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The Christian Right’s Loud Wrong

Last Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden attended 9 a.m. mass at Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Florence, South Carolina. He was in the state for his presidential campaign, but this early morning visit was reportedly intended as personal time, without journalists in tow.

It didn’t remain private for long.

Monday’s headline in the Florence Morning News: “Joe Biden denied Holy Communion at Florence church.”

We know about this because the priest who denied Biden communion, Father Robert E. Morey, launched his own campaign by sending an email to the Morning News:

“Sadly, this past Sunday, I had to refuse Holy Communion to former Vice President Joe Biden. Holy Communion signifies we are one with God, each other and the Church. Our actions should reflect that. Any public figure who advocates for abortion places himself or herself outside of Church teaching.”

Morning News reporter Matthew Christian explained that “Morey said that, as a priest, it is his responsibility to minister to those souls entrusted to his care and that he must do so in even the most difficult situations.”

The priest’s parting words: “I will keep Mr. Biden in my prayers.”

Sure he will. I look forward to the follow-up email detailing the contents of that prayer for public consumption.

This story quickly left the confines of Florence (population in 2018: 37,625) and rocketed across the stratosphere, otherwise known as the national media. This Associated Press headline caught my attention: “Biden’s communion denial highlights faith-politics conflict.”

Whose faith? Whose politics?

The story begins: “A Roman Catholic priest’s denial of communion to Joe Biden in South Carolina on Sunday illustrates the fine line presidential candidates must walk as they talk about their faiths: balancing religious values with a campaign that asks them to choose a side in polarizing moral debates.”

This is false, on multiple fronts.

No one is forcing Biden to support women’s constitutionally protected abortion rights, and this Christian appreciates that he does. Whether Biden is compromising his religious values in supporting women is up to him, and his response in a Tuesday interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell offered a glimpse into his thoughts.

When Mitchell tried to ask Biden about the incident on Tuesday, he demurred. “I’m not going to discuss that,” Biden said. “That’s just my personal life, and I’m not going to get into that at all.”

Mitchell pressed: “Do you think in a general election campaign, you’re going to face some of these cultural issues, especially in the South?”

“Oh, sure I will,” Biden said. “Everyone will. I’m a practicing Catholic. I practice my faith. But I’ve never let my religious beliefs, which I accept on church doctrine … impose that view on other people.” By other people, he means his fellow Americans, as he campaigns to become the next president of the United States.

Finally, a word about that supposed “faith-politics conflict”: It is only a conflict if a person is pretending to be someone other than who he or she is. If Joe Biden, a lifelong Catholic, has made his peace between the teachings of his church and constitutionally protected rights of Americans, then the only ones experiencing a conflict are those opposed to Biden’s unwillingness to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else.

We’re going to see a lot of attempts to demean and cast doubt on the religious faith of presidential candidates, because of the Christian right’s primary conflict of interest: Donald Trump.

Few things summon a dark night of the soul faster than a willingness to defend the indefensible. The same president who spews racism from the most powerful position in the world and has bragged about being a sexual predator is also the adopted sweetheart of self-proclaimed Christian evangelicals.

And so we are currently in the Eclipse With No End period of right-wing Christianity.

What an uphill slog in manly manure that’s turning out to be.

During the 2016 campaign, after the recording leaked of thrice-married Trump bragging about grabbing women by the genitals, Jerry Falwell Jr. tried to pivot to a conspiracy theory about the Republican establishment:

“I think this whole videotape thing was planned. I think it was timed. I think it might have even been a conspiracy among the establishment Republicans who’ve known about it for weeks and who tried to time it to do the maximum damage to Donald Trump” – whose confession of sexual assault, Falwell stressed, “some dumb comments on a videotape 11 years ago.”

After news of Stormy Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump became news, in January 2018, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy, brushed it off as ancient history.

“I believe at 70 years of age the president is a much different person today than he was four years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago,” Graham said. “He is not President Perfect.”

Now, there’s a bumper sticker for 2020: HE IS NOT PRESIDENT PERFECT.

Amen, and amen.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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