Catholics, Evangelicals and Politics in Greenville

Like the Nazgul descending on Middle Earth, the six remaining Republican candidates are here in the state of South Carolina.

Yesterday some of them were at a Family Forum at my alma mater Bob Jones University–just down the road from our home.

Tonight their debate comes from the Peace Center–our downtown performing arts venue.This analysis is pretty sharp about the state of the race in this Southern state with good comment here about the effect of Trump’s vulgarity on the race in this Bible belt bastion.

I’m in the unusual situation of being a Bob Jones University graduate (and therefore born and bred in the Evangelical circles South Carolina is famous for) but I am also a Catholic priest.

What are the issues that bring us together and what divides us?

The question is important not just because of the large voting block of Christians in South Carolina, but because the candidates themselves swing back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Marco Rubio was brought up Catholic. He flirted with Mormonism and then Evangelicalism before returning to hie Catholic faith. Jeb Bush was brought up as a Protestant, but converted to the Catholic faith. Ted Cruz’s Cuban, Spanish and Irish ancestry certainly indicates a Catholic heritage although he has always been an Evangelical. John Kasich–from a Czech background, was brought up as a Catholic and says “there is always a part of me that will be Catholic”. He belongs to a church that is part of the conservative Anglican Church of North America. Ben Carson belongs to the Evangelical sect Seventh Day Adventists while the less said about Donald Trump’s religiosity the better.

Therefore the Catholic- Evangelical story is important and interesting for tonight’s debate and the primary in this state later this week.

Catholics stand together with Evangelicals on family and pro life issues. The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage is clear. It can only be between one man and one woman for life. Catholic and Evangelicals will stand together on pro life matters. Abortion is always a crime which not only causes the death of an unborn child, but does great damage to women and men. Catholics are clearer than Evangelicals in their position on other pro life and family matters. We have clear teaching that opposes in vitro fertilization, artificial contraception, surrogacy and artificial insemination.

 

On other moral matters, Evangelicals and Catholics stand together. Although we may disagree the extent to which government should be involved, we both agree that Christians should show a “preferential option for the poor.” In this largely evangelical town, the Evangelicals run the major charities that minister to the homeless, the addicted, orphans, abused women, prostitutes and gang members. Catholics are in the minority, but we stand by the side of Evangelicals working with them to alleviate the social problems at a local level.

Happily, the old anti-Catholicism for which the fundamentalist South was known, is evaporating. Most Evangelicals are convinced that we Catholics are simply wrong about the Bible, the Church, Jesus and Mary, but they are not now so quick to say the Pope is the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church is the “great whore of Babylon”. In our increasingly decadent and godless society most Evangelicals would say there are much better candidates who represent the “great whore of Babylon” than the Catholic Church.

Where Catholics and Evangelicals are likely to part company is in support of policies that enhance government involvement in social issues. Catholics are much more likely to be in favor of a government funded and administered universal health care system. They are much more likely to be in favor of government programs for prisoner rehabilitation, improved housing for the homeless, better funding for higher education and mandating a living wage instead of a minimum wage. While repudiating  totalitarian socialism, Catholics are less likely to be scared of government programs that give people a hand up instead of a hand out.

What should the candidates aim for in a town like Greenville? The closest thing to a winning ticket here would be what used to be called “Compassionate Conservatism”. It failed under G.W.Bush’s tenure because there was not sufficient commitment to more than a good idea, but if a candidate steps forward with a positive, upbeat expression in support of conservative Christian moral values while showing the way that conservatism can be compassionate–with policies that help the poor to help themselves, then that candidate (if he can get his message across) will win South Carolina.

Which candidate is capable of having this vision and communicating it?

In my opinion, any one of them except the casino owner from New York with the fake hair, fake tan, fake teeth, fake everything.
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