"It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology." -- Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum on President Obama's agenda
"What I'm saying is that someone must force the point, say the unsayable. None of these men have the guts." -- Oscar winner Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady
Not so fast.
Yes, Rick Santorum really is talking a great deal about economics and foreign policy. The man has been both congressman and senator and has an extensive record in both areas.
Yet his critics want to zero in on Santorum the social conservative. And they may well be in for the uncomfortable surprise of their 2012 life.
The shenanigans of the American Left since the 1960s are catching up to them. And by the sheerest of political accidents, President Obama is on the verge of becoming the very symbol of -- as his ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright used to say -- chickens coming home to roost.
Rick Santorum is right. More than right. And Santorum has struck what could become the equivalent of a major political oil field.
He is right when he says what President Obama is about is a "phony theology." Santorum was also right to say "I accept the fact that the president is a Christian." But the consequences of this "phony theology" are now well beyond religion -- although religion is an excellent place to begin the analysis of exactly what kind of beast Obama's "phony theology" really is.
President Obama is indeed a Christian. While there are many accounts of a Muslim heritage (father, grandfather, step-father) Barack Obama famously selected to join the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. While the church is now immutably identified with its controversial (and now retired) pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in fact the key to Santorum's accurate description of Obama's "phony theology" lies not in the Trinity UCC per se but rather in the larger denomination of the United Church of Christ which Obama elected to join. Indeed, in 2007 the UCC welcomed then-Senator Obama to its General Synod gathered in Hartford, Connecticut where the liberal presidential candidate was hailed as a favorite son up from the pews.
It is thus no accident that when Senator Santorum says "we look at the shape of Mainline Protestantism in this country and it is a shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it" he is saying this at the same time he is referring to President Obama and a "phony theology." The media tried to paint Santorum into a corner by suggesting this was an attack on Obama's religion. To which Santorum quite specifically answered "I've repeatedly said I don't question the president's faith. I've repeatedly said that I believe the president's Christian."
But in fact, in a very interesting fashion that has major political implications Santorum was attacking a specific religion -- the "phony theology" of which he spoke. And that phony theology is not only the President's, it now sits atop or plays a major role in a number of American institutions including academia, the law and, in religion, the bureaucratic structure of Mainline Protestant churches. In the latter case this "phony theology" is directly culpable for leaving these one-time pillars of American religion in what Santorum again correctly says is "a shambles."
One of those Mainline Protestant denominations is Obama's United Church of Christ -- a denomination that, wonder of wonders, happens to be my own.
For the record, I have served for six years on the Council of my own local UCC church, five of them as president, and another three years as a member of the UCC's Penn Central Conference Board of Directors. The Penn Central Conference represents over 200 UCC churches in 19 Pennsylvania counties running from the Maryland state line to the New York border. And in accordance with the polity of our denomination, it is important to note here that in writing this I have no authority -- as no member or officer has -- to speak for the denomination.
So let me speak plainly. Under no circumstances do I believe Senator Santorum has somehow slighted my religion, much less insulted it. To the contrary. While he is a Catholic, I believe Senator Santorum has done the United Church of Christ an important service.
Perhaps the best way to say it was expressed in the now-current film The Iron Lady, the film version of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's life. In the film, actress Meryl Streep, who won an Oscar Sunday night for her portrayal of Thatcher, says these lines as Thatcher makes up her mind to challenge the entrenched male leadership of the British Conservative Party:
"What I'm saying is that someone must force the point, say the unsayable. None of these men have the guts."
Allow me to parse the theology problem that the Catholic Mr. Santorum has accurately fingered about the Christian faith President Obama and I share. To say what for some of my fellow UCC'ers is the unsayable.
Why? Why waste your time with noodling about religion in a political column?
Because what Rick Santorum has accurately and concisely identified -- the "phony theology" of President Obama -- is in fact increasingly presenting itself as a major political issue in the 2012 campaign and beyond. It is a theology spread wide over America the last fifty years or so -- one is tempted to think of all those early Cold War graphics that showed a splotch of red spreading over maps of Europe, Asia and elsewhere as Communism slowly and sometimes not-so-slowly swallowed one country and peoples after another as if some sort of political version of "The Blob."
Perhaps it's best to first say how theology is defined. Webster's calls it "the study of divine things or religious truth." And with that definition in mind, it is more than fair to say for many in the hierarchy of the UCC "divine things or religious truth" represents not so much the Gospel of Christ but all things left wing.
The United Church of Christ, created by mergers only in 1957, is descended from two ancient Protestant faiths: the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, themselves created from what were once four separate denominations. Between them, these denominations reflect the Gospel of Christ as taught by a series of Protestant reformers including Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. In American history this tradition, begun with the arrival of the Pilgrims, was embodied by the 18th-century Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be America's greatest theologian. In short, the faith of the UCC goes back hundreds of years. It decidedly did not begin in 1957.
