Mastriano & the Bishops: A Catholic Religious Crisis in the (Onetime) Quaker State

[NOTE: Sure, Quakers may have started it all in Pennsylvania, back in 1680. But this year, the relative handful of Friends left there (about 11,000, give or take a few hundred) occupy a tiny back row up in the nosebleed section of state’s rowdy political stadium, especially compared to the mass of Keystone  Catholics, who  number 4 million (give or take a few hundred  thousand).

Doug Mastriano.

Besides the mass of “laity,” this crowd includes several busloads of bishops, who are their supposed leaders. So it’s fair that the media pays more attention to them than it does to the tweedy scattering of followers of William Penn, many of whom are very long on family pedigree but rather short on electoral clout.

That’s why I’m excerpting a column from the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), the main liberal Catholic paper, focused on the political crisis brewed up by this week’s Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary.

Election nerds will recall that PA Republicans also vastly outnumber the state’s Quakers (even though back in the day, some Quakes helped create the GOP as, of all things, an antislavery movement). In their primary the state’s Republicans voted bigly for Doug Mastriano, a state senator who is an all-out Stop-the-Steal-antivax mandate-QAnon-quoting-Islamophobic-LGBT-phobic-CRT-banisher-anti-abortion-Trump-endorsed-January 6 Capitol marcher-Christian nationalist (not a complete list), and made him their candidate for governor.

If he takes the statehouse, Mastriano would also be positioned to do great mischief in a repeat of the 2020 coup attempt against  a free and fair 2024 presidential election.

So NCR’s columnist urges the state’s bishops to speak out on the many ugly and oppressive aspects of his program.

That’s an excellent idea, though  to be plain, I doubt many PA bishops will take up the columnist’s invitation. American Catholic bishops are mostly so deep in the tank for Trump and Trumpism that their mitres don’t even show above the surface.

Their main “social action” planks, besides  trying to undermine Pope  Francis (& the quietly devout Joe Biden), seem to add up to:

> Ban  abortion;

> Trash LGBTs (especially the Ts);  and

> Push the PPPP (Pedophile Priest Protection Program).

> (And did I mention Ban Abortion?)

But maybe there are a few who can squint  beyond the next clergy abuse lawsuit just  enough to notice that fundamentalist-oriented theocrats have generally not been good long-term allies of Catholics.  Or anybody but their own sectarians.

So, Friends and friends, pass along this message to any progressive-minded Catholics you know of, pray for the Keystone bishops, and get to work on other secular efforts to save democrcy now, in Pennsylvania and across the rest of the continent.

Pennsylvania bishops should speak out about Mastriano’s Christian nationalism

Excerpted from the National Catholic Reporter. (Full text here.)

by Michael Sean Winters — May 20, 2022

“Wow. God is good,” Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano began his victory speech on the night of May 17.

The crowd shouted back: “All the time.”

“And all the time,” the successful candidate said.

“God is good,” the crowd replied.

Mind you, I believe that God is good all the time. But this is not the usual way candidates for office begin major speeches.

Mastriano is not a usual candidate. He is a Christian nationalist. “Any freedom-loving Americans in the house here?” he continued. “First Corinthians 1:27 gives us all hope. ‘God uses the foolish to confound the wise and the weak to be found as strong.’ Right? That’s his story. And he chooses people like you and me to change history. I always like to say when we make his story our story, we can change history.”

Viewing America’s place in the world as providential is as American as apple pie. From John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” sermon delivered to his fellow Puritans in 1630, through Manifest Destiny, the postwar struggle against “godless communism,” the idea that working for American greatness was somehow equivalent to bringing about the Kingdom, is almost a commonplace. . . .

This providentialist narrative has always played a bit fast and loose with the facts. New England was peopled by strict Calvinists in the 17th century, but most other colonies were more obviously commercial ventures. The American founding was led mostly by deists like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington or Unitarians like John Adams. The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of a divinity, and the Bill of Rights specifically failed to privilege any particular kind of religious expression or affiliation.

Abraham Lincoln was not only our greatest president but also the outstanding American theologian of the 19th century. His second inaugural address, delivered as the Civil War was coming to its conclusion, acknowledged a deeply engaged divinity, but one whose only partisanship was on behalf of justice and charity:

Both [North and South] read the same Bible and pray to the same God and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered — that of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses for it must needs be that offenses come but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him.

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Those words convey a different sense of the relationship of divine will to national purpose from that heard at Mastriano’s campaign headquarters the other night.

In 1980, Rev. Jerry Falwell published a book, Listen, America!, in which the political neophyte wrote, “Any diligent student of American history finds that our great nation was founded by godly men upon godly principles to be a Christian nation.” . . .

Throughout his career, Falwell would sometimes let the phrase “Christian nation” slip out, but he would always apologize, even though his entire approach to politics was rooted in his particular brand of Christian identity.

Mastriano thinks that America has run into difficult times because we have abandoned godly ways. He objects to vaccine mandates and gay rights and transgender anything and critical race theory and property taxes and any restrictions on gun ownership.

As a state senator, he held a hearing after the 2020 election to examine false allegations of voter fraud made by former President Donald Trump’s legal team, and to discuss ways to overturn the results of President Joe Biden’s victory. He was present for the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Trump made a controversial endorsement of Mastriano’s bid late in the race and it appears the endorsement ratified, it did not create, the groundswell of support for Mastriano.

At a “Patriots Arise for God and Country” event in April, Mastriano told the gathering: “We have the power of God with us. We have Jesus Christ that we’re serving here. He’s guiding and directing our steps.”

Mastriano’s language is infused with religious idioms, as is mine, but he evidences no concern about conflating the city of God with the city of man. Mastriano refuses to acknowledge the label of Christian nationalism but he is almost an archetype of the phenomenon. You half expect Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to show up at one of his rallies. . . .

Christians are called to engage the world, and to engage it as Christians. But without the mediating influence of a body of teaching like Catholic social teaching, or the Calvinist theology of Abraham Kuyper, or the distinctions drawn by Talmudic scholars, conflating God’s purposes with our own purposes is always a dangerous business.

That is why the Pennsylvania Catholic bishops need to speak out. Mastriano’s coarse political theology has religious as well as political ramifications. If people think his version of Christianity is authentic, even more people will become estranged from religion.

At any rate, the bishops have a responsibility to teach their flock that Catholic theology does not traffic in the often hateful, sometimes lunatic, ideas that Mastriano claims are part of his divinely inspired platform. Yes, God is good, and good all the time. It is the ends to which Christian nationalists put God’s eternal goodness that reeks of the sin of pride. (Emphasis added.)

Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NC

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