Bustin’ Unions, or Bustin’ Faith? Why Diana Butler Bass is wrong about Scott Walker

I'm a bit shocked that Diana Butler Bass makes an unfair and unwarranted attack on Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, assulting the supposed role of his faith in his confrontation with state Senate Democrats and the government employee unions. If she wants to write a piece critiquing his policies and politics, that's fine … but his faith? 

Read: God in Wisconsin: Scott Walker's "Obedience"

Dr. Bass, who earned her Ph.D. from Duke University and has taught at the college and seminary level, makes some terribly inaccurate conclusions, ones that would earn any undergraduate student points off of a term paper.

First, she cites the many religious groups – Roman Catholic and main line Protestant – who have been speaking out on behalf of the unions and their collective bargaining rights. Then, noting that Governor Walker is a member of an independent, evangelical congregation, she claims that

Scott Walker does not give a rip about pronouncements by the Roman Catholic Church, any Lutheran, Episcopal, or Methodist bishop, or the Protestant social justice pastors. These religious authorities, steeped in centuries of theology and Christian ethics mean absolutely nothing in Scott Walker's world.

Really? It is terribly tenuous to suggest that, simply because of his church membership, Governor Walker "does not give a rip" about what Roman Catholic or Mainline Protestant church leaders say. Just because someone belongs to one group or adheres to one creed does not mean that they do not "give a rip" about other creeds or perspectives. He need not agree with them, but to suggest that he does not "give a rip" goes too far in recklessly slandering a man who hasn't actually said anything akin to "I don't give a rip about what Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Methodist leaders say." Dr. Bass assumes that Governor Walker has little respect for the Catholic or Mainline churches and their leaders, simply because of where he chooses to worship on Sunday morning.

(In fact, in a speech that Scott Walker gave to a group of Christian businessmen in 2009 – a speech which Dr. Bass critiques later in her piece – Walker speaks graciously about the different adolescent rites of passage within Christian churches, notably the believer's baptism of his church, and the first communion practices of other churches. That doesn't sound like someone who doesn't "give a rip" about other beliefs.)

Furthermore, by dredging up his congregation's statement of faith (which she dismisses as "boilerplate") and assigning to him the beliefs outlined therein, Dr. Bass once again makes a false assumption. Should we assume that everyone who attends a particular church adheres, completely, to that church's statement of faith? The Lutherans accept the Athanasian Creed as a "true declaration of the faith of this church" (ELCA Constitution, 2.04). Will Dr. Bass next start assigning to all Lutherans an unwavering belief in the eternal damnation of those who have done evil, or a belief that only those who believe this creed "firmly and faithfully" will be saved? Of course she won't, but that's exactly the leap she makes with Governor Walker – assigning the stated beliefs of his congregation to him, without nuance.

After attacking the governor because of what his church website states, Dr. Bass goes after his own words of faith. Governor Walker shared a testimony before a group of Christian businessmen in which he said that he sought to trust and obey Christ in his life. From his stated desire to trust and obey Christ, Dr. Bass infers that Governor Walker has an overly confident evangelical spirituality in which doubt is not allowed and confidence in God's leading is absolute.

She then claims that Governor Walker shares this dangerous spirituality with George W. Bush, the favorite boogeyman of the left. This spirituality, Dr. Bass suggests, led the former president to wage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, critiquing this spirituality (which she assumes guides Governor Walker's every decision), Dr. Bass claims that "in this theological universe, hard-headedness is a virtue, compromise is the work of the Devil, and anything that works to accompish God's plan is considered ethically justifiable." Suddenly, the man who gave a faithful testimoney to a small group of businessmen is now part of a divine plan to invade countries and plow ahead with a politically conservative holy mission dictated by God on high. This is the kind of exaggeration, guilty by faux association, and horrendous leaping to conclusions that the left routinely critiques when performed by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and other right wing luminaries.

I've listened to the entire speech that Scott Walker gave before that group of businessmen in November 2009, and I have a hard time coming to her same conclusions. In it he talks not about politics but about his childhood, his faith, running for office in college and later in state politics, how he met his wife, and his involvement in church. The theme of "trust and obey" weaves through his wandering comments, which are authentic and honest, and reflective of an evangelical piety. Is his belief that Christians are called to trust and obey God worthy of her vicious political attack? No.

