Anways...unless you've been living in a cave for the past four days, you probably know already that Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate on the GOP presidential ticket on Saturday.
Already, there is a rush to define this chap on the national scene from both political parties, the 24-hour media, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, religious leaders.
After all, Romney is Mormon, and Ryan is Roman Catholic.
If there are any sects of Christianity that have been more frequently and widely misunderstood throughout American history than Mormonism and Catholicism, I sure can't think of them right now.
But let's, in the "Oooh, new shiny thing!!" spirit, focus on Ryan's Catholicism for a moment.
One of the biggest knocks against Ryan is how his Ayn Rand-esque distaste for a social safety net for the poor is patently at odds with Catholic (and, I would argue, general Christian) social teaching. His policy proposals include cutting Medicaid by a third while also raising taxes on the poor and middle class and dramatically lowering taxes for the uber-rich.
As a Christian educated in part by the Catholic Church in seminary, I feel it's a legitimate complaint to have. After all, the Catholic catechism says, in part, "The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. (Cf. Isa 58:6-7; Heb 13:3) Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (Cf. Mt 25:31-46.) Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God: (Cf. Tob 4:5-11; Sir 17:22; Mt 6:2-4.)" (emphasis mine)
In addition to the Scriptures quoted above in the catechism, I would add James 2:15-16 to underscore the urgent nature of the church's mission as a vehicle for giving and charity: "Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. What if one of you said, "Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!" What good is it if you don't give them what their body actually needs?" (CEB)
Asked about this discrepancy in an April interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Ryan had this to say:
Again, emphasis mine.
Keep in mind that the Catholic catechism does not disqualify the state from performing works of mercy--indeed, the catechism also states that states bear some (though not exclusive or primary) responsibility of "overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector."
Given that reality, I truly have no idea how Ryan does square his economic proposals with his church's social teaching. Advancement of the common good is not a task abdicated by the state--it is in fact why our state was created: the Constitution preamble includes the phrase "in order to...promote the general welfare."
I'm not saying that government is always right. But to assume that the government has no role to play in social justice and economic fairness flies in the face of Scripture, historical church teaching, and the spirit