Ronald Reagan is probably rolling over in his grave with the news that conservatives in the House of Representatives are having a difficult time passing a resolution to honor Pope Francis. Considering the Gipper's relationship with Pope John Paul II was viewed as The Holy Alliance, it's odd that those who revere Reagan would behave in such a manner. According to Newsmax, "The measure has only 19 Republican co-sponsors out of a total of 221." This sad reality of partisan politics is not only indicative of the hypocrisy of a party that pontificates about God and values. When a source of inspiration and spiritual guidance for Catholics around the world is deemed "too liberal" by House Republicans, it's quite evident that Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert are now the face of the GOP.
Speaking of Louie Gohmert, the Texas congressman offers Americans a great example of the current GOP hypocrisy. Like all good conservatives, Rep. Gohmert has no problem pontificating about God, or at least the version of the Almighty floating around in his mind. While one can't be certain that Rep. Gohmert has anything to do with House Republicans shying away from honoring the pope, a recent Talking Points Memo article highlights the Texan's certainty of God and the afterlife:
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Tuesday repeatedly confronted a faith leader -- who also happens to be a noted church-state separatist -- about his Christian beliefs during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on religious freedom.
"Do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell, consistent with the Christian beliefs?" Gohmert asked Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
Lynn responded that he wouldn't agree with Gohmert's "construction of what hell is like or why one gets there." When Gohmert pressed him to say whether he believed people "would go to hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way," Lynn again answered that he thinks failing to ascribe to a certain set of Christian beliefs doesn't necessarily doom a person to hell.
"No, not a set of ideas," Gohmert insisted. "Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life, or you don't."
Of course, in the Republican Party of 2014, one can be absolutely certain about the good Lord's powers while at the same time comparing illegal immigrant children to the D-Day invasion. If you don't see the irony in this, you'll be voting for Cruz/Rubio in 2016. Also, it speaks volumes about the GOP's religious views when conservatives are just fine with listening to Gohmert's thoughts on Christianity while balking on honoring the pope.
Of course, the GOP can't possibly honor someone who has economic ideas they disagree with, even if eight in 10 U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of the man. In addition, the "Pope Francis effect" has opened up the church to millions around the world who once felt alienated, as well as showed the world that the pope cares just as much about humanity as doctrine. Indeed, he's a special human being, but that hasn't stopped Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and others in the GOP from focusing solely on partisan politics. According to a recent POLITICO article, some conservatives have an issue with certain liberal aspects of the pope:
Last month, Francis blasted "trickle-down" economics as an "opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, [that] expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power." He also criticized the "idolatry of money" and unbridled capitalism as "a new tyranny."
Conservative radio host Limbaugh slammed the comments as "pure Marxism" and other commentators on the right also vehemently disagreed with the pope's message. One derided Francis as the "Catholic Church's Obama." Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a tea party darling, said Francis had made "some statements that to me sound kind of liberal," though she later walked back that assessment.
If anything, it's probably a compliment to the pope's economic knowledge that conservative pundits like Limbaugh and Palin disagree with him. However, the real issue here is a sad, divided political party scratching and clawing to legitimize their ideology. When the pope is a threat to the GOP's economic principles, the reaction of Limbaugh and Palin only underscores the brittle foundation of lowering taxes, fighting Wall Street regulations, and blaming poor people for their predicament.
Perhaps the reluctance of the GOP in honoring the pope stems from the fact Reagan and Pope John Paul II were integral in defeating communism in Poland by using a four letter word to conservatives: unions. As stated in The Holy Alliance by Carl Bernstein, the U.S. and Vatican were integral in bringing freedom to Poland by promoting the Solidarity movement:
"Nobody believed the collapse of communism would happen this fast or on this timetable," says a cardinal who is one of the Pope's closest aides. "But in their first meeting, the Holy Father and the President committed themselves and the institutions of the church and America to such a goal. And from that day, the focus was to bring it about in Poland."
Step by reluctant step, the Soviets and the communist government of Poland bowed to the moral, economic and political pressure imposed by the Pope and the President. Jails were emptied, Walesa's trial on charges of slandering state officials was abandoned, the Polish communist party turned fratricidal, and the country's economy collapsed in a haze of strikes and demonstrations and sanctions.
So, it's safe to say that even the Ronald Reagan infatuation among conservatives isn't enough to overshadow an insecure GOP from honoring the current pope. Not only does he advocate economic policies that help the poor, but Reagan's history with the Vatican is linked directly to the power of unions. This could be another odd reason Republicans have placed ideology over common decency.
Pope Francis is a rare religious figure in this day and age that wields great power responsibly; brave enough to wash and kiss the feet of prisoners (and the disabled and elderly) and indicating openness to civil unions. While still holding a great many conservative views (birth control, for example), this pope has declared that even atheists can go to heaven, regardless of what Louie Gohmert says. For a Jewish guy like me who's agnostic (where's God in all the bloodshed in recent days?) and looks at most religious leaders with a certain amount of suspicion, I respect Pope Francis. In a country where GOP pundits and lawmakers speak about God as if the Lord would be an immigrant-hating Murrieta protester, Pope Francis makes great effort to speak to desperate and frightened human beings on the planet. He's told the mafia to repent or "end up in hell" but doesn't use hell as a tool to impose his views, like many other religious figures. The GOP would sink to a new low by continuing to stall a well-deserved resolution honoring a man who has given religion a better name than most other religious figures in this day and age. God-fearing conservatives should remember Jesus Day in Texas and put their childish partisanship aside. They should uphold their religious convictions and honor a man who has done a great deal for the image of not only the church, but of Christianity in the world today.