Religion and the Republican Party, Part I of III

For years, the Republican Party has been considered a bastion of Christian politics, a welcome home for religious conservatives. By placing great emphasis on social values and the importance of family, the party has attracted large Protestant and white Catholic majorities. Furthermore, 61 percent of Republican voters claim to attend church at least once a month.

These numbers, as well as the GOP’s main social crusades (that is, banning abortion and protecting marriage), suggest that the party’s policies are aligned with those of Christ. This conclusion is false. On the contrary, though the Republican Party claims the Christian mantle, many of its positions stand in stark contrast to those of the faith.

As a moderate Republican and Catholic, I want nothing more than to bring the GOP into the Christian fold. By focusing on some of the party’s most troubling political stances, namely its support for torture, attempts to pass unjust tax laws, and opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, I hope to spur you to action and prompt change in the modern Republican Party.

I begin with torture. As defined by the United Nations in a 1975 declaration, torture is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” With this definition in mind, it’s clear that the “enhanced interrogation tactics” Republican politicians are so fond of, which include, but are not limited to, waterboarding and sleep deprivation, ought to be classified as torture. Nevertheless, Republicans attempt to hide their guilt behind political jargon, assuming Americans are too stupid to realize that simulated drowning is torturous.

The issue here is not the way Republicans attempt to disguise their immoral politics, however. The issue is the fact that the Republican Party, which widely supports torture, has the gall to claim the mantle of Christianity while both the Catholic Church and Scripture blatantly condemn the practice.

Section 2297 of the Catechism rejects torture in the following manner: “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to the respect for the person and for human dignity.”

If the Catechism isn’t evidence enough, Pope Benedict XVI re-emphasized the Church’s teachings in a 2007 address to the Twelfth World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care: “Public authorities must be ever vigilant in this task, eschewing any means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners. In this regard, I reiterate that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances.’” Romans 12:14-18 then reminds us that we ought to “repay no one evil for evil,” a commandment pro-torture politicians have ignored for decades.

Despite these clear commandments, both ecclesiastical and biblical teachings on torture have fallen on deaf ears in the Republican Party. Despite the fact that 84 percent of Republicans identify as Christians, only 14 percent told the Pew Research Center in a 2009 poll that torture is never justified. Furthermore, 45 percent of Republicans told Angus Reid Public Opinion in a 2012 poll that “the U.S. government should rely on torture to gain information from terrorism suspects.”

Support for torture isn’t found uniquely amongst the party’s base. In reality, the most widespread support for the practice is found in the upper echelon of Republican leadership. George W. Bush authorized the use of waterboarding, a clearly torturous act, on terrorism suspects; conservative darling Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, supports the use of waterboarding on terrorist suspects; and during a December 2011 news conference, Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney said that he supports the use of “interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.”

When it comes to torture, the Republican Party’s hypocrisy is appalling, for while claiming the mantle of Christ, both its base and its leaders blatantly ignore His teachings.

Ashamedly, Republican hypocrisy doesn’t end there. In addition to ignoring Christian teachings on torture, the Republican Party and its supporters also champion regressive tax policies that place an unjust burden on the poor.

Come back tomorrow to see the 2nd part of this 3-part series examining how the GOP fails the faith when it comes to public policy.