You Can’t Be a Catholic and a Republican at the Same Time
(Or a Democrat Either, For That Matter)
March 9, 2012
In the last two decades, the Republican Party has touted itself as the “Christian values” party, and it has been adopted as the favored party of the Christian conservatives, including conservative Catholics, to whom I specifically address this discussion.
But the fact is that in spite of the claims of both entities, this “Christian values” stance is a charade, both on the part of the Republican Party and of the Catholic conservatives themselves. Despite the Republicans’ presentation of themselves as “pro-life” and as the “family values” party, Catholic conservatives are by and large attracted to the GOP for other reasons. And those Catholics who intend to vote Republican because of the party’s stance on legalized abortion have a very short memory.
I am not advocating here for the Democratic Party. Its blaringly public defense of legalized abortion sets it at odds with both the Divine injunction not to kill the innocent and also with the Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life. In addition, the Democratic party’s support of regulations compelling Catholic (and other) institutions to provide employee insurance for pharmaceuticals and medical procedures which the institutions believe to be immoral is reprehensible. And it was not long ago that President Clinton approved government-paid abortions at overseas military bases. As far as I know, that order is again in effect in the Obama administration.
So, we can dismiss the Democratic Party as eligible for the “Christian values party of the year” award, as Catholic conservatives already do.
We return our attention, then, to the Republican Party. We have to ask, How true to Christian values is the Republican Party? And if not, then why do Catholic conservatives support it?
I suggest that the GOP is at least as far from receiving the “Christian values party of the year” award as the Democrats are. The evidence:
1. Loyal Catholic pro-lifers assert that the GOP is a pro-life party. And they have their eye on Sen. Santorum, who has actual pro-life credentials. But even if Mr. Santorum won the presidency, one man does not a political party make. He would have to bring the rest of the variably pro-life GOP into line with him in order to challenge Roe v. Wade in court. This includes the economic conservatives, who are not interested in social issues, and powerful Republicans who are not particularly anti-abortion, like Mr. Romney and Sen. McCain.
Moreover, history smirks at the idea that a pro-life president can bring about such a sweeping change in national policy. George W. Bush was elected to his first term largely because he presented himself as pro-life enough to challenge Roe v. Wade. He brought the whole pro-life establishment into the GOP tent with this promise. And he had a Republican majority in both houses of Congress. Reversal of Roe v. Wade was possible. But shortly after he took office, he announced that “now is not the time to challenge Roe v. Wade.” And that was that. The issue was never pursued. The GOP had duped the pro-lifers. Bush had never intended, it seems, to challenge legalized abortion. -- This was before the World Trade Center attack. He had nothing more pressing to do. But Bush had his eye not on Roe v. Wade, but on Iraq.
Are Catholic conservatives willing to risk being fooled again this time around?
2. The Catholic teaching on the dignity of human life extends beyond the issue of elective abortion to the whole range of situations in which human dignity may be degraded. Some of these issues which are pertinent to this discussion and which the GOP has demonstrated disregard for, are:
a. Capital Punishment. This practice is an eye-for-an-eye punishment which overlooks other, more humane methods of punishing human beings who kill others. The Catholic Church teaches that under most circumstances, capital punishment is immoral. However, the greatest number of executions consistently occurs in states with Republican administrations, most notably, Texas.
b. Just War. The Catholic Church teaches that international disputes are best settled by willing negotiation among the parties, that war is a last resort, and that to be justified, the first attack must conform to specific criteria, including the protection of innocent non-combatants. Neither campaign in Kuwait/Iraq orchestrated by the two Bush Administrations conformed to those criteria and therefore, according to Church teaching, were patently unjust and violated the dignity of innocent civilians.
c. Refugee Protection. The 1948 U.N. Charter for the Protection of Human Rights, consonant with Catholic Church social justice teaching, specifies that international borders be open to the transit of refugees from one county to its neighboring country. However, the GOP has consistently opposed naturalization of refugee Mexicans and has demanded physical barriers to their entry into the U.S.
d. Universal Health Care. Access to adequate medical care for all residents of a nation (citizens and aliens) is, according to Catholic teaching, a fundamental human right, on a par with access to food, clothing, and shelter. Forty million American citizens lack health insurance and therefore lack access to adequate medical care. However, the GOP has consistently attempted to block efforts to put into place President Obama’s universal health care program, which would respond to the health care needs of these forty million. The Republicans have not offered a workable alternative. Attempting to deprive residents of adequate medical care is clearly immoral and violates the dignity of human life.
e. Social Welfare Programs. Catholic social teaching is clear. A society must provide for the basic needs of all its citizens, including the poorest and those least able to provide for themselves. In fact, a society is obliged to select the “preferential option for the poor” when it is allocating its resources. This teaching is based on Jesus’ injunctions to “feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless,” etc. Republican candidates and commentators consistently attack the social welfare programs—Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, the Social Services system, and so on— as “socialist.” Their complaint is that such a system forces the “haves” to give part of the wealth that they have “earned” to the “have nots,” people without jobs who have earned nothing. They call this (quoting Sen. Obama unfortunately during his 2007 campaign for president) “redistribution of wealth.” And they accuse the social services system of supporting derelicts, people who are “lazy” and unwilling to work, and welfare cheats.
