Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rick Santorum's Attacks On Barack Obama Are About Theology, Not Policy

By Becky Garrison
Originally posted 2/24/12 at The Guardian 

According to US presidential candidate Rick Santorum, President Barack Obama undermines the United States' "Judeo-Christian values" through his implementation of his policies. Even though Santorum claims he won't question Obama's faith, he attacks Obama's theology instead of critiquing his policies.

Several speeches delivered by Santorum in 2008 offer some insight into how he delineates between "real" theology (one "based on the Bible") and Obama's "phony" theology. Following his speech at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, Santorum dismissed those Christians who do not hold an inerrant view of scripture as being "a liberal something but not a Christian." Also, while speaking at Ave Maria University, Santorum excommunicated 45 million mainline Protestants (including Obama, who has been involved with the United Church of Christ since the 1980s) by declaring: "We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

Santorum's lackluster performance during CNN's latest Republican presidential debate could signal the end of his presidential run. However, his belief that America is suffering from the prolonged attack of Satan continues to have currency among conservative Christians. Evangelical leaders like the Rev Franklin Graham still label Obama as a Muslim while upholding the Christian virtues espoused by Santorum and Newt Gingrich. Even those progressive evangelicals like Sojourners, who express some vague concerns that a candidate's faith not take over the public realm, do not take Santorum to task for some of his more extreme views on issues such as women's reproductive rights and marriage equality.

In the 17th century, this debate over what it means to be a "Christian" first surfaced in the United States when Massachusetts governor John Winthrop anointed the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be a Christian "city on the hill," while Roger Williams, founder of the state of Rhode Island, argued for liberty of conscience.

Fast forward to the 20th century where, as I noted in my article, Deconstructing Dominionism, this strand of American exceptionalism could be seen post-Great Depression with the emergence of the right-wing organization The Family, sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast. In his research of this organization, documented in his books The Family and C Street, Jeff Sharlet exposed The Family's ultimate goal of "a government built by God" with laissez-faire economics at the heart of their gospel message.

In The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), Rousas John Rushdoony popularized Christian Reconstructionism, which advanced the notion of "theonomy (government by God)". This belief system starts with the nuclear family, where the man is the head of the household. Next in line is church governance, followed by civil governance. All three levels are subject to biblical authority, in that their interpretation of God's word is the sole authority that governs human ethics. Concurrent with the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979, Tim LaHaye's book The Battle for the Mind (1980) charted the beginnings of a battle specifically against the evils of secular humanism with the ultimate aim to create a Christian global worldview. This revisionist historical quest for a "Christian nation" continues to be advanced by pundits such as David Barton, who is a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel.

One can find a similar melding of church and state among conservative Catholics such as Father Richard John Neuhaus. In the 1980s, evangelical Christians and Catholics set aside their mutual distrust exhibited in 1960 when John F Kennedy ran as the first Catholic presidential candidate to collaborate in the battle against abortion. In this multi-front culture war, an "ecumenism of the trenches" prevails over Reformation-era disputes about doctrine. So when Santorum makes full-throated opposition to gay marriage and abortion his signature issues, he is effectively singing from the evangelical hymnal, while playing a tune that appeals to traditional Catholics as well. 

Becky Garrison is a panelist for The Washington Post's On Faith column and contributes to a range of outlets including The Guardian, The Revealer, American Atheist magazine and Religion Dispatches.. Her books include Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist's Search for the Risen Christ, Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church, and Ancient Future Disciples: Meeting Jesus in Mission-Shaped Ministries.
Today's image via DonkeyHotey.

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