agreements are no longer possible. The back-and-forth here is about whether the old agreements are still in play.
That, however, doesn’t account for this new Pope, who never entered into any of these agreements with the American right, no matter what they thought. He wants everyone to be tolerant of the poor – the losers who never took any responsibility and made something of their lives – the Takers not the Makers. He’s not impressed with massively successful people who made it big either. He also thinks climate change actually is problem, and a moral issue. He embraces gays and atheists too – we’re all God’s children and all that. He’s just not into shunning and shaming and casting out sinners. He keeps generating more and more tolerance, which ambushes our evangelical Christians time and time again.
The guy is a problem, and now he’s outdone himself:
The Vatican announced Wednesday that it would soon sign a treaty that includes recognition of the “state of Palestine,” lending significant symbolic weight to an intensifying Palestinian push for international support for sovereignty that bypasses the paralyzed negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian leaders celebrated the Holy See’s endorsement as particularly important, given the international stature of Pope Francis. For Israelis, it was an emotional blow, since Francis has deep relationships with Jews dating back decades, and Christians are critical backers of their enterprise.
“The Vatican is not just a state. The Vatican represents hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, including Palestinians, and has vast moral significance,” said Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian foreign-affairs official.
This sort of tolerance cannot be tolerated:
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was “disappointed” by the Vatican’s decision, and that the recognition would “not advance the peace process.” That echoed similar statements after a wave of European Parliamentary resolutions on Palestinian statehood last fall, but some Israeli analysts said the Vatican’s step hurt more.
“Even this philo-Semitic pope, this pope who cares about the Jews, even he doesn’t get it,” said David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel news site. “Every time something like this happens, there’s this sense of anguish. Why don’t you understand? We want to separate from the Palestinians, but on terms that don’t threaten our security.”
The Vatican announcement came as Israel’s new, more conservative government published its official guidelines, which promised to “advance the peace process” and “make an effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians” but did not use the term “Palestinian state.”
Yes, the Pope ambushed everyone, with immediate reaction from those who felt ambushed:
“It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a hawkish defender of Israel.
It wasn’t just Duncan. Several House conservatives seemed exasperated that Francis, who will address Congress this fall, approved the Vatican’s recognition of Palestine as a state. On Wednesday, critics said Rome needs to leave the question of Palestinian statehood to be sorted out in the Middle East.
“I’m disappointed,” Duncan added. “Now the Pope is legitimizing a Palestinian state without requiring those who get recognition to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”
Some things cannot be tolerated:
“I’m surprised that the pope would recognize Palestine when they’re still haters who want to eliminate Israel off the map and don’t recognize Israel,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a member of the Israel Allies Caucus. “The Pope is the head of his religion, and he makes those calls for himself, but I represent 700,000 people from East Texas and a vast majority agrees with me.”
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who co-chairs the caucus, was even bolder, calling the pontiff’s position into question on Biblical grounds.
“He’s a religious figure and he has every right to have his political viewpoint, but someone of that profile should have strong scriptural foundation for whatever positions he takes that are extensively representing the head of the Catholic Church,” Franks said. “I think this is probably one he should not have expressed.”
There’s much of that, and this:
Several Republicans were more forgiving. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who is Catholic, didn’t seem too worried and said it’s not really in his wheelhouse.
Huelskamp said that, when the Pope comes to Washington, he hopes the Pontiff “focuses on issues [where] he can make a difference – the ‘non-negotiables'” – like abortion, same sex marriage and the like.
“How do you deal with a poverty problem? There’s not a Catholic [fix], contrary to the arguments of certain economists that work at the Vatican,” Huelskamp said, said referring to the pope’s views on economics. “But there’s a Catholic view on life, on marriage, on the rights of parents and education. So I hope he sticks to this.”
They want the old Pope back, a Pope of non-negotiables, who would show no tolerance for gays, and no tolerance for women who want a say in their lives, and would make sure no one ever uses any form of birth control, not one who, out of left field, suddenly says that the Palestinians are God’s people too. An agreement is an agreement, even if there never was one.
Salon’s Patricia Miller wonders about that:
News that the Vatican has officially recognized Palestinian statehood in a new treaty may have less of an impact on the relationship between the Holy See and Palestine than on the already fraught relationship between Pope Francis and an increasingly disgruntled Catholic and evangelical right here in the U.S.
That’s because Rome’s diplomatic recognition of Palestine, while made official on Wednesday, has been proceeding quietly behind the scenes for some time. The Vatican has referred to the “state of Palestine” unofficially since the UN recognized the Palestinian state in 2012. “We have recognized the State of Palestine ever since it was given recognition by the United Nations and it is already listed as the State of Palestine in our official yearbook,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.
This, then, is old news, but then it’s more than that:
The larger significance of the Vatican’s move is the signal it sends to the international community about the recognition of Palestinian statehood. … But equally likely to be disgruntled are conservative Catholics and evangelicals, many of whom are strong supporters of Israel because of what they believe will be its pivotal role in biblical end-times and oppose the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the changing of any borders in the region that that would likely entail.
These religious conservatives have already seen Pope Francis tip the scale in international relations – away from their preferred direction – when he brokered a deal to restore diplomatic relations between the U.S. and still officially communist Cuba. He’s also trashed free-market capitalism, decrying the “idolatry of money” and trickle-down economics. And his soon-to-be released encyclical on the environment is likely to frame tackling climate change in terms of a deep moral responsibility to future generations.
Now, conservatives will feel they’ve lost the support of the Vatican on another issue that has transcended its actual particulars to become a touchstone of conservative identity, potentially furthering the rift that has grown between both fiscal and social religious conservatives and Francis, who they hint has no authority to intervene so prominently in non-doctrinal matters.
But perhaps they should have been paying attention:
As John Allen notes in Crux, like Francis’ pronouncements on capitalism and the environment, people assume a break from tradition has occurred only because they weren’t paying attention to the papacy before rock-star Francis. In reality, it is actually a continuation of long-held papal positions. The Vatican’s support for Palestine isn’t particularly new. Allen writes – “When Pope Benedict XVI travelled to the Middle East in 2009, he pledged support for Palestinian statehood. St. John Paul II made similar statements many times, and was sufficiently fond of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat that he had a set of the Stations of the Cross made out of ivory, presented to him by Arafat as a gift, installed in a small chapel off a Vatican chamber.”
Who knew? And this is just more of the same:
It’s more accurate to view this particular step in the Vatican’s relationship with Palestine both as a continuation of the Holy See’s long-standing support for Palestinian statehood and as an expression of Francis’ overriding interest in fostering international peace – and his unique ability and willingness to put his finger on the scales to do so.
When Francis toured the Holy Lands last year, he made a highly symbolic stop at the wall dividing Bethlehem from Israel and later invited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to a prayer summit at the Vatican, where he talked about the “courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.”
Is that the Christian thing to do? The answer depends on who you ask – but our Christian right was just ambushed by tolerance once again. That keeps happening. They may actually end up being the ones who are left behind – and that would be the final irony.