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?
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.