The fire of love kindling in my soul for the GOP presidential hopeful has finally been quenched. In March, a Weekly Standard profile of Jeb Bush sparked an inward light, and learning more about this “other Bush” fanned the flame of my affection. A pragmatic conservative with a track record of results? A cautious thinker with a heart for immigrants? Who is this man, and how do I give him money? Alas, it was not to be. Despite his desire to distinguish himself from his brother George,1 it’s become difficult to distinguish the two under the glare of the media spotlight when it comes to foreign policy. Jeb’s views on the Middle-East, it turns out, are frighteningly terrible.
Yet the worst was yet to come. On his first official day on the campaign trail, the Catholic Jeb rebuked Pope Francis for his new encyclical that urges Christians to care for the environment. “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope,” Jeb said in an interview with Sean Hannity.2
I am not a Catholic, and I have nothing of value to say about how appropriate it is for rank-and-file parishioners to challenge the Pope on such matters; I’ll leave that to my fellow Conciliar Post contributors who have swum the Tiber. I’m not a particularly responsible environmentalist, either. I water my lawn religiously, multiple times a day in fact, like a monk summoned by bells to regular periods of prayer. Still, I find Jeb’s words worrisome, particularly the later part of his statement:
“I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”3
With this, Catholic Jeb removed the mask and revealed himself to be Secular Jeb.
In the secular world, religion is at worst a social disease and at best a psychological panacea—a quirky self-help system that may be tolerated so long as it produces Nice People. For Christians, this is rubbish. For us, religion is regeneration and transformation, not only of our inward bits, but also for the way we understand and approach the world. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”4 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”5
Accepting Christ brings forth a radical and holistic altering of the person. All things become matters of religion. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”6 There is no bifurcation of secular and sacred for those in the body of Christ. There is no Department of Political Affairs in the Christian life where we must remove all the articles of faith from our pockets before passing through the security checkpoint. The idea that politics is somehow off-limits to religious thought is absurd. Where do our motivations and ethics for political action come from if not our faith?
The kicker is that I doubt Jeb truly believes that religion isn’t about things that wind up in the political realm. Are his views on abortion and same-sex marriage purely political? Does his Catholic faith have no bearing on these things? If so, I’d be curious to hear his reasoning. And unfair of me as it may be, I cannot help but notice that his Catholicity wavers at the points it meets incompatible GOP platforms. He seems to defer to the Pope on issues of family, but declares the Earth upon which the family thrives beyond the authority of the Holy See.
The idea that religion is just about “making us better as people” is either vague nonsense or outright wrong. In general, religion is a system of thought and practice that describes reality and prescribes actions that accord with that reality. In particular, Christianity describes a broken creation with a sovereign Ruler performing restorative work. Jesus Christ is not a self-help guru. He is not a life coach. He is the Lord of Creation, and he commands his subjects to perform the work of the Kingdom. Christians are laborers and servants charged with duties by the King. Being a Christian isn’t merely about being better, whatever that means. It’s about entering into the Kingdom of God and living out a life in service to the One on the throne.
I could forgive Jeb for deferring to his own judgment rather than the Vatican’s on environmental issues. As a Protestant, I am nothing if not supportive of insubordination to the Pope. However, I cannot abide by the secular notion that matters of faith are isolated from matters of praxis. Separation of church and state does not entail the separation of religion and politics. The idea that our faith is only about “making us better” is simply preposterous. It’s an all or nothing deal.
So fare thee well, Secular Jeb, and Godspeed…if that means anything.
2. Katie Glueck, “Jeb Bush knocks Pope on climate change push.” Politico, June 16, 2015. http://www.politico.com/story/2015/06/jeb-bush-knocks-pope-on-climate-change-push-119084.html
4. 2 Cor 5:17
5. Romans 12:2
6. 1 Cor 10:31