As you may know, recently a U.S. political party trampled upon the Gospel and Judeo-Christian values in an effort to destroy traditional marriage and the family. Through this rabid secularism, the party sought to maximize state power, claiming for the government the natural rights of parents over their children.
It was the Republicans.
In an ironic twist to an already-bizarre year in politics, many Republicans who recently defended Trump’s family separation policy claimed that it was simply “the law” and could not be changed. President Trump himself said he could not change the policy, blaming it on President Obama – even though it was clearly implemented by Trump’s own attorney general.
While Trump could indeed change the policy, as he just did, even worse than this inaccuracy was the frequent implication that the policy was legitimate and impervious to moral critique just because it was the policy. At best, Republicans advocated a positivism that looks a lot like the Nuremberg defense: “An order is an order, and we were just following orders.” At worst, Republicans have embraced a kind of secularism that divorces policy from morality.
There is more than a touch of irony here. Many Republicans and conservatives reject this sort of secularism in other policy areas, routinely blaming the Left for it. In their best moments, conservatives know any attempt to divorce politics from morality is self-defeating: it only means acceding to the power of some covert morality. In the case of Trump’s family separation policy, the covert morality is the populism that defends American interests at apparently any price – even at the cost of the GOP’s own Christian values.
Moreover, the GOP has long positioned itself as the defender of traditional marriage. Isn’t it the Democrats who are supposed to be destroying marriage with civil unions and gay marriage and all of that? So why is the GOP defending the separation of families? Does it think that its credibility on marriage and sexuality is so robust that it can afford to burn some of it? Or does it think that Scriptural teachings on marriage only apply to American families? In that case, the Republicans are not secularists but merely relativists. But, again, it’s supposed to be Democrats who do not believe in moral absolutes.
Here’s another irony: Religious Freedom Week begins today. Religious liberty has a bad rap among many Americans in part because it seems to be something that conservative Christians want for themselves, not for others. And when the GOP thinks that baking a cake violates the Gospel but removing children from their parents somehow does not, it only fuels the fear that religious liberty is a power grab.
I don’t blame Trump for all of this mess: Trump is as much of a symptom as a cause of our current predicament. He merely took advantage of voters’ accumulating anger at decades of selfish and power-hungry politicians, a game by the way that many religious leaders on the Left and Right also played, although for only a fraction of the influence.
Indeed, there are a lot of reasons for citizens to be angry, fearful and bitter. But Americans need to take responsibility for those emotions. As Brittany Mohr, my friend and the sister of Michael Mohr, SJ, asked me in a recent message that inspired me to write this piece: “Are we so afraid of these people that we need to treat them like animals?”
The GOP claims to be the advocate of families, Christian values and conservatism. America needs it to be those things. Just as U.S. politics is the poorer for the Democrats abandoning pro-life citizens, so U.S. politics will be poorer for the Republicans abandoning conservative and Christian citizens who want to see the moral fiber of the universe reflected in the law.
Yes, the Democrats are hardly faultless in the rise of Trump and the decades-long failure to develop adequate immigration policy. But when the GOP fails to live up to its own values, it cannot claim to be a credible alternative. The GOP might be able to cultivate the illusion of moral leadership, but that illusion will not last forever. That brings us to one final irony: this tragedy has unfolded as credible allegations against Cardinal McCarrick have emerged. If the GOP learns nothing else from the Catholic Church’s own failures of moral leadership, it should remember that credibility once lost is not easily regained.