Religion and the Republican Party

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.

The Bible makes the rich man’s responsibility clear in Luke 12:48: “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.”

Furthermore, Pope John XXIII explicitly addressed taxation in his 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra: “In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burden be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.”

However, not to be deterred in its drive for low taxes, the Republican Party has spurned these commands in favor of fiscal policies that favor the wealthy, not the poor.

Take, for example, taxation at the state level. Though the federal tax code is progressive (meaning it favors the poor over the wealthy), many state tax codes are overwhelmingly regressive (meaning they favor the wealthy over the poor). As a result, at the state level, many poor and middle class individuals pay a much higher percentage of their income in taxes than high-income individuals.

To my dismay, the Republican Party stands at the forefront of this injustice. Four of the top five states with the most regressive tax codes (Florida, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas) have Republican governors and bicameral Republican majorities. To put things in perspective, in Florida, the poorest 20% of taxpayers pay 514% more in taxes as a percent of income than the top 1% of taxpayers; in South Dakota, the poorest 20% pay 534% more in taxes as a percent of income than the top 1%.

In addition to injustices at the state level, federal tax cuts signed by George W. Bush in 2003 were unjustly favorable to America’s wealthiest families. After the cuts went into effect, the top 20% of earners experienced a 2% decrease in the percentage of federal taxes they were responsible for paying, while the middle class experienced a 1% increase. In short, the Bush tax cuts increased the middle class’ tax burden while decreasing that of the top 20%, and in doing so blatantly ignored Pope John XXIII’s commandment that tax burdens “be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.”

To be clear, I don’t want the government to “soak the rich.” I believe taxes should be low for all individuals, no matter their income. Nevertheless, I cannot reconcile my faith with a tax code that favors the wealthy over the poor, a tax code the Republican Party seems all too willing to endorse.

As before, the GOP’s hypocritical message doesn’t end with torture and taxes. On the contrary, when it comes to immigration, Republican hypocrisy reaches a zenith.

In Leviticus 19:33-34, God states, “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong […] you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…”

Echoing Leviticus, Pope John Paul II stated in a 1995 address titled The Church and Illegal Immigration that “[t]oday the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”

And that’s not all. In addition to stating its opposition to “enforcement only” immigration policies and support for comprehensive immigration reform, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a 2003 pastoral letter titled Strangers No Longer, states that “[w]hen persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.”

Catholic bishops, the Bible, and Pope John Paul II agree, whether explicitly or implicitly, that illegal immigrants should be taken care of, shown dignity, and given help. Yet the Republican Party as a whole has taken a hard-line stance against comprehensive immigration reform, opting to support “enforcement only” immigration policies instead.

Take for example Lamar Smith, Steve King, and Bob Goodlatte, some of the most powerful Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. These men sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which, according to ABC News, is “the committee tasked with overseeing the nation’s immigration laws.” All of them, along with many of their peers, oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Instead, they want illegal immigrants to navigate the process that’s in place now, a process that’s already made immigration impossible for millions of desperate Latinos. At the same time, these men unanimously support increased border control.

Similarly, the Republican Party’s official platform ignores comprehensive reform, instead calling for a number of new policies that would make it nearly impossible for illegal immigrants to live in the country and find jobs. These proposals headline an immigration platform that spurns comprehensive reform entirely, instead opting to focus on increasing border control and making life difficult for millions of illegal immigrants.

The nail in the coffin here is neither Republican leadership nor the party platform; it’s the voters themselves, who, coincidentally, claim to be overwhelmingly Christian. In a recent Washington Post poll, only 42% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship; in the same poll, 92% of Republicans supported stricter border control. In another Washington Post poll, when told that President Obama supported a path to citizenship, only 39% of Republicans expressed support for such a reform.

These numbers are disheartening. As noted many times before, the Republican Party claims to be the “Party of Christ,” and its voters claim to be overwhelmingly Christian. Yet the party and its base continue to oppose comprehensive immigration reform in favor of stricter border control. Pope John Paul II and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made it very clear: every Christian has the duty to help illegal immigrants and not merely lock them out. As a whole, the Republican Party hasn’t lived up to that duty.

What I’ve said today should anger you. The Republican Party claims to be the “Party of Christ” and it’s not. As Christian voters, we have an obligation to vote with our faith in mind. We aren’t doing that right now. Blinded by the laudable desire to ban abortion and defend marriage, we’ve lost sight of many other issues.

This doesn’t mean all is lost. On the contrary, it is our job as Christian voters to use this information to help the Republican Party find its way, and in doing so return God to His rightful place at the forefront of conservative political thought.