What does the church demand of Tea Party Catholics?

Noting that the majority of Catholics who serve in the 112th Congress are far more conservative than those in the previous two, former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson asks in the Washington Post, “What influence is this shift likely to have?”

The short answer, in Gerson’s opinion, is none. He cites statistics that show while a couple generations ago Catholics overwhelmingly voted Democratic, out of ethnic loyalties, that today they are basically mirror images of their suburban neighbors. He writes, “There is something vaguely disturbing about the precise symmetry of any religious group with other voters of their same class and background. One would hope that an ancient, demanding faith would leave some distinctive mark. A reflection may move and smile, but it lacks substance and will.”


Gerson then critiques Catholic politicians on both sides of the aisle, while offering a decent, if somewhat limited, lesson in Catholic social teaching. He concludes that both parties fail to live out the lofty demands of the tradition.

Speaking to Catholic Republicans who sympathize with the Tea Party movement, Gerson notes that the church has historically been reluctant to embrace “revolutionary populism,” and that disdain for government is not a Catholic sensibility either. And to his credit, Gerson writes that  Tea Party radicals and Republicans in general who profess to be Catholic should be challenged by their faith on such weighty issues as immigration, poverty, health care, and global disease prevention. To that list I would add gun control, education, and the death penalty.

We hear on a regular basis from our bishops how some Catholic politicians fail to live up to the Catholic standard, especially on important life issues. But the chastising is seemingly always directed at Democrats. While not a bishop, and not even a Catholic (a Presbyterian, but who says Catholic social thought informs his views) kudos to Gerson for calling not only Democrats, but Catholic members of his own party, to task and suggesting a critical self-reflection of what their professed faith might offer on difficult subjects.

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Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
BTW, I have done the same thing very often myself but I have come to realize that this lack of realism contributes to the disunity we currently have around us - e.g., "you’re a liberal heretic”, “you're a conservative heretic”, etc..  And so, starting with me, I am encouraging everyone to be vigilant against falling into using these terms.
Tom Maher
7 years 11 months ago
One has to be skeptical of speech writers and article writers.  Their political analysis is often far too utopian and idealistic and therefore lacking objectivity and realism.

Gerson understanding of what "Catholic Republicans sympathetic to the Tea party movement" is all about is a very narrow personal vision of Catholics, Republicans and Tea party members are all about.  He shoudl begin with political realities rather than his own personal preconceptions.  The reason Catholics are not differenciated from non-Catholics is that there is no basis for being different.  The facts unite many people to the same conclusion on immigration, poverty , health  care and foriegn policy.  All people do not come to the same political concluions as Gerson or the author. 

Gerson and the author do not undertatnd that the Tea party is not radical and anti-government.  The Tea party movement is a widespread populist reaction to the 111th Congress and its reckless big-governent legislative agenda, in particular the massive new healthcare law and its many mandates and increase tiax burdens which did  not have majority support of most Americans.  The last election soundly repudiated the actions of the 11th Congress and the 2012  election will likely repeal many of the laws enacted by the 111th Congress.

Most Americans are not liberal Democrats or liberal Republican but are people who  beleive in limmited goverement.   Noone should be surprised that Catholics share that political expactation with other Americans. 
we vnornm
7 years 11 months ago
I'm glad Michael is bringing this topic for us to talk about. There are some interesting points made in the "Kartharine Hepburn" post numbers 22, 27, and 29.

I seem to recall one big sentiment in the original Tea Party was something about taxation without representation-i.e. more local voice instead of decisions made elsewhere by fiat and then enforced by authority.

I have been following the Missal translation discussions-there is much sentiment being expressed here that is very similar to the "tea party" dynamic in government: those higher ups haven't listened, they've made decisions for the rest of us without adequate consultation or collegiality, they should allow greater local decision-making, there should be SUBSIDIARITY (a Jesuit word and doctrine if I ever heard one!) rather than centralization. The Tea Party is the party of Subsidiarity.

It looks to me like Father Anthony Ruff (http://americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12688) has made a "Tea Party-esque" declaration of his own. He can be admired for expressing his integrity in the face of a stronger power-but isn't this essentially what members of the Tea Party do, but in a different manner.

