The deviance of twisting religion into politics

David J. Phillip AP Texas Gov. Rick Perry bows his head as he leads a prayer at The Response, a … Continued

David J. Phillip


Texas Gov. Rick Perry bows his head as he leads a prayer at The Response, a call to prayer for a nation in crisis, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011, in Houston. Perry attended the daylong prayer rally despite criticism that the event inappropriately mixes religion and politics.

“Pray for President Obama,” as GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry implored at his recent prayer event –it sounds like a pious religious message, right? Yet beware of the religious hypocrites who twist religion into hatred of ‘the other.’

Check out the t-shirts and bumper stickers that cite Psalm 109:8, circulated among some conservatives opposed to President Obama. That passage reads: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” The next verse asks God to intervene so that “… his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” Rather than a prayer, this is a biblical curse. It may provide a titillating “ha-ha” moment for in-the-know conservative elites, but it is little else than the manipulation of religion in order to spread hate.

Catholicism is not exempt from playing politics with religion. St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419) in Medieval Spain, for example, was concerned that two rival popes might prove to be the end of the world. St. Vincent preached conversion to Spain’s Jews, but popular piety often confused this effort with St. Paul’s teaching (Romans 11:25, 26) that Jews first had to be converted for God’s Kingdom to come. The tragic but predictable results were mob attacks on Jews, since the saint’s message was manipulated into anti-Semitic hatred.

Since Catholicism has had hundreds of millions of adherents, most of whom are not saints, we run a huge risk for such deviations. However, with the complexity of Catholic leadership structure of popes and bishops exercising authority over the lay people, these events are usually tempered and even censured. Thus, for instance, while Blessed Pope John Paul II was blind to the manipulation of religion that was underway at Mudjagore in Herzegovina for decades, Pope Benedict XVI later clamped down. The priest, Fr. Tomislav Vlasic, a key promoter of the shrine to a still-unapproved 1981 apparition of the Blessed Mother, was censured for his manipulation of the faith of the people and personal corruption in fathering his own child with a nun, Sister Rufina.

While the ongoing saga of episcopal malfeasance in cases of clerical misbehavior continue day after day, the church has mechanisms of censure of its misbehaving Catholics, even when they are bishops. Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, a conservative sponsor of Opus Dei and, we now learn negligent pastor. Finn waited five months to turn over information about a clerical pedophile who allegedly photographed the genitalia of sleeping two-year-old girls. Such deviance is completely rejected by Catholic doctrine, but the all-too-human administration of our faith by leadership calls for vigilance.

Evangelical Protestants have had their own set of wayward pastors such as the Reverend Ted Haggard, former head of the National Association of Evangelicals. But some would say the twisting of religion in political matters is worse than in personal escapades, no matter how serious. The reach of twisted religion, of course, is not restricted to Christianity. There are cases of militant Jewish extremists and we know all too well the violence of Muslim jihadists. In such cases, the contorting of a religious message into a vendetta of hate becomes worse when it is hitched to a political movement.

There is reason to pause, therefore, on the August 2011 convocation, The Response, held in a Texas stadium by governor and now GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Other writers at On Faith have voiced their opinions about this convocation. What is of concern to me is not the rally itself but the linkages to a radical evangelical movement, the New Apostolic Reformation. In September of 2009, two pastors of this movement visited the governor. Informing him that they were God’s new apostles and prophets, they apparently announced that God had chosen Texas as the site of national renewal so that the United States of America would be returned to the rule of God. They named “seven mountains” to be climbed in order to take power away from secular forces and ultimately prepare the world for the rapture.

The issue, however, is not whether or not a vote for Rick Perry will lead to theocracy, but just to decry another instance of the twisting of religion.


Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
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