43 Republicans and one Democrat have signed on to a resolution to honor Christmas.  These sanctimonious lawmakers seem to think signing on to this "groundbreaking "resolution demonstrates their piety.  Apart from being a waste of time, this effort is in fact evidence of just how empty the Republican party’s (and some Democrats’) lip service to faith is.  Republicans love to tell us how Christian they are, but there is an enormous gulf between their words and their actions.

Personal faith is none of my business.  I firmly believe in the constitutional right to the free exercise of religion (as well as the prohibition against government action respecting an establishment of religion).  The picture changes when politicians make religion an electoral selling point, which is exactly what Republicans, and some Democrats, have done in the past three decades.  When politicians make their faith part of their politics, when they assert, as Sarah Palin recently did, that Americans ought to take "godly counsel" and rededicate themselves to god, it is perfectly reasonable to challenge these assertions.  Invoking religion as a basis for policy does not give a politician immunity from questions.  Just as we can, and should, question those who put forth secular justifications for policy choices on health care, Iraq, the economy, we ought to challenge those who tell us a specific religious viewpoint offers policy solutions for the nation.

One of the problems with urging religion for the nation, as Palin does, is that she, and others, are of course speaking of one specific religious viewpoint: their own interpretation of Christianity.  We have never been a nation of just one faith, and imposing a national faith on all citizens is dangerous, as the framers understood when they made the Establishment Clause part of the Constitution, providing that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" (an injunction since applied to state and local governments as well).  The clause was designed to protect dissenters and members of minority religions, who had been persecuted and marginalized during colonial times and in the early days of the nation.  The reasons for the Establishment Clause are even more pressing now, as the nation has become more religiously diverse.  There is no one size fits all religious solution for a pluralistic nation of believers and nonbelievers.

Putting that big cautionary point aside for argument’s sake, let’s confront the Republicans on their own terms.  I’m not religious myself, but I do admire the central Christian ideal of love.  Christ’s call to "love your enemies" is a truly revolutionary idea.  Unfortunately, love is not something to be found in Republican talking points.  These leaders who profess to be Christians seem unable to love their political opponents, let alone their enemies.  They speak in terms of hate and division,  of death panels and xenophobia.  They speak at rallies where protesters wield signs graphically comparing incremental health care reform to genocide and calling President Obama a terrorist, Nazi, Marxist.  There is no love in the right wing’s anti-Obama do-nothingness.

If Republicans who claim to embrace Christianity don’t seem to have much interest in their faith’s central message, what’s really going on here?  Power. Republicans understand that paying lip service to Christianity helps them with many voters, just as they understand that standing with the tea partiers might offer a path to electoral success.  They have made it very clear that power trumps faith–the C Street Family is an example of this.

The Christmas resolution some Republicans (and at least one Democrat) have signed on to boldly declares support for "the symbols and traditions" associated with Christmas.  The Republicans have shown us they are good at using the symbols and rhetoric of faith.  What’s missing is their ability to show us the love that must stand at the core of the faith they claim.

Chris Edelson

Chris Edelson

Chris is a lawyer and professor at American University who writes frequently about current political and media issues. His writing has also been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Metroland (Albany, NY), and at commondreams.org