Still Wondering if Santorum is a Theocrat?

Sometimes political candidates get wrongly labeled as a theocrat (one whose policy decisions are directly influenced by divine guidance) simply because they’re conservative. So when I heard the “T” word being batted around with regard to Rick Santorum, I hedged.

Until this past weekend, that is.

As the old saying, wrongly attributed quite often to Mark Twain, goes: “Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” Well, it seems in the case of Santorum, this adage doesn’t apply.

And neither does the First Amendment of the Constitution, apparently, except when it serves an existing political agenda.

Speaking to George Stephanopolous on Sunday, Santorum offered the following quote:

“The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country…to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”

Well, get your barf bag ready, pal, because a healthy number of your own constituents are constitutional purists. At least they say they are. Even Santorum himself continues to cater to his Tea Party followers by praising them for upholding the Constitution as central to the way wee govern ourselves. But it seems we can’t get any further than the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment before the water gets a little muddy.

Thomas Jefferson was a strong proponent of the “wall of separation” between church and state, and for good reason. Having emerged from a theocratic state where the church wielded great power over the citizens of the British Empire, Jefferson and others were reluctant to reinvent the same problems under which they’d suffered back in the motherland.

Seems to me if a clause makes it in the very first amendment to the constitution, it’s pretty important, right?

At issue, to me, seems to be the logic employed by Santorum to go from a constitutionally mandated wall of separation between church and state, and assuming that this means that “people of faith have no role in the public square.” This is simply ignorant, as many of the writers of the constitution were men of faith; they simply didn’t believe that the Church (big “C,” mind you, as in the institution) should be involved in matters of politics.

Can they speak publicly about matters they consider ethical? Of course.

Can politicians seek religious counsel in making their decisions? Absolutely.

Should religious organizations have direct influence on public policy? Big no-no, that one.

I’m no constitutional scholar, but this seems pretty clear-cut to me. So either Rick Santorum lacks a fundamental understanding of the Free Exercise Clause, or he is, in a roundabout way, advocating for a more theocratic form of government.

Neither of these would endear him to the late Thomas Jefferson, I’d guess.

And as a side note, Though I have no particular horse in this race, I can’t wait to see what happens Tuesday night in the Michigan GOP primary. Honey, put on some popcorn, ’cause it’s gonna be a good one!

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • political rube

    I don’t know Santorum. I didn’t see the interview. But I hear him saying (out of context) that the first amendment doesn’t restrict “the church” from having a considerable place in politics. Maybe he meant an institution, maybe he meant “moral people of faith.” That’s a big difference. Churches as institutions are restricted by the first amendment. But “the church” as people of faith are not. If anything, their influence is protected. I’d love to see him explain this…

  • Craig Watts

    Good words, Christian! Right on the mark. Santorum’s thinking is fuzzy at best, down-right scary at worst.

    • http://www.christianpiatt.com/ Christian Piatt

       Thanks man. I’m thinking of following up tomorrow with a piece about how he may actually be helping the cause of further secularization.

  • Graham

    But the “wall of separation” is not constitutional. Even I, as a Canadian know that. The consitution forbids congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This does not actually forbid the church from having a role in government.

    • http://www.christianpiatt.com/ Christian Piatt

       It is not verbatim from the constitution, but it is exactly the phrase Thomas Jefferson used to describe what he understood as the intent of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

      • Graham

        when I look at the first ammendment I see nothing about the church being restricted. Jefferson may have wanted a wall of separation, but in reality it isn’t on the books.

        • Christian Piatt

          That’s why we have the Supreme Court. The Constitution must constantly be interpreted. Personally I trust Jefferson’s interpretation of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise clause…and this coming from a professional within the church (me).

          • Graham

            Luckily, as a Canadian it doesn’t apply to me, but a letter to group of Baptists hardly seems the best place to go for understanding constitutions. Pretty obvious the 1st ammendment is ensuring that there is no national church controlled by the gov’t. Nothing in there going the other way.

  • http://lifebeforethebucket.blogspot.com/ Adrian Waller

    I agree with your thoughts wholeheartedly. I do have to say, though, I chuckled when I sighted the word “wee” in there. But I’m immature (or so my wife tells me). =)

  • Kris

    I think Santorm is simply employing an age-old conservative political tactic. This is all meant to get buzz and energize those conservatives who would love to smudge the line drawn by the first amendment. They don’t know what theocracy is, but they certainly would love to have a president who referred to the bible when making policy. Santorum is willing to go there to get the ticket, but like the rest of the GOP candidates his integrity will fail to keep that line when pressed.

    • Aspiechristian

      Possible, for sure. I blew the whole thing off as propaganda until I read works by the leaders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (R J Rushdoony, Gary North). There is one among them, Dr. Lee Irons, who is anti-dominionism and doesn’t take Calvinism to such wild conclusions. Francis Schaeffer is much to blame as well. He was influenced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A number of heavy hitters are involved in this theology of syncretism with secular culture. Some of the more radical believe that our legal system should punish homosexuality, and blasphemy against the God of the Bible with death. I’m not making this up. This is actually happening in Africa, after a visit by three American theonomist pastors. I took it all with a grain of salt until I read
      Hedges, a man whom I believe is as honest a journalist as they come.

  • http://nitecaravan.blogspot.com/ Br. Jay

    I get nervous by his words.  Whose church?  Which group?  The one with the most money/political clout?

  • Aspiechristian

    I wouldn’t call Santorum a theocrat, but rather a theonomist – a belief in rule by religious law. He may also say things to rile up his base. For example, Santorum has advocated a nearly- complete absence of government in education. While this alone doesnt make a theonomist, it’s a necessary component of American dominionism: destroy the public school system and replace it with Christian education or homeschooling. When reconstructionists hear “defunding public schools,” they believe they’re hearing one of their own – which is how a Roman Catholic can be so popular among Evangelical conservatives. In this group, it’s also ID code to compare President Obama to Hitler. For more complete and much better information, check out American Fascists, by Chris Hedges.

    • http://www.christianpiatt.com/ Christian Piatt

       I would definitely agree about his dominionism.

  • Mikey

    Every law ever written is religious or derived from a moral principle. History is replete with this.
    We look at horror at civilizations that held different faith
    assumptions and think how could they do such a thing. Easy, they worshiped another god than we do.  The laws of any land reflect the religion of the people. Faith assumptions and priorities that reflect a peoples faith (beliefs) determine the laws. If everyone was a believer in the Bible, they would love the Criminal, Tort, Property laws of the Bible.  Today, other belief systems are taking root that reject the old law order. A new one MUST fill the void, unless the Christians started believing their Bible again. Most Christians I have spoken to, don’t want a return to popery, or divine right monarchies, but a desire to not have the State church, such as Jefferson dealt with in the Danberry Baptist letter. His stance was a man’s opinion or conscience was between him and God and that the civil magistrate would only punish actions. The question is how do we decide which actions to punish? Most Christians have long been opposed to abortion, and many abortion supporters would like to extend abortion to about two years of age. Depending on your faith (belief) will determine your reaction to both of these. Culture is religion externalized.

    • Craig Watts

      Mikey: ”
      Most Christians have long been opposed to abortion, and many abortion supporters would like to extend abortion to about two years of age. ” Really? Never ran across even one such “abortion supporter.” So I guess you won’t mind offering a half dozen links that will justify your claim that “many” want infanticide to be legal. It seems like a ridiculous and baseless claim used in dishonest polemics. Show me otherwise.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X