Many of the antics that the current president have been astounding, almost incomprehensible. But the visual from Monday night of the protestors being “cleared” so that the current president could make a symbolic gesture at the door of a Christian Church shook me to the core.
Thoughts came flooding back from history classes and also religion classes at the Catholic high school I attended so long ago. It was drilled – and I do mean drilled – into us that the government should not have any involvement with any church. When it came to religion the government should be neutral.
We were taught many lessons of the kind of bad things that happen when governments and churches become entangled. Those lessons did not include the darker moments of Catholic history. They did include darker moments of the Protestant era and also the lessons that our teachers derived from the so-called “godless” dictatorships that very forcibly squelched form religions.
When the media lit up with this truly obscene picture of the president Monday night it made me think of those lessons in the high school history and religion classes. The picture should be obscene to all religious in this country and it should also be obscene to those who believe in our democratic form of government.
Why would I raise such a stink about this obvious attempt by the president to pander to a certain group within our society? It is certainly not new in American politics. There have been attempts to intertwine government and religion since our founding. The Founding Fathers had the foresight to make freedom of religion one of our basic rights immediately. Many had experienced such an arrangement in England and saw it was bad.
Seems like the real impetus for mixing government and religion began in the 1950s when the Knights of Columbus spearheaded a drive to get the national motto change from “E Pluribus Unum” (“from many, one”) to “In God We Trust.” This was followed a couple of decades later with the Republican Party catering to single issue religious voters. That issue was abortion. Republicans have turned abortion into THE wedge issue since then.
Besides abortion Republicans have since turned issues such as prayer in school, using public money for religious education, homosexuality and the rights of gays and myriad other issues into wedge issues. This is all in order to get the votes of religious, specifically evangelical voters. Often Republicans have turned these religious wedge issues into legislation to the detriment of the population as a whole.
Elder statesman of the Republican Party warned the Party that having the religious right becoming to entrenched in the Party would be a bad idea:
“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”
As we have seen, Goldwater’s prediction has come to pass. Now with the country in perhaps one of its most trying set of crises ever with the pandemic, the economic collapse, the racially charged protests across the country and an international loss of credibility, we see the current president pulling a stunt meant to send a message to certain religious groups that they are the choice of the president.
That is a message that scares me to the quick. We have seen this president send many couched messages in his 3.5 years in office. This was not a couched message. This was a blatant shout out to the evangelicals. It was a loud shout. At the same time it was a shout at all those who are not evangelicals that we don’t belong. That would be mainline Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, Jews and non-believers.
If you have any doubts how bad mixing religion and government can be cast your eyes to the Middle East to see any number of governments that are Islamic states.
And don’t think this was a harmless gesture. Donald Trump is a master of TV staging. He knew the message he wanted to convey and he conveyed it.
Here is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s take on this stunt:
Let’s be clear about what happened this week at the White House. The photo-op Trump wanted was not just of himself holding a Bible—he wanted footage of Americans who disagree with him being scattered, of violence pushed upon them. That’s the photo-op he wanted.