Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crude words from a Cardinal and a Senator

"A proposed immigration bill in Arizona has escalated a war of words between a Senator and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony. The cardinal attacked the bill on his Internet blog, likening the bill to 'German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques' that compelled people to turn each other in. Senator Russell Pearce, the author of the bill declared on a radio talk show that Mahony was a 'guy who's been protecting child molesters and predators all of his life.'" See article here.

Extremist language from either side will not solve America's immigration problem.  But that's not my reason for posting this. I'm more interested in the latent anti-Catholicism among certain types of "faith, family and freedom" conservatives. While Pearce is a Mormon, not an evangelical Christian, politically conservative Mormons, have long identified with politically conservative Protestants. Mormonism teaches that there was a great apostasy in the post-apostolic Church. In 1820, Joseph Smith had his first vision and this is counted as the beginning of the restoration of the true church, gospel and priesthood. It's a position hard to reconcile with a Catholic understanding of the Faith.
Catholic and non-Catholic Christians have worked together on various cultural issues for a generation. With some types of Protestants this has been a real fraternal alliance. With others, not much more than co-belligerance. Evangelical Protestants are themselves aware of this. There exists a tension between the triumphalist "Christian America" movement represented by popular speakers like David Barton and the more cautious, self-critical evangelical activism of Chuck Colson. That tension has its roots in attitudes toward the Catholic Church and whether America is at heart a "Protestant" country.

Opposition to abortion will keep these factions working together with Catholics. Catholics with a sense of history are themselves wary of what they see as a movement that lionizes "Protestant" America. Generally conservative pro-life Catholics who like to think of themselves as defenders of faith, family and freedom have no interest in a return to the nativist evangelical Protestantism that dominated America in the first half of the 19th century. This was the type of Protestantism that supported public schools because they would Americanize all those Catholic immigrants and crusaded against "rum, Romanism, and rebellion." This anti-Catholic slur spoken by a leading Protestant supporter of James Blaine (R) cost him the 1884 presidential election against Grover Cleveland.

Cultural Protestantism of this sort carried considerable cultural clout into the beginning of the 20th century.  The Scopes "monkey" trial of 1925 and the shaming of William Jennings Bryan as well as the later repeal of prohibition are often the cultural markers used to represent the final cultural defeat of this type of Protestantism. 
There are some serious historical tensions that the "new right" of the 1970s never resolved. Cardinal Mahony's quick accusation of racist xenophobia brought out the crude anti-Catholicism resting under Pearce's "faith, family, freedom" public face.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps it would have been better had the cardinal not resorted to such imflammatory language himself thereby not giving his opponent the opportunity to retort in an equally innaprpriate manner.