presidential race

Paul Ryan, Joe Biden: A Tale of Two Catholics

RNS photo via Flickr, Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutterstock.com

Rep. Paul Ryan (left) RNS photo by Gage Skidmore/courtesy Flickr, VP Joe Biden,Jason and Bonnie Grower / Shutterstock.com

The 2012 presidential campaign could bear a new subtitle: A Tale of Two Catholics.

For the first time in U.S. history, both sides of the ballot include Roman Catholics: Democrats’ Vice President Joe Biden, and Republicans' newly named vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Ryan, 42, still belongs to the Catholic parish, St. John Vianney in Janesville, Wis., where he was an altar boy. Biden, 69, the first Catholic vice president in U.S. history, attends Mass at St. Patrick’s Parish and St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church, both in Wilmington, De.

Biden and Ryan both cite their faith as a formative influence, but neither is known as a standard-bearer for the Catholic hierarchy’s chief political causes: abortion and gay marriage. In fact, the two candidates are — politically at least — nearly polar opposites.

Vote for Me! The Politicization and Manipulation of Jesus, Christians, and Religion

Cross and Flag. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/rU6OGA

Cross and Flag. Image via Wylio http://bit.ly/rU6OGA

While some folks holler and scream about Rick Perry’s ad, the blunt truth is that this has always been the consistent strategy of modern day politics.

Sadly, religion has become fair game for politicizing – at its best or worst depending on your perspective. What I’m saying is that I while I really dislike Rick Perry’s ad and strongly disagree with his assertion that President Obama has waged war against religion. But that’s not the point. My point is that we’ve allowed the politicizing of religion (and other things) to be FAIR GAME.

Listen folks: I’m not criticizing Rick Perry (or other candidates) because, truth be told, we’d probably do the same politick-ing.  I’m actually critiquing you and me. I’m critiquing us.

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FoxNews shuns pro-immigrant voices. How do we repair souls returning from the war? Does Christianity translate into public policy? Lobbyists role in 2012 fundraising. Oakland mayor promises "minimal police presence" at OWS protests. Cain says he doesn't need to know foreign policy details. And only 40 percent of Americans correctly identify Romney as Mormon.

What is an Evangelical, anyway?

evangelicals-cartoonMost of my friends knew evangelicalism only through the big, bellicose voices of TV preachers and religio-political activists such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Not surprisingly, my friends hadn't experienced an evangelicalism that sounded particularly loving, accepting or open-minded.

After eschewing the descriptor because I hadn't wanted to be associated with a faith tradition known more for harsh judgmentalism and fearmongering than the revolutionary love and freedom that Jesus taught, I began publicly referring to myself again as an evangelical. By speaking up, I hoped I might help reclaim "evangelical" for what it is supposed to mean.

The Problem With Christian Labels

A week or two after the 2004 election, I was dining with some friends in New York when the conversation turned to religion and politics -- the two things that you're never supposed to discuss in polite company.

George W. Bush had just been re-elected with the help of what was described in the media as "evangelical voters." And knowing that I am an evangelical Christian, my friends were terribly curious.

"What, exactly, is an evangelical?" one gentleman asked, as if he were inquiring about my time living among the lowland gorillas of Cameroon.

I suddenly found myself as cultural translator for the evangelical mind.

"As I understand it," I began, "what 'evangelical' really means is that a person believes in Jesus Christ, has a personal relationship with him and because of that relationship feels compelled to share their experience of God's love with other people. "How they choose to share that 'good news' with others is entirely up to the individual. Beyond that, the rest is details and style."

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