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.
Luke 6:20-21 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: 'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 'Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. 'Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Luke 4:16-19 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.'
Matthew 25:34-36 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
Mark 10:21-22 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Mark 12:41-44 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Luke 16:19-25 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Luke 11:39-42 Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you. "But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God
Luke 12:16-21 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."
Follow Paul Brandeis Raushenbush on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raushenbush