After Pope Francis moved to recognize a Palestinian state, some gung-ho defenders of Israel suggested the pontiff should stick to preaching and stay out of politics. "It's interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that's what the Church is supposed to do," said Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), a hawkish defender of Israel.
It was just five months ago that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) said he wants leaders from the faith community to "rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values." The likely Republican presidential candidate added, "The time has come for pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance."
This is not an uncommon sentiment in GOP politics. As the party continues to move sharply to the right, Republican hostility towards church-state separation has become the norm. In culture-war debates over gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, the right routinely argues that policymakers should heed the appeals from religious leaders.
More generally, conservatives express alarm about the left trying to push voices from the faith community "out of the public square." It's these religious leaders, the GOP argues, that should help guide public debate.
With this in mind, it seemed almost miraculous to see this Politico piece yesterday.
Note, a variety of lawmakers expressed public disagreement -- and in some cases, deep disappointment -- with Pope Francis's move towards officially recognizing Palestinians. And to be sure, there's nothing wrong with a spirited debate, with some American policymakers on one side and the Catholic leader on the other.
But that's not what Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) said, exactly. Rather, he suggested Pope Francis should stay out of the debate altogether -- the Vatican can focus on spiritual matters, the South Carolinian argued, and stay out of politics.
Imagine that. When church leaders condemn abortion, congressional Republicans shout, "Amen." When the pope enters a foreign policy debate, suddenly we effectively hear, "Mind your own business, padre."
Indeed, when President Reagan worked with Pope John Paul II on a variety of issues, Republicans saw it as an important diplomatic partnership. But now that it's President Obama and Pope Francis who are often aligned -- on climate change, on Iran nuclear talks, on diplomacy with Cuba, on economic inequality, on pay equity for women -- and some GOP officials suddenly aren't pleased at all with the Vatican's interest in contemporary politics.
Over at Daily Kos, Laura Clawson added, "Republicans have shown time and time again that they have no problem whatsoever with religion in politics. Now we know how particular they are about whose religion and whose politics. Catholic leaders in politics are fine as long as they're threatening to deny communion to Democrats over abortion, but let a pope talk about economic inequality and poverty and suddenly Republicans discover that they'd really prefer it if religious leaders would keep quiet and let politicians speak for them."
Francis will deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress in the fall, at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). It's bound to be interesting.