When James Madison wrote the First Amendment, he vaguely set out to protect the institutions of government and religion from one another: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Though constitutional scholars debate to this day the question of what establishes religion and to what degree, if any, government may prohibit its exercise, a letter written by Madison to Edward Livingston in 1822 sheds some light on the query. When government applies what he called “perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters; religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” While this rings of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” analogy, religion remains a given in modern politics.
All contemporary presidents have been Protestant, with the exception of Kennedy, who was Catholic. President Bush said he believes he was called by God to become president, according to USA Today, and has made it well known that he prays daily in office. He, like many Republicans, claims his party is the only choice for Christians. This argument sells well due to the often-strident voice of the religious right. But is the Republican Party truly in tune with mainstream Christian values? Perhaps in rhetoric, but not in policy.
There is one issue that instantly surfaces when religion and politics collide. Abortion has been the Republican Party’s concession to fundamentalist Christians for years, and for years many Christians have been sold. According to Daniel Maguire, professor of ethics in Marquette University’s theology department and president of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, “The healthier Catholic and Protestant traditions of social justice and concern for the poor and for peace were swallowed up in what is called pelvic politics,” or extreme Christian meditation on reproductive issues, with the subsequent disregard for those truly in need — the poor, hungry and sick.
The disparity between the stance of most Republicans and Democrats on abortion has been amplified by an overall lack of discourse between adherents and opponents of choice. As Maguire points out in his book “Sacred Choices,” both sides can agree there are too many abortions. But which party has set out to end abortion in a realistic manner? Unwanted pregnancy is the foremost cause of abortion. However, many Republicans scorn organizations such as Planned Parenthood and ideas such as the usage of contraception.
According to Maguire, “Poverty brings unwanted pregnancies, since poverty breeds chaos and despair and is not conducive to realistic planning in sexual or other areas of life.” The Republican response to this problem: Depart from progressive tax policies toward a regressive policy that gives a disproportionate boost to the top 5 percent of earners. Nothing says “love thy neighbor” like increasing the already vast gap between the wealthy and the poor. In contrast, the Democratic Party has had a solid record of helping lower and middle income Americans since Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, proving government can be an instrument of good. Policies that favor corporations over individuals, however, are at odds with the principles of Christianity, and do not deserve the support of Christians.
The U.S. government has the power to guarantee that the basic health concerns of all Americans will be cared for. Yet, somewhere in his divine inspirations, the president has found the motivation to place tough new rules on Medicaid financing that will limit each state’s ability to provide health care for millions of poor people, according to The New York Times. The compassion behind such a policy is starkly pale next to the health care plan of presidential hopeful John Kerry, which looks to expand health care to cover every American child and 96 percent of the populace.
Republicans like to talk about family values, especially when debating gay marriage, but it is hard to find substantial policy that strengthens the average family.
Bush often calls himself a “compassionate conservative,” a phrase considered by many to be an oxymoron. After all, one would not have to add the word “compassionate” in front of his ideology unless this ideology was inherently void of compassion. Bush and the Republican Party have misplaced their compassion. The meek have been ignored, and the powerful championed. The Republican agenda does not reflect Christian doctrine.