The denomination itself cites a series of quite venerable Christian texts as "authentic testimonies" to the core beliefs of the UCC. In addition to the Bible this includes documents such as, again to quote the UCC, "the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Evangelical Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Cambridge Platform and the Kansas City Statement of Faith", along with the UCC's own "Statement of Faith."
This is important to understand if one is to grasp exactly the truth that Senator Santorum has expressed. One can search these texts forever and one will never find a reference to the crown jewel of today's United Church of Christ -- "social justice."
Yet in listening to the ruling class of the UCC today one would have no idea of this very elemental fact.
Today the UCC is awash not in the Gospel of Christ but the Gospel of Social Justice. And while you can read the very texts cited by the UCC until the cows come home, you will never find the words "social justice" mentioned but once. As is true with the works of Protestant Reformers Calvin, Luther or Edwards, all of whom are cited in buried UCC history as forefathers in reformational Protestant faith. All of whom, out of necessity, are today honored more in the breach than in current doctrine.
If you follow along here to the UCC's "Justice and Witness Ministries" section of our church website, you will find a church veritably bathed in doctrine that has nothing to do with Jesus Christ and everything to do with a man-made political confection -- and an obviously leftist confection at that. Where do you think President Obama gets the idea to cite Luke 12: 48 ("For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.") as he did the other day at the National Prayer Breakfast? This is the very essence of today's UCC theology. UCC liberals will go on and on with this or that from the Gospels or the Old Testament to make their case for redistribution of income and social justice -- always, as with President Obama -- in highly selective fashion. Cherry picking Jesus, as it were, to make their case.
The irony is that after some forty years of all this, my UCC liberal friends are so swept up in this Gospel of Social Justice that they are virtually deaf to the wisdom of another church forefather, John Robinson, better known to the world as the pastor of the Pilgrims, While the church itself quotes Robinson as saying to his flock that God "has yet more light and truth to break forth out of his holy Word" -- or as the current church slogan has it "God is still speaking" -- in fact the UCC Left essentially adopts the posture of clapping its hands over its ears in response. Deaf as a post to the reality that their substitution of social justice for Christ has resulted in over 1 million members leaving the denomination in the last several decades, some 200 churches in the last few years alone, with the National Council of Churches reporting yet another membership decline in 2011 of 2.83 percent.
Thus the Mainline Protestant "shambles" that the Catholic Mr. Santorum has unerringly fingered.
The bubbling controversy over social justice in the UCC is, in another irony, not unlike the famous battle waged by that most famous of Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther. Luther, of course, was the Catholic monk who had the audacity to challenge the Church over, among other things, the practice of selling papal "indulgences" in exchange for removal of sin. Said Luther:
To think papal pardons so great that they could absolve a man even if he had committed an impossible sin and violated the Mother of God -- this is madness.
Madness it was. And as indulgences were sold to gullible wealthy parishioners who believed that for a piece of silver here or a gold coin over there they would be free of sin, today's UCC sells the notion that commitment to this or that "social justice" somehow saves the poor -- and by now every American with a grievance -- all while doing the modern equivalent of rescuing one from sin. To wit: salving the liberal conscience.
Plainly put, social justice today is the modern version of yesterday's sale of indulgences. It makes one morally superior.
As John Robinson noted long ago, light and truth are still shining. And the hard fact is that in the not-so-ancient world of the 20thcentury, the light and truth of history has revealed what lies at the end of a path trod by those who insist on the moral superiority of social justice. Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek, in his trenchant 1976 book Law, Legislation and Liberty: The Mirage of Social Justice, perhaps channeling the willingness of Luther to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day, wrote this:
The commitment to "social justice" has in fact become the chief outlet for moral emotion, the distinguishing attribute of the good man, and the recognized sign of the possession of a moral conscience…. But the near-universal acceptance of a belief does not prove that it is valid or even meaningful any more than the general belief in witches or ghosts proved the validity of these concepts. What we have to deal with in the case of "social justice" is simply a quasi-religious superstition of the kind which we should respectfully leave in peace so long as it merely makes those happy who hold it, but which we must fight when it becomes the pretext of coercing other men. And the prevailing belief in "social justice" is at present probably the greatest threat to most other values of a free civilization.
Added Hayek about the actual record of social justice and the politics of moral emotion:
Most people are still unwilling to face the most alarming lesson of modern history: that the greatest crimes of our time have been committed by governments that had the enthusiastic support of millions of people who were guided by moral impulses. It is simply not true that Hitler or Mussolini, Lenin or Stalin, appealed only to the worst instincts of their people: they also appealed to some of the feelings which dominate contemporary democracies.
Whatever disillusionment the more mature supporters of these movements may have experienced as they came to see the effects of the policies they had supported, there can be no doubt that the rank and file of the communist, national-socialist or fascist movements contained many men and women inspired by ideals not very different from those of some of the most influential social philosophers in the Western countries. Some of them certainly believed that they were engaged in the creation of a just society in which the needs of the most deserving or "socially most valuable" would be better cared for. They were led by a desire for a visible common purpose which is our inheritance from the tribal society and which we still find breaking through everywhere.
