One of the risks with mixing religion and politics is the chance of “mission creep”: religious groups find themselves influenced (or contaminated) by political ideas that have little or no theological weight to them, but which gradually take on the importance of articles of faith. A good example is the drift of churchgoing Catholics toward Republican activism over the last 40 years.
First, let’s be clear: there’s no ambiguity about the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion, regardless of what Nancy Pelosi wants to think. And some Catholics see Republicans as the natural home for them, because of the party’s ostensible opposition to abortion (what the party actually does on abortion is another matter). The problem, for these Catholics, is that there’s a whole range of policy positions endorsed by the Republicans that are contrary to Catholic teaching.
So what do you do, as a faithful Catholic? Well, you can conclude that since neither party represents your beliefs, that your best option is to join a third party; register as an unaffiliated voter; use your ballot to write in candidates more to your liking; or skip voting altogether. Or, you could reach a stage where you’ve decided that the Republican Party and the Catholic Church are interchangeable, and there are no contradictions between them.
I was put in mind of all this on Tuesday night, when the Rev. Jay Finelli, a Rhode Island priest who blogs and podcasts as “The iPadre,” tweeted this during the presidential debate:
In order to be true peacemakers, we must educate ourselves in compassion, solidarity, working together, fraternity, in being active within the community and concerned to raise awareness about national and international issues and the importance of seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, the promotion of growth, cooperation for development and conflict resolution.
Do you see the problem here? Finelli did not; he tweeted back a quote from Rerum Novarum in which Leo XIII defended private property, as if that’s the same thing as the free market (it is not). Finelli has accepted another organization’s orthodoxy in place of his own, because of their common position on a handful of issues. It’s hard to see how this is good for either religion or politics.