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Jeb vs. Francis

06/22/2015 10:43 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2016

Just when I had concluded that Jeb Bush was the likely Republican nominee for president in 2016, he said something that dumbfounded me:

I hope I'm not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. And I'd like to see what [the pope] says as it relates to climate change and how that connects to these broader, deeper issues before I pass judgment. But I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm. (New York Times, June 17, 2015)

"Religion ought to be about making us better as people" means to me that it makes us better voters, better legislators, better elected officials -- all devising better policies as political actors, thus "getting in the political realm."

"I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope" (and presumably his priest) makes me wonder who Jeb's spiritual advisors are, then, and if Jesus and his teachings even count in his views on public policy.

I'm not saying this is true of Jeb Bush, but many Christians see Jesus and the church simply as their "Get-out-of-hell-free" card in a game of spiritual Monopoly, and view religion as concerned with personal morals rather than economic realities. That's why they easily claim their religious values when it comes to opposing women's reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

But Jesus and his followers proclaimed a gospel that has as much to do with economic concerns as spiritual realities. In truth, conversion anticipated care for "the least of these." Jesus admonished the one percent to "sell what you have and give to the poor" and, in the Lord's Prayer no less, just after being given our daily bread, we are to forgive our debtors as God overlooks our own indebtedness. And in his proclamation of God's in-breaking government, Jesus fed and healed the multitudes as he offered them spiritual wisdom.

As to Pope Francis's recent encyclical on the environment and the disproportionate effects of human-caused climate change on the poor -- this is not just religion speaking, but mainstream science as well.

In Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway "reported that dubious tactics had been used over decades to cast doubt on scientific findings relating to subjects like acid rain, the ozone shield, tobacco smoke and climate change," according to an article in The New York Times' ScienceTimes, "And most surprisingly in each case, the tactics were employed by the same group of people." They followed the playbook of the tobacco industry in planting doubt about the conclusions of accepted scientific studies:

The central players were serious scientists who had major career triumphs during the Cold War, but in subsequent years apparently came to equate environmentalism with socialism, and government regulation with tyranny. (New York Times, June 16, 2015)

There may be a parallel in religion.That the encyclical was leaked before its planned release may suggest the work of similar "central players...who had career triumphs" who resent Pope Francis's attempts at reform and wanted to embarrass him regarding his ability to manage the Vatican.

Political and religious conservatives claim the rights of religion in the marketplace of ideas and the public square. Why not support the same claim when religion and science come together to save the planet and its poor?

Rev. Chris Glaser has published a dozen books and writes a free weekly blog, Progressive Christian Reflections.