A Trend?

Some Roman Catholics are scratching their heads about David Brat, the economics professor who defeated Eric Cantor in Virginia Congressional primaries. Brat describes himself as a Calvinist Catholic Libertarian. For some, Roman Catholicism is as incompatible with Calvinism as it is with libertarianism, though you don’t hear as much about Calvinist theology as you do about economics (except among Jason and the Callers but they are so far off the Roman Catholic reservation that they don’t count). Whether Calvinism and libertarianism are compatible is something more often assumed than proved.

Be all that as it may, one Roman Catholic writer has no trouble with Brat at Calvinist, Catholic, and Libertarian:

It’s doubtful that Brat is Catholic in the way readers of this column are likely to be Catholic. He states that he “attends” a Catholic church, St. Michael’s, but also lists other churches as “affiliations” — Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian, and Shady Grove Methodist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Hope College, a Christian liberal arts college in Holland, Mich., which is historically affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, a Protestant denomination that sprouted during the 17th century. He earned a master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school. Perhaps Brat will clear up what these “affiliations” signify in the coming weeks.

Until then, I suggest we not get overwrought about what he means when he calls himself a “Catholic Calvinist libertarian,” even though many have been reacting with alarm.. . . I don’t know Brat. I hold no brief for him, but I am convinced that his description of himself as a Catholic Calvinist libertarian is one that most Catholics who identify themselves as “conservatives” or “on the right politically” would feel comfortable with. I include myself in that category.

I submit that Brat’s point is that he is not a doctrinaire Calvinist or economic libertarian. That is why the word “Catholic” is part of his self-designation. He is saying that he is attracted to certain positions that are taken by Calvinists and libertarians that do not clash with Catholic teaching. There are such things.

Brat is not the only so-called Calvinist on the political “right” to be worshiping on both sides of the Tiber as it were. Hugh Hewitt has also recently admitted to double-dipping liturgically. In a piece that suggests Hewitt will be leaving the PCUSA for its vote to divest of companies that do business with Israel, he also admits to going to mass on Saturdays before worshiping with Presbyterians on Sunday:

Now the PCUSA, as its members call it, has taken an official position against Israel and so I, as an elder in the PCUSA — no longer a “ruling” elder in my congregation, having wrapped up my second such stint last year — have to take a position for or against the PCUSA based on it.

Many PCUSA congregations across the country are already engaged in the process of “discerning” whether to remain within the splintering denomination, and this new assault on Israel and the virulent language employed — “occupation” — will no doubt make that process much easier for hundreds of thousands of us. If their congregations don’t leave, they will. They will not be part of the American intifada against Israel.

The PCUSA has raised its hand against Israel. So now either my congregation must depart the PCUSA or I must depart my congregation. I will not be a part, however small, in any campaign against Israel. No Christian who knows how the Church largely stood silent during the Holocaust should be. No thinking person who reads beyond the fringes of the Left would reason as this letter does. If a denomination insists on being ruled by a majority of ill-educated posers, it deserves the withering that has already set in and will now accelerate.

Strong language that, and I have never used it in any of the theological debates to date. Jesus was angry only with the Pharisees and the money-changers. . . .

It seems likely that most of the PCUSA’s General Assembly voters are wholly ignorant of most of this, being anti-intellectual as well as anti-Israel.

This is not a theological dispute. As a guy who goes to Mass on Saturday afternoon and to the PCUSA on Sunday morning, I am not easily riled over theological disputes.

One could well quibble with Hewitt about the theological dimensions of the PCUSA’s decision, especially if he had ever encountered the doctrine of the spirituality of the church during his stint as a PCUSA elder. Some, like me, would argue that for the church to take a political position — which, ahem, the PCUSA has been doing for a long time now — the church is pretending to speak for God (read minister the word) on matters about which God has remained silent. The irony, in addition, is that Israel is both a theological (think Old Testament) and (since 1948 a) political topic. So Hewitt’s attempt to separate theology (where he’s easy going) from politics (where he’s adamant) is not as easy as he might think. But why would he consider leaving a church for the wrong politics? Is the Church of the Latter Day Saints now attractive for its conservative politics or does the deity of Christ matter for church membership?

So where’s the trend? In the long run, it is the social gospel momentum of churches speaking about matters over which they have no authority. (And please note the historical coincidence of Protestants getting in the Progressive politics business at roughly the same time that Leo XIII was cultivating Roman Catholicism’s taste for social teaching.) We continue to see this trend played out 125 years later.

The short-term trend is for this social gospel mindset to blur lines that used to keep Calvinists and Roman Catholics apart. Granted, Evangelicals and Catholics together is almost two decades old now, but Calvinists were a pretty small piece of that effort unless you want to count Chuck Colson’s Kuyperianism. But now with Calvinism’s popularity, it’s possible for political candidates and pundits to have it all.

Is this a pretty good country or what!

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