Catholics and the Tea Party
There are many political fault lines that run through American society, perhaps more today than any point in recent history. We can all probably name a few of the ideological, cultural, and religious lines, but there is one in particular that I wish to explore with you today: divisions over whether or not, and to what extent, it is legitimate to resist the government. By resist, or rebel, I mean a refusal to comply with laws, though in the future it may mean something else entirely.
When “left” and “right” are set aside, what appears to separate the “mainstream” from “extremism” is the position they take on this vital question.
Naturally, in a country with revolutionary origins, whose founding document establishes the right of the people to overthrow governments that break their end of the social contract, talk of resistance or rebellion in general cannot be dismissed as insane, though some undoubtedly try to argue along those lines. There is also a broad political consensus in the mainstream that civil disobedience against overt racial injustice is legitimate; few Republicans these days have anything other than praise for the aging heroes of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
In my last post, I wrote about tensions, existing or potential, between the libertarian and social conservative elements in the tea party movement. Whereas before I was speaking of Christians in a broad and general sense, I will now turn to what I think the Catholic response to the tea party ought to be.
As I looked into this topic, I was dismayed by the utter predictability of responses from across the Catholic spectrum. The rad-trad response was irrational as always; the leftist response as arrogant and contemptuous as ever; and the mainstream response was unimaginative. Granted this is a very small sampling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was accurately representative of these currents.
28% of the tea party movement, according to the one poll we have so far, is Catholic. This means Catholics are slightly over-represented in the movement. As I also reported last time, 68% of tea partiers attend religious services regularly; for Catholics, that ought to mean they go to Mass every Sunday. Now one thing I think I can say that isn’t very controversial is that when it comes to fidelity to the Church’s teaching on non-negotiable issues, such as abortion, marriage, and parental education rights, Catholics that regularly attend Mass are doing a heck of a lot better than Catholics who don’t. So these Catholics that are faithful to Church teaching on important issues are also supporting the tea party; that to me is an indicator that there is little in the tea party that fundamentally contradicts Church teaching.
In my previous post, I argued at length against both traditionalist Catholic and left-Catholic critiques of American history, and Catholicism’s place within it. Now I believe it is time to shift from the historical to the contemporary. A recent article in Politico by Ben Smith, “Tea parties stir evangelicals’ fears” (which might have been better titled, “Ben Smith seeks to stir evangelicals’ fears”), makes what I consider to be a rather weak attempt to stir the pot and inflame tensions between libertarians and evangelical Christians. You know he’s reaching when he’s hunting down “Christian conservatives” whose primary concern with the tea party is that it is unduly harsh on the noble personal character of President Obama, who, according to one of these evangelical leaders, “provides a tremendously positive role model for tens of millions of African-American men.”
My eyes were rolling so hard I could practically hear them squishing around in their sockets.
The more substantive claim worth addressing is that there is a secular libertarian streak in the tea party movement that is partially or wholly incompatible with the conservative Christian social agenda, which one of the evangelical critics claims has “a politics that’s irreligious”. When Smith was schooled by an article covering a poll that broke down, and dispelled some of the more ridiculous myths about the tea party movement, he continued to maintain that the tensions he pointed out could become problems in the future. So they may.