Dionne’s Take: Religion and Politics

I enjoyed E.J. Dionne’s latest column over at the Washington Post. He deals straightforwardly with an incredibly important issue in our current political climate:

One of the troubling aspects of 2004 was the extent to which partisan politics invaded the churches and seemed to enlist them as part of the Republicans’ electoral apparatus. But there is a difference between defending the legitimate right of churches to speak up on public questions and the hyperpoliticization of the church itself.

This is exactly what I kept thinking as various Catholic officials were commanding that John Kerry not be allowed to take communion, and as instances of Republicans using churches as campaign apparati were revealed. I hadn’t been able to encapsulate all the reasons this was so troubling, but in Dionne’s column I found the perfect way of putting it:

For Catholics with moderate or liberal leanings, the argument from some bishops that they could vote only for staunch foes of abortion posed a wretched dilemma. It seemed to demand that such voters cast their ballots for conservative or right-wing candidates with whom they might disagree on every other question — social justice, war and peace, or the death penalty. All are areas where liberals are often closer to the church’s view. “Our faith does and should affect how we deal with issues,” DeLauro said. “But we’re rebelling against the idea of a one-issue church.”

The one-issue church is precisely the problem. It is a microcosm of the one-issue electorate, or, to put it more accurately, the wedge-issue electorate. Abortion and homosexuality are the two that leap clearly to mind, but we could probably list more of them, these issues that turn rational people into screaming ideologues. It oversimplifies a complex political debate, impedes good governance, and distracts voters from evidence that relates to their voting choices. As Dionne says,

In other words, Democrats on both sides of the abortion question worry that it is crowding out all other concerns. And in very polite language, the Catholic Democrats suggest that their bishops allow them some room to disagree.

Even anti-choice Democrats get that they were elected to govern a complex nation with many important concerns, only one of which is the abortion question. The only people who benefit from keeping the focus on one issue are the ones whose actual governing skills are not that impressive.

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