Since 1964, when what we now think of the Religious Right set out to take over the Republican Party, the line between religion and politics have become increasingly blurred on the Right. We have seen conservative Christian theology legislated into law with damning frequency, whether it is related to abortion or contraception or marriage, or any of a number of other areas.
So when Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats says of the pope’s address to Congress Thursday, “I’m always concerned about those who are bringing spiritual messages that step too far over the line in terms of political issues,” you have to laugh.
Republicans have no shame when it comes to utterances like this.
Coats thinks Pope Francis should not be able to say the sorts of things Evangelicals say every day. Republicans like Coats want Pope Francis to stay out of politics, even though Evangelicals not only cross the line every day into politics, but control a major political party.
You want to know how much Coats hates mixing politics and religion? Check out this tweet:
I appreciated my visit w/ pastors from the Indiana Association of Christian Schools. Thanks for your work and prayers pic.twitter.com/YhZSpRZp4M
— Senator Dan Coats (@SenDanCoats) September 16, 2015
Jeb Bush told voters in New Hampshire, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals.” No indeed. He gets his policy from the largely Protestant Religious Right, like every other Republican candidate.
Ben Carson tweeted last week,
Once more, I step aside Lord, let your voice resonate above all.
— Dr. Ben Carson (@RealBenCarson) September 16, 2015
Apparently, only Republicans can speak for God, even when the pope is in town.
But then, this is the same group that thinks Christians are being persecuted in this country even as they impose their religious views on the rest of us on abortion, contraception, marriage, the treatment of the poor, and so forth. And it’s not just religion, as when Francis said when asked of gays, “Who am I to judge?”
The pope has really riled up Republicans since he began to address the threat of climate change. After all, hell hath no fury like a Republican whose income is threatened. Never forget these men are not employed by the American people; their real employees are the fossil fuel industry.
“I think it’s totally inappropriate that the pope is weighing in on all the real sensitive, far-left issues,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, said. “I’m not a Catholic, but my Catholic friends in Oklahoma are not real pleased with it.”
What is amusing is that Inhofe can insist the pope remain silent on “far-left issues.” If he was saying there was no climate change, Inhofe would be urging him to speak up. If Pope Francis was a big supporter of capitalism, Inhofe would be beside himself with joy.
I think in a court of law that would be hearsay. The only relevant part of that statement is that Inhofe is against it. I’m not a Catholic either, and I think it’s great. Unlike Republicans from Donald Trump to Ted Cruz to Ben Carson, the pope is not running for elected office in the United States.
Trump tweeted the other day,
Christians need support in our country (and around the world), their religious liberty is at stake! Obama has been horrible, I will be great
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2015
But the pope is talking Jesus talk, not capitalist talk, and certainly not fossil fuel industry talk, or even the Religious Right’s culture war talk. And this is a problem for all those Republicans in Congress who cringe at the thought of the things Pope Francis might say when he addresses them Thursday.
The worst part, from their perspective, is undoubtedly that Francis will have a huge television audience. Things might be said that Republicans don’t want Americans to hear. Things that undermine the Right’s idea of an AR-15-armed white Anglo-Saxon Jesus who hates poor people and immigrants.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) isn’t even going to show up, for crying out loud. “When the pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.” If you listen, you can still hear the echoes of his feet stomping, a sound that will echo through eternity.
Gosar is going into hiding while the pope speaks, and is probably in search of a suitable happy space to curl up in a fetal ball until it’s all over, hoping when he comes out, some semblance of the Republican world still exists.
It is funny also that the pope has finally made the Right realize there is a difference between religion and politics after decades of Republicans actively combining the two.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie complained to CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that “The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.” If there is a difference, then we must ask why all these Religious Right figures are pretending to speak for God on such openly political matters.
Certainly if they are free to do so, then so is the pope.
Obviously we don’t know what Francis is going to talk about, or what he will say. What is critical right now is that it is only conservatives who fear the Pope. You don’t see Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders fretting over the pope’s appearance, or Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.
Bernie Sanders is even tweeting the pope’s message, because as it happens, his message is identical:
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) September 20, 2015
The Hill opined this morning that, “The pope has become a political football,” but I would suggest here they have it all backwards. This Pope is nobody’s football. He is not the guy who is kicked, but rather the guy who does the kicking.
Thursday, the pope can say anything he wants, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him.
And that’s why Republicans are so afraid.