Main line liberal Christians might not use the word "obey" much any longer in our piety, but we certainly use the word "trust," and the call to live a Godly life – no matter what words we use – is prevalent in our beliefs, practices, and rites. In the rite for Holy Baptism, we acknowledge that "living with Christ an in the communion of saints, we grow in faith, love, and obedience to the will of God" (Holy Baptism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pg. 227). And more: "Called by the Holy Spirit, trusting in the grace and love fo God, do you desire to have your children baptized into Christ?" (Holy Baptism, ELW, 228). Obedience and trust and the call to live holy lives are all part of the main line Protestant tradition. Yet, dressed up with different words, Dr. Bass trashes this same commitment when coming out of the mouth of an evangelical Christian Republican.

This essay is sloppy work by Dr. Bass, and exemplifies – from the left! – the worst of mixing religion and politics. If Governor Walker were to state, "God has called me to bust the unions," or "All that I do in politics is led by God," then her worry would be justified. If she could cite more direct proof of Governor Walker's co-mingling of faith and partisan politics, perhaps her essay would be stronger. But absent such a direct link of his faith and politics and the current political standoff, her essay is simply irresponsible rubbish that serves only to fan political flames and unnecessarily introduce religion into what is already an ugly political situation.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

5 thoughts on “Bustin’ Unions, or Bustin’ Faith? Why Diana Butler Bass is wrong about Scott Walker

  1. You make good points, especially, as you say, this wouldn’t be acceptable in a college essay. However, some of us have heard comments from conservative Christians that show a profound lack of respect for certain more traditional Christian groups.
    Actually, I had written an example for you, but it dissappeared, so I’m leaving it at that.

  2. Hmmm she is quite convincing and your response – well – much less so- example- Gov. W.’s acknowledgement of a variety of adolescent rites of passage in the church hardly shows a deep understanding of justice which btw, may be topic you could use refresher course in too. W.’s black/white thinking and his toady loyalty to and admiration of such abominations as the Koch brothers are indeed evidence not only of his lack of political skills -but the love with Justice (empathy) that Jesus asks of us all.

  3. Thanks for commenting.
    I never claimed that Governor Walker had a deep understanding of justice. In fact, I don’t even address his stance with the unions and state budget (I think he’s dead wrong on this, by the way).
    What I find objectionable is Diana Butler Bass’ critique of his faith, and her assumption that Governor Walker’s faith – which she compares to that of the former President – is somehow responsible for this political mess. She has no proof for any of this, and I find the attack on his faith odd, unsubstantiated, and inappropriate. Attack his policies and politics, for sure, but his faith? I don’t see cause for that.

  4. You are welcome Chis, I think that Dr. DBB rightly questions the role that “religion” has in Gov. W’.s actions- I don’t read that she is attacking his faith when she writes: “And this is why Scott Walker’s religion is actually dangerous in the public square. Because it lacks the ability to compromise, it is profoundly anti-democratic.”
    His religious predisposition to trust and obey thinking (including his blind loyalty to the Koch brothers in his case) is dangerous in the public square- attack his faith I don’ see it- attack his “religious heritage” you bet and that is fair game as far as I’m concerned.

  5. I thought Dr. Bass was over the top in her critique, too, although I strongly disagree with what he is doing. I think what she may be referring to in part is the fact that several of the mainline religious leaders have tried to talk to Gov. Walker, and he doesn’t seem that interested in their religous perspectives in this instance.
    I think there are two ditches you can fall into, and one is the go-it-alone, God-told-me-to-do-this ditch, where it appears to be a sign of weakness to listen to anyone after you are sure you did what God wanted you to do. (And, though it’s true that Scott Walker didn’t say that ‘God told me to bust the union’, you can, I think, find a couple of places where it appears that he or his religous group believes that unions are ‘of the devil.’) There’s another ditch as well, though: I think people sometimes do have to be wary of compromising, and checking in with every group. There are times that the people telling you to compromise will be wrong.

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