Thursday, February 23, 2012

Santorum's "Phony Theology"

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum sparked controversy last Saturday as he attacked President Barack Obama's theology as unbiblical (the photo is one I took of him last August in Iowa). Speaking at an event hosted by the Ohio Christian Alliance, Santorum went theological as he attacked Obama's agenda:
It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.
Asked after the event what he meant by the comment, Santorum added that Obama had operated with a different theology that "you may want to call it secular values, whatever you want to call it, it's a different moral values." Asked if he was questioning if Obama was a Christian, Santorum quickly insisted that he was not:
I'm suggesting, obviously we all know in the Christian church there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity. I'm just saying he's imposing his values on the church and I think that's wrong ... If the president says he's a Christian he's a Christian.”
With the last line Santorum at least avoided the type of confessional politics attack that his supporter Franklin Graham leveled (see post here). However, even though Santorum does not express doubts about if Obama is a Christian, he does still utilize confessional politics to attack Obama's theology and agenda as unchristian. Both types of attacks--doubting if a politician is actually a Christian and attacking a politician's public policy positions on theological grounds--are tactics used in our age of confessional politics, but Santorum's argument is much less problematic than Graham's because he focuses on the policies and not the person. Santorum often uses theological terms to attack Obama and other Democrats. Republican John Danforth, a former U.S. Senator from Missouri and an Episcopalian priest, criticized Santorum's use of theological terms to frame political arguments:
I think historically, religion has been divisive when it’s gotten connected with politics. ... I think Republicans are better if they stick with the big issues and the economic issues and the power of government and don’t frame it in religious terms.
Amen! Once again, Danforth offers a voice of sanity (as he previously did in his book Faith and Politics).

On Sunday, Santorum defended his "phony theology" remarks and provided more context for why he believes that about Obama. He declared on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he was attacking Obama's environmental policies
I wasn't suggesting that President's not a Christian. I accept the fact that the President is a Christian. I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth by things that are that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, that politicization of the whole global warming debate, I mean, this is just all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government. And it's not questioning the President's beliefs in Christianity. I'm talking about, you know, his the belief that man is should be in charge of the earth and should have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.
Santorum believes that Obama's policies to care for the Earth are a "phony theology" even though the Bible is quite clear that we are supposed to care for Creation (a point I made in an article about religion and environmental debates a few years ago). The comment by Santorum makes his initial answer to questions on Saturday interesting since he contrasted Obama's "secular values" with the theology of the Catholic Church. Yet, the Catholic Church is very clear about the importance of caring for Creation and Pope Benedict XVI has even called for more efforts to fight global warming. Reverend Mitch Hescox, who leads the Evangelical Environmental Network, argued about Santorum's "phony theology" comments:
What he doesn't understand is how we treat God's creation is how we care about people. He says he is a devout Roman Catholic. I hope he will start listening to the teachings of his own tradition. Look at the writings of Pope Benedict; he is the greenest pope ever. ... God created a sustainable planet for people to live on and it is our sin that has caused pollution and public-health effects. ... Pro-life is [addressing] whole life, not just in the uterus.
Amen! Considering how Santorum's environmental rhetoric clashes with the teachings of the Catholic Church, perhaps he might want to leave the theological comments out of the environmental debate.

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