George Pyle: Selective Saints and cafeteria Catholics

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Monday, four Utah politicians — all members in good standing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — explained to a lecture hall at the University of Utah how their faith led them to become Republicans. Or Democrats.

Same faith. Different political loyalties and views.

Tuesday, two men running for vice president of the United States — both good Catholics — explained to a national TV audience how their faith led them to oppose abortion rights and equality for LGBT humans. Or to support them.

Same faith. Different political loyalties and views.

It recalls that old series of commercials for BASF, the multinational chemical giant, which bragged, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better.”

Religion is, at best, a tool, at worst, a dodge, that people use to justify, enhance, explain, inform, empower or rationalize whatever it is they want to do. Whether it’s to be generous or selfish, humane or cruel, independent or united, folks use the language of faith to explain what are, unavoidably, personal choices.

The U. panel, put on by the Alliance for a Better Utah, didn’t try to downplay, promote or disparage the role of religion in politics. It just took it out and looked at it.

It showed how at least two Republicans — state Sens.Howard Stephenson and Todd Weiler — and two Democrats — House Minority Leader Brian King and 32nd District House candidate Suzanne Harrison — read the same books, respected the same leaders, spoke the same language and decided that the way to most effectively live their faith was to take different positions on public issues.

All agreed that it would be silly to say that the church doesn’t influence public policy, in Utah and wherever else it can. It’s not only a big religion with global outreach. It’s also a big employer and a big property owner. So it has political interests to defend, just like anyone else with a lot to lose.

But sometimes those loyal LDS lawmakers reject the advice of their church. Stephenson and Weiler, for example, both voted for a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, and King has indicated his support for the idea. The church was not only opposed, but bill sponsors blamed LDS activism for killing a bill that otherwise would have had a good chance of passage.

Stephenson related a touching story of how he grew up one of five children raised by a single mother who worked as a teacher to hold home and hearth together, even as she would sometimes give some of their meager possessions to families who had even less.

It was a formative experience that led to Stephenson becoming a self-reliance, charity is good/government assistance is bad Republican.

Meanwhile, King and Harrison hew to the Democratic idea that the good works, concern for the poor and stewardship of the planet that their faith teaches is often best expressed through collective — i.e. government — action.

Not because government is morally or intellectually superior. But because that’s where the muscle to actually get things done is found.

The dynamic was on display again Tuesday, as Democratic vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine explained his Central American, liberation theology brand of Catholicism and Republican candidate Mike Pence personified what he calls his “evangelical Catholic” philosophy.

Pence says life in the womb is among the least of these that Christ commands us to serve. Kaine says the marginalized of society — women, minorities, LGBT — are those who need to be shown more personal, social and financial support.

And when politicians do something other than what their faith leaders want them to do — as, in Kaine’s case, carrying out death sentences when he was governor of Virginia — they can hope that, as with Utah Mormons who backmedical marijuana, voters will credit them for putting their personal sense of duty and conscience ahead of any religious dogma.

Read the Salt Lake Tribune article here

Leave a Comment