Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has come under fire for his friendship with Russian president Vladimir Putin – who is suspected of trying to tip the election to Trump – his lack of diplomatic experience, and the fact that he is a corporate bigwig who champions fossil fuels, even as the threat of global warming grows.
But Tillerson, whose nomination was announced on Dec. 13, may also face criticism from an unexpected quarter – social conservatives whose support was critical to Trump’s unexpected election last month.
The culture wars have always been with us. Conservatives start them. And liberals win them. So argues Stephen Prothero in his new book Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).
Prothero recently spoke with Sojourners about this argument, its impact on liberal activism, and how we can better wage the culture wars. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Ralph Reed’s recent Road to Majority conservative confab in the nation’s capital had an unlikely exhibitor in the conference hall: opponents of the death penalty.
The activists were in the right place because their opposition stems from conservative principles. Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty believe that the faithful who gathered at the annual event hosted by Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition are ripe for embracing their critical view of capital punishment.
They have their work cut out for them. Yes, support for death penalties has been dropping in a Pew survey — from 78 percent in 1996 to 55 percent last year. But this barbaric practice still enjoys strong preference among conservatives, with 69 percent expressing support in a June ABC News/Washington Post poll. Only 49 percent of liberals agreed. Among Republicans, support is even higher — at 81 percent.
So what kind of reception did the activists receive? The group’s advocacy coordinator, Marc Hyden, told me the response was very positive.
When President Obama and Pope Francis sit down at the Vatican on Thursday, the meeting may well offer a vision of what could have been for Democrats and the Catholic Church over the last six years: a leader of the state and a leader of the church working on the many issues where they agree while working through the issues where they don’t.
Of course, that’s not exactly how it’s gone for Obama and the U.S. hierarchy, even though Obama and the church both stress economic justice and the priority of the common good, universal health care, robust government support for the needy and comprehensive immigration reform.
The potential for a robust alliance fizzled almost from the start of Obama’s candidacy in 2007, and a relationship that began badly went downhill when he was elected.
When Pope Benedict XVI officially left the Vatican in a helicopter a year ago this week, becoming the first pontiff in 600 years to resign, many in his conservative fan base were aghast, even angry.
He has betrayed us, said those who thought Benedict’s papacy would be the final triumph of old-school Catholicism. He has undermined the papacy itself, they worried. Lightning even struck the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica hours after Benedict departed, surely a bad omen.
Rumors that he was suffering from a terminal illness were taken as gospel truth. After all, what else could explain Benedict’s unorthodox decision to abandon the Throne of St. Peter?
The only way to win the “war on poverty” is for liberals and conservatives to make peace — for the sake of the poor. That would be the best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty, declared by President Lyndon Johnson in his January 1964 State of the Union address. Making peace means replacing ideologies with solutions that actually solve the problems of poverty. With both Republicans and Democrats speaking out on poverty this week, and the recession slowly receding this should be an opportunity to find the focus, commitment, and strategies that could effectively reduce and ultimately eliminate the shameful facts of poverty in the world’s richest nation.
For any proposal, the basic question must be whether it helps more people and families rise out of poverty and realize their dreams. This means setting aside political self-interest and thinking beyond our too often inflexible ideologies.
No doubt about it, Pope Francis is generating the kind of Internet buzz and sky-high Q Scores that brand managers can only dream of. But is the pontiff becoming a victim of his own good press?
The Vatican once again had to dispel media reports that went well beyond what Francis actually said, as his spokesman formally denied that the pope had signaled an openness to same-sex unions in a recently published conversation with leaders of religious orders.
During the November discussion with leaders of the Jesuits, Franciscans and others, Francis said they needed to engage “complex” situations of modern life, such as the prevalence of broken homes and the growth in gay couples rearing children.
In a recent USA Today article, reporter Alan Gomez highlights the broad support for immigration reform including among the evangelical faith community.
“About 300 conservatives from around the country and with varying backgrounds — pastors, farmers, police chiefs, business owners — will arrive in Washington on Oct. 28 to meet with Republican lawmakers and make a conservative pitch for a new immigration law,” he wrote.
While Gomez’s piece effectively captures the strong support for immigration reform among evangelical leaders, among others, it also quotes Roy Beck, executive director of the population-control group NumbersUSA, who says these leaders “don’t represent the evangelical rank and file.”
Polls and recent grassroots activity show otherwise.
Todd Starnes did not think he had violated Facebook’s community standards when he posted about “wearing an NRA ball cap, eating a Chick-fil-A sandwich, reading a Paula Deen cookbook and sipping a 20-ounce sweet tea” and generally being politically incorrect.
Workers at Facebook thought otherwise, blocking the host of “Fox News & Commentary” for 12 hours before issuing an apology.
Starnes and other conservatives say the incident is part of increasing viewpoint discrimination from organizations such as Facebook and Google. They want these new media companies to protect their freedom of speech.
For more than three decades, the Vatican of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI operated on a version of the conservative maxim, “No enemies to the right.”
While left-wing theologians were silenced and liberal-to-moderate bishops were shunted aside in favor of hard-liners, liturgical traditionalists and cultural conservatives were diligently courted and given direct access to the apostolic palace.