However, it is noteworthy that many people who use social services and private agencies that provide food and services testify that they desire to work but cannot find jobs. This is not unexpected in the current depressed economy. This point is ignored by the Republican anti-“socialists.” Also overlooked is the fact that the three living Republican presidents at the time (Ford, Reagan, and H.W. Bush) joined—that is, were complicit with—Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton as Clinton announced the Free Trade Agreement, which precipitated a mass exodus of jobs from the United States. That is, the same party that complains about the high cost of social welfare programs cooperated in the process of exporting millions of manufacturing jobs from the United States, leaving many towns and cities desolate and millions of workers unemployed.
Nonetheless, the Catholic Church teaches that the human dignity of all citizens must be preserved, and that providing the poor with basic necessities is not “charity” or “giveaways.” Rather, it is justice—giving to every person what is their due, since they are the image of God. That is, we have no right to decide on the worthiness of one person or another to receive the supposed “largesse” of society. Every person in need is worthy, simply because they are children of God. That is the meaning of Christian justice.
There are other issues as well, such as nuclear non-proliferation and gun control, but those discussed above will do to demonstrate that in spite of its claims to be “Christian” and to support “family values,” the Republican party stands for policies that demonstrably violate Catholic social justice teachings. These policies assault the dignity of those who are marginalized, weakened by unemployment or poverty, and unrepresented.
Since this is the case, why do conservative Christians in general, and Catholic conservatives in particular, give their support to the Republican Party? I suggest that beyond all the Christian-values talk is a simple appeal to the greed of the people who advocate for Republican candidates and Republican policy positions. Christian people who hold otherwise strong ethical positions seem to be being taken in by the conservative economic arguments against government "give-away" programs to the poor. The candidates, and the ordinary people who accept their arguments, believe that they have “earned” what they have, and that they are being forced by the “socialist” Federal Government to support people who have not earned their keep in the society. In essence, these arguments reduce simply to, "I made the money. I'll spend it as I want. You get your own."
So many ordinary Christian people have been seduced by the invitation of the Republican leadership to resent the Christian justice of paying to meet the basic needs of every resident. These people are setting aside Jesus' injunction to care for the needy, as they continue to cherish the notion that the "welfare mentality" and welfare cheating are a preferred way of life among the poor--ignoring the clear evidence that people living in poor urban areas, when they have adequate legitimate employment, abandon these neighborhoods and move to safer, more dignified environments.
Nonetheless, Christian economic conservatives cling to these ancient, worn-out stereotypes, to justify reductions in entitlement spending for the poor. (We didn't hear any of those who benefited from G. W. Bush's and Obama's $1,400 billion subsidies to the corporations run by the rich complain about those government giveaways.)
This greed was clearly in evidence during this past year in the debt ceiling dispute. In that contest, the Republican party eventually became a single-issue party. The Republicans were willing to abandon their support of increased military funding. They were willing to abandon their promise that the Medicare and Social Security programs would not be touched by budget negotiations. They were willing to give up all their grass-roots appeal for a single issue: Don’t tax the rich.
That showed their true colors.
In essence, the Republicans are accusing President Obama of destroying the economy by throwing good money after bad in support of social welfare programs, including universal health care. In other words, his opponents are accusing Obama of robbing Americans of their hard-earned money— money which these Americans should have the choice of how to spend—and giving it to drug addicts and thieves who have never worked a job. The accusers claim that this money belongs to those who earned it and that the needy have no claim on it.
This is simple, vicious greed, not Christian virtue. No Christian could imagine Jesus agreeing with this position. In fact, Jesus regarded all wealth as a gift from God (Mt. 6:30), not to be owned by the recipient (Mt. 6:19), but to be used for the well-being of the community (Mt. 5:43-48). And primary among the needs of the community is care for the needy (Mt. 25:31-46).
The conclusion: Every faithful Catholic knows that the Democratic Party deviates dramatically from several important Catholic moral teachings about the fundamental value of human life. So, you can’t be a faithful Catholic and support the Democratic Party.
Along the same lines, though, the Republican Party supports an array of social policy positions which contradict Catholic social justice teachings. And the GOP’s actual support of pro-life issues is lukewarm at best. Its “Christian values” stance is a sham. It is used as a cover for the darker and less honorable motives of racial prejudice and greed. Therefore, you can’t be a faithful Catholic and support the Republican Party either.
Voting for one party or the other, then, is not a simple decision. It is not “black and white.” It is not “good versus evil.” Rather, for faithful Catholics, it always comes down to a choice to support the lesser of two evils.
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