Sen. Rick Santorum has made a serious mistake.
On Saturday, the presidential hopeful was addressing a group in Ohio when he made the unfortunate assertion that Obama's agenda is:
not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your jobs. It's about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.
The first reason this is a mistake is that Santorum has decided to make the presidential campaign about religious orthodoxy and introduced theology into politics in an aggressive way. His less than subtle message is that anyone who believes in the Bible, or even takes the Bible seriously, should be suspect of the president who is serving up 'false teachings' referencing Matthew 7:15 which reads: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."
Santorum's recent comments should be a major turn off to anyone who understands that while all politics are informed by values, religious and secular, we should be very wary when politicians begin to assert religious creedal tests into electoral politics.
Earlier this year I spoke with Senator John Danforth who has thought a lot about religion and politics. Senator Danforth reminded me that:
The language of politics is different than the language of religion -- politics is not religion. The language of religion is based on creedal affirmation, while the language of politics, when it works, is the language of compromise. To confuse politics for religion results in gridlock from the political perspective. To confuse politics for religion from the religious perspective is idolatry.
The second mistake by Sen. Santorum is that his casting stones and judging President Obama's biblical understanding comes at a time when serious questions have to be asked about Sen. Santorum's own grasp of biblical teachings.
At the Detroit Economic Club, Sen. Santorum explained his position on income inequality between the rich and the poor saying: "There is income inequality in America. There always has been and hopefully, and I do say that, there always will be."
Senator Santorum stated this hope for the inequality between the rich and the poor in Detroit -- a city that has suffered from enormous deprivation in the past decades. As Charles Blow reminded readers in the New York Times: "Among the more than 70 cities with populations over 250,000, Detroit's poverty rate topped the list at a whopping 37.6 percent, more than twice the national poverty rate."
Mr. Santorum should be careful in his efforts to score political points using biblical mandates on the same week that he shows such callousness towards the lives of the poor. If we know anything about the concerns of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible and of Jesus of the New Testament, it is that they had harsh words for the rich who grow richer while the poor suffer, and the inequality in America over the last 30 years has become biblically blasphemous.
Rick Santorum was wrong to make his campaign about religious orthodoxy, and wrong again about religious orthodoxy when it came to his own campaign.