There's a not-so-delicious irony to the fact that the same year in which many Republicans turned against Pope Francis, they also amplified their inchoate screeching over religious liberty and the citation of archaic Bible verses to justify their bigotry against same-sex couples or women who deserve access to safe, affordable contraceptive and abortion services.
With the Pope's visit to the United States launching Tuesday, Republicans are lining up to condemn his views on everything from the climate crisis to income inequality and, most recently, confessional forgiveness for women who have abortions. Why? Obviously because the GOP is cherrypicking the religious teachings it prefers. And yet they throw a fit when they're accused of selective faith -- embracing dogma that supports their pet issues while rejecting dogma that contradicts it.
Let's start with the most prominent Catholic in the GOP presidential field, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. On CNN's "State of the Union" this past weekend, Christie's views were clear and incontrovertible.
"I just think the pope is wrong. The fact is that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones."
Maybe Christie hasn't been to catechism in a while, but when the Pope issues an encyclical, it's absolutely a religious matter, instructing faithful Catholics to, in this case, honor God's teachings by not completely decimating the planet, rendering it uninhabitable. The Pope wasn't firing off a position memo for consideration by The New York Times editorial board. Everything the Pope says and writes is deeply couched in the religious teachings of Catholicism. Furthermore, it's true that the encyclical on the environment didn't carry with it the weight of infallibility. But I nit-pick. It's more than obvious that Christie is simply pandering to yokels who know nothing about the Vatican.
That notwithstanding, if people of faith have no choice but to accept everything their particular religion teaches, including a 2,000-plus year old view of homosexuality (which didn't exist as a concept in ancient times) or a completely nonexistent biblical view on contraception and abortion, then why not the Pope's detailed, deeply-religious and completely modern remarks about climate?
Then there's Congressman Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican and practicing Catholic who announced he's boycotting the Pope's address to a joint session of Congress.
"I don't need to be lectured by the Pope about climate change," Gosar said in an interview off the House floor. "When he wants to take a political position, I will tell you: He is free and clear to be criticized like the rest of us."
Sure, Gosar won't "be lectured" by the highest ranking official in his religion -- ranked just below Jesus, mind you -- but he also won't hesitate to proselytize to gay people about being an abomination or to shame women for wanting affordable contraception. Not only does Gosar support an amendment banning same-sex marriage, but he also voted in favor of repealing Obamacare and its contraception provisions. While we're here, he also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.
Elsewhere, in the upper chamber of Congress, Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, delivered perhaps the most hilarious anti-Pope remarks.
"I'm always concerned about those who are bringing spiritual messages that step too far over the line in terms of political issues," said Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican and Presbyterian. "I think it can be dangerous territory because then it gives people reason to make a judgment on say, Billy Graham or the Pope or whoever, on the basis of their political leanings -- not on the basis of their spirituality."
Coats needs to warn the rest of his party leadership about not bringing "spiritual messages that step too far over the line in terms of political issues." Maybe we've misinterpreted what the Republicans have been preaching about for years. Maybe they're really, really into purely secular justifications for their positions and we've just misunderstood. Which case, great!
Over in the Fox News universe, "Fox & Friends" co-host and self-identified Catholic Brian Kilmeade raged against the Pope.
[Kilmeade said] “he’s in the wrong country” to try and deliver any political messages. Wallace was understandably taken aback by Kilmeade’s comments, so the radio host explained himself further.
“He doesn’t like capitalism,” said Kilmeade. “He blames us and money for what’s going on in the Middle East.”
In addition, the Fox & Friends co-host also ridiculed the Pope’s comments on climate change, noting that the U.S. was “doing more than anybody else” and that Francis should “get on China” instead.
Kilmeade might've checked his gray matter in the so-called Fox News "Brain Room" because the Pope's encyclical on the environment was meant for Catholics all around the world, including the Chinese and not just American Catholics. But, again, it's it convenient how people of faith can so casually pick and choose what they choose to follow -- what their faith encompasses.
As I've written here before, it's really no wonder the Republicans hate this Pope in spite of their self-branding as religious zealots. Bottom line: Francis makes them look ghoulish. I'm not religious now, but I was raised Catholic. I don’t like every word that comes out of the Pope's mouth, but I much prefer Pope Francis' God, and don’t have any interest in knowing Brian Kilmeade's God or Chris Christie's God.
The ultimate incongruity is this: The Pope has consistently, though not always, illustrated exactly how people of faith can serve the common good, while the GOP is more interested in exploiting religion to oppress, restrict and demonize. This really what’s freaking them out. And once again, the rage is growing thick and loaded down with flaming hypocrisy.