In short, "social justice" is all about not Christ but moral tribalism, coercion and control. Specifically government control. It is about imposing the will of the left on you -- and your task is to sit down and shut up.
In the context of religion, this "theology" is in fact, just as Senator Santorum says, a "phony theology." An almost manic devotion not to God but the liberal God of the State.
And, to return to the world of American politics, it is exactly some version of this worship of the God of the State that is now metastasizing across the country, a virulent American cancer of the body politic.
It is precisely this "phony theology" that has a government employee rummaging through a child's lunch bag in North Carolina, telling schools across the land what they can or cannot have in their vending machines. It is Obamacare's death panels and the rejection of the breast cancer drug avastin by the FDA. It is what caused the financial meltdown of 2008,"social justice" mandating that banks give loans to those unable to afford a home -- and patently unable to pay the loan back. There are endless examples.
Which in turn leads directly to the persistent success of the "non-Romney" candidates over the last few months.
Each in their own individual fashion, more and more Americans instinctively understand that the cancer of social justice that has left my denomination in a shambles and threatens to do the same to the country must be defeated outright. They understand this election is in fact not about Barack Obama at all but about the "phony theology" as applied to the economy, foreign policy, and, yes, social issues.
Understandably the Mullahs and Mullahettes of the phony theology are agog at being challenged.
Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, in theory a Republican, in typical Mullah style, has thrown down the gauntlet. Said Simpson of Santorum on Face the Nation:
He is rigid and a homophobic. He believes that gays and lesbians, he mentioned in an interview in 2003, about bestiality, and gays and lesbians. I think that's disgusting…. And they asked him, well he said I want a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and they said well what about the people who are already married? And he said well they would be nullified. I mean what is, what's human, what's kind about that? We're all human beings, we all know or love somebody who's gay or lesbian so what the hell is that about? To me it's startling and borders on disgust.
Santorum, of course, was known by his Pennsylvania constituents to have in his employ on his senior staff an openly gay man. Homophobic? Poppycock. One can only wonder at the role projection plays in Simpson's remarks.
There is nothing homophobic in the least in supporting marriage between a man and a woman. Simpson's crack about Santorum equating bestiality with being gay is, plainly put, a flat out untruth. The then-Senator Santorum was commenting on a Supreme Court case on sodomy, Lawrence v. Texas and said:
In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality.
In other words, Santorum never compared being gay to bestiality. What he was discussing, plainly, was that the definition of marriage in America and the world at large had never included homosexuality. In America it had never included anything legally other than one man and one woman. Indeed, the reason Mitt Romney's great grand-parents were polygamous Mormons who left the United States because polygamy was against the law. As a result, Mitt Romney's own father, the late Michigan Governor George Romney, was born in Mexico.
Obviously, to listen to Alan Simpson, whichever president was in the White House when Mitt Romney's great-grandparents left the United States because they practiced polygamy was one heartless SOB. Surely the Romneys "were all human beings." To quote Simpson, what was "human, what's kind about that"? That being the forcible flight of the Romney great-grandparents because some heartless president or governor somewhere had a bigoted view of polygamy? Mitt Romney's not a bad guy -- he is in fact the great-grandson of polygamists. Why be mean to Good old Mitt's great-grandpa and his various great-grandma's?
Santorum's point was that marriage was traditionally defined as between a man and a woman. Not anything else… and he rattled off a short list from the infinite world of other relationship possibilities. Santorum saw the Lawrence case as a direct threat to the institution of marriage -- and no less than Justice Antonin Scalia expressly said the same thing in his dissenting vote on Lawrence. Which means, again, that either former Senator Simpson is spending too much time with his head in the Wyoming sand or he -- in a classic case of liberal rigidity -- simply chose to deliberately speak untruth on national television. Why? Because defending the "phony theology" is all -- even to a Republican. One can only be curious what Simpson's reaction would have been in the day if his wife had walked in the door with two other men and women and said "Hi Al, why don't we all get married?"
For whatever reason Simpson's remarks were shameful, not to mention hypocritical -- but in fact typical of Hayek's point about those who appoint themselves the moral superiors of others. And then decide to use the government to coerce those who disagree with them.
It is often the case in American politics that there is always someone who, to get a little Star Trekky, dares to go where no one has gone before. The populism of Iowa Republican turned left-wing Congressman James B. Weaver in the late 1800's lost him the presidency twice -- but injected into the political bloodstream the idea of the federal income tax and the direct election of U.S. Senators, both now reality. Barry Goldwater's defining conservatism made Reagan president.
Rick Santorum may be president. Or not.
But without doubt he is doing precisely what Margaret Thatcher and her great friend Ronald Reagan intuitively understood.
He is forcing the point about the "phony theology" abroad in my church and America at large.
He is saying the unsayable.
Because no one else has the guts.
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