But in a few short months, Pope Francis has upended that dynamic, alienating many on the Catholic right by refusing to play favorites and ignoring their preferred agenda items even as he stressed the kind of social justice issues that are near and dear to progressives.
Fundraising for the flagship anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops is slowly recovering after being battered by the recession and sharp attacks on its mission.
Officials at the Catholic Campaign for Human Development said that when 2012 collections are tallied after June 30, the program will match or slightly exceed last year’s mark of about $9.5 million. While that is still significantly down from the $12 million that the nationwide campaign was netting a few years ago, the upward trend is reassuring.
“We are pretty optimistic,” said Ralph McCloud, director of the CCHD. McCloud said he was still cautious, given the uncertain nature of the economy, but added that “if things keep going the way they have been, we could see a bit of an upswing.”
Conservatives have united around immigration reform. Over two dozen signed a statement supporting legislation to overhaul US immigration laws. They feel the current Senate legislation is a "importnat starting point." The Associated Press reports:
In a statement being released Thursday, the officials say: "Simply opposing immigration reform should not be the conservative response to this problem. We believe conservatives should be leading the way on this issue by supporting legislation that upholds conservative principles."
Read more here.
As Americans, we live in a culture that is hyper-individuated, fragmented, and dehumanizing as it pushes a mantra of success based on material accumulation and power. Being in community with others is the countercultural answer to this. Doing so with others unlike ourselves is an important part of this. At the end of the day, above the polarization and partisanship, there is much we can do to promote the common good together. As Maddie put it at a meeting that brought Christians of opposing social interpretations together, "We may never agree on some issues, but that is not why we're here; we're good people, you're good people, let's do good together."
Since the moment of his election on March 13, Pope Francis has been warmly embraced by his own flock and even the media and the wider public in a way his bookish predecessor, Benedict XVI, was not.
Such an effusive welcome is especially good news for Catholic leaders who spent years fending off criticism of Vatican dysfunction under Benedict and a cloud of scandal and crisis at home. And the hot start for Francis is also crucial in building up a reservoir of good will that will be needed when the new pope refuses to bend on unpopular teachings or commits a gaffe of his own. Polls show that anywhere from 73 percent to 88 percent of American Catholics say they are happy with the selection of Francis, as opposed to about 60 percent who were happy with the choice of Benedict — and many of those are extremely pleased with the new pope.
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the surprising choice cast a pall over the liberal wing of the flock and left conservatives giddy with the prospect of total victory. Ratzinger had for decades served as the Vatican’s guardian of orthodoxy, the man known as “God’s Rottweiler,” and his vocal fans were crowing about the glorious reign to come.
“He’ll correct the lackadaisical attitudes that have been able to creep into the lives of Catholics,” the Rev. M. Price Oswalt, an Oklahoma City priest who was in St. Peter’s Square that April day, told The New York Times. “He’s going to have a German mentality of leadership: either get on the train or get off the track. He will not put up with rebellious children.”
Now, however, with Benedict set to leave office eight years later in an unprecedented departure, many on the Catholic right are counting up the ways that Benedict failed them, and wondering how their favorite watchdog turned into a papal pussycat.
Mitt Romney failed in his bid to win the White House back for Republicans, but the biggest losers in Tuesday’s voting may be Christian conservatives who put everything they had into denying President Barack Obama a second term and battling other threats to their agenda.
Instead of the promised victories, the religious right encountered defeat at almost every turn. Not only did Obama win convincingly, but Democrats held onto the Senate – and the power to confirm judges – and Wisconsin elected the nation’s first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.
Meanwhile, Republican senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down to unanticipated defeat in large part because of their strongly anti-abortion views, and an effort in Florida to restrict abortion failed. For the first time ever, same-sex marriage proponents won on ballots in four out of four states, while marijuana for recreational use was legalized in two out of three states where the question was on the ballot.
Even Michele Bachmann, an icon among Christian conservatives, barely held onto her House seat in Minnesota while Tea Party favorite Allen West lost his congressional district in Florida.
“Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a sobering post-mortem.
More than two dozen Christian conservatives are trying to put theological debates about presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Mormonism to rest by focusing on the policies outlined in the GOP's new national platform.
In a letter delivered Sept. 7 to Romney the leaders acknowledged that some conservatives have “tempered their enthusiasm for sound governing principles by their concern over differences in a candidate’s theological doctrine.”
But, the leaders said, "it is time to remind ourselves that civil government is not about a particular theology but rather about public policy."
Signatories of the letter include the two sons of the late Jerry Falwell, leading Catholic anti-abortion activist Rev. Frank Pavone, and GOP strategist Ralph Reed. Polls repeatedly show that, while most social conservatives favor Romney, nearly a quarter still express discomfort with his Mormon faith.
Matthew Hutson asks an interesting question in an article for The Huffington Post - Are Conservatives More Religious and Liberals More Spiritual?
"In the United States, religion and politics have always been (fitful) bed buddies. But whether faith drives people left or right (or neither) is not obvious. On one hand, there is the Christian right, a demographic epitomized by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that values tradition and authority and opposes gay rights and the teaching of evolution. On the other hand, we owe many of our advancements in civil rights -- a predominantly left-wing cause -- to religious leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. One way to make sense of the relationship between faith and political orientation is to recognize the difference between religiousness and spirituality."
Read the full piece here