Another Fundamentalist Mystery: Protestants and Rick Santorum

We asked recently why there seems to be so little anguish among conservative Protestants over the fact that there are no Protestants on today’s US Supreme Court.

The 2012 Republican Presidential primaries have raised a similar question: Why do today’s conservative Protestants seem to love the Catholic candidate Rick Santorum?

Political scientist Matthew Franck pondered this question this week.  Franck identifies as a conservative Catholic who has lived and taught for years in a region dominated by conservative evangelical Protestants.  Franck asks:

So what’s up with the victories of Rick Santorum, a western Pennsylvania Italian Catholic, in two states, Alabama and Mississippi, where upwards of four in five voters described themselves in exit polls as evangelical or “born-again” Christians?  Although the New York Times’ Bill Keller famously misidentified Santorum last year as an evangelical, these voters know better.  They knew going to the polls Tuesday that they could choose the LDS Mitt Romney, the Lutheran-turned-Baptist-turned-Catholic Newt Gingrich, or the lifelong Catholic Rick Santorum.

Franck notes the novelty of this situation:

The first observation to make about the role of religion in these two deep-south states, then, is that three non-evangelical candidates all did respectably well in a heavily evangelical (and conservative) electorate.  Each of the candidates topped 30 percent of the vote.  Just a half century ago, John F. Kennedy had to go to Houston to make a case to Baptist ministers that a Catholic deserved a shot at the presidency.  (Some Catholics, then and now, think JFK surrendered too much of his faith to mollify his critics.)  Only four years ago Mitt Romney felt similarly compelled to reassure voters that a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deserved a fair chance as well.  Now in 2012, we seem past all that.

Just as many conservative Protestants care more about the politics of US Supreme Court justices, especially on social issues such as abortion, gay marriage, and the role of religion in the public square, Franck concludes that Protestant fundamentalists are judging the current crop of Republican Presidential contenders more on their positions than their faith backgrounds:

For better or worse, Santorum is widely known as the “social issues” conservative in this race, the consistent defender of life, of marriage and family, and (as he himself put it last night) of the “centrality of faith” in many Americans’ lives.  Look at how strongly he did among voters who think a candidate’s “moral character” matters most, and you get the picture.

If Franck is correct–and his conclusion makes intuitive sense to me–it tells us a lot about the changing nature of Fundamentalist America.  It seems to confirm James Davison Hunter’s 1992 thesis in Culture Wars.  In that book, Hunter argued that creed and denomination had come to mean less than the divide  between orthodoxy and progressivism.  That is, the old divisions between Catholic, Protestant, and Jew had eroded, replaced by a split between conservative and liberal factions within each faith.  Along with the deafening silence among conservative Protestants about the current makeup of the US Supreme Court, the non-issue of Santorum’s Catholic faith among conservative Protestants certainly seems to confirm Hunter’s argument.

Previous Post
Leave a comment

4 Comments

  1. Paradoctor: I think you’re right, not every situation fits well into this free arkmet’ idea that people seem to have, health care being one of the worst fits. People are way too simplistic with their thinking on economics. Many things, like the Ipad, can be assumed to fit in a rational supply/demand curve. Especially when you have them made in China in slave labor sweat shops. And then you can bank the 100 Billion in the bank. Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Or how about Walmart that has such a huge arkmet share in many areas that they literally control pricing throughout the country. They routinely sell items at a loss to drive competitors out of business. But they can do that because they have the resources to take the loss while mom/pop shops don’t. Whats the invisible hand got to say about that? As for Santorum, his is the logical end of the Objectivist thinking of Ayn Rand. How a devout Catholic could take major intellectual points from someone who was, at best, hostile to religion is beyond me. I personally don’t want to live in a world where I can sneer at someone who got a fatal disease that will ruin them and their family, and then just say Tough Shit . But I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do.

    Reply
  2. that’s what Jesus would do?

    Reply
  1. FROM THE ARCHIVES: Bible in America: Bible Evangelism to the Crabgrass Frontier « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. Fundamentalist America: A Lock for the GOP? « I Love You but You're Going to Hell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s