I have always thought one of JPII's gifts was to inspire a "Tea Party-esque" reaction in many of his faithful supporters. :-)

So in all seriousness, I think this is a good topic, and going into the underlying "whys" of something may be fruitful. I like how JR Cosgrove has mentioned get togethers that bring everyone together when something other than politics is discussed. Maybe someone can invent a similar event for AMERICA. Tea time at AMERICA House for subscribers twice a year?

Thanks to Tim and the other editors for allowing diversity of views, and to Michael for broching good topics that garner good responses. bvo

7 years 11 months ago
I suspect the nature, meaning and ultimate impact of the Tea Party is still a ways from being written and no consensus is likely to emerge in the broiling political battles.  More than just being a reaction to the 111th Congress, the Tea Party is also a rejection of Bush's so-called "Big Government Conservatism", of which Gerson is a principal architect; he retains, therefore, some "skin in the game".  In some ways, liberals should be celebrating the fact that Catholics no long vote in any significant difference from their neighbors seeing as the goal of liberal Catholicism was to move Catholics out of the "ghetto" and into the mainstream.  Moreover Catholics have largely moved up the education, and hence, income ladders so their concerns parallel other sub-groups.  Card. George's public questioning of the usefulness of the Bishop's political documents recently struck a chord with me.  I think these types of documents have gotten so mushy that most Catholics reading it come away with the impression that I can basically vote however I want.  The benefit of the Tea Party to me has to been to raise again the central issue of what the proper relationship between the FEDERAL government (primarily) and the individual and his/her family should be.  When Catholics were the primary beneficiaries of Big City political machines and their related welfare payments, it was easy to be on one side of that debate (hence the undying devotion to ethnic politicians like the Kennedys who have always been or aspired to be at least more WASP than anything).  Now that those machines have disappeared or been replaced by inner city blacks, the horse is out of the barn, so to speak.
Juan Lino
7 years 11 months ago
Pardon me if I rant but I have a big problem with the designation "Tea Party Catholics" because, in my opinion, our self identity should derive from the fact that we have been incorporated into Christ at our baptism.  And since that’s true, then it seems to me that you do yourself (and the Body of Christ as a whole) as disservice by defining followers of Christ as “Tea Party Catholics”; “liberal” Catholics; “conservative” Catholics, etc. “Liberal” and “conservative” are political terms that are used to marginalize and label people and thereby turn our gaze away from Christ and thus prevent the intelligence of Faith from becoming intelligence of reality.
7 years 11 months ago
Again I suggest we discuss just what is Catholic social justice.  I do not believe it is an act but an end result.  As such Catholic thought and teaching, the words used in t his post should be directed to policies that encourage the end result.  From my personal evaluation of history and the current political climate, I see nothing in Democratic Party policies that leads to social justice.

That is why I vote Republican, not because they are perfect, but because what they recommend comes closer to ensuring that social justice is eventually achieved.  We are presented with a lot of red herrings in the Gerson article.  His description of the Tea Party as complete libertarian is bogus.  Yes, they espouse many libertarian themes but no one wants to go back to the Wild West or even to a complete adoption of Ayn Rand.  There are intelligent policies for immigration, health care, help for the poor, social security that would be acceptable to most Tea Party people, many of which are religious and are guided by the tenets of their religion.

So it is interesting when false comparisons are put out there.  For what end?  To create a divide when none may exist?  Find a Catholic who is a conservative politically and who does not want to help the unfortunate and maybe I will take such contrasts seriously.
7 years 11 months ago
"But isn't that a good thing?  Shouldn't bishops stay out of partisan politics as much as possible?  Ideally, I'd think, their role is to teach, not to give orders and push one or another political party's program."

I absolutely agree, David, at least in the abstract.  The problem is that these documents tend to become a "on one hand, on the other hand", so that when I read it I end up saying, "ok, I'm just going this way".  Meanwhile, our friends on the left howl every time they say something about abortion for reducing the Church to a single issue, and those on the right (myself included) roll their eyes when we get told that we should rank environmental issues the same as abortion.  Then there is the issue of Communion, and while I am uncomfortable with denying Communion as a policy, sometimes when you hear Catholics like Nancy Pelosi try to describe how their position is in line with Church teaching you wonder how effective the teaching is without some sanction.  Imperfect choices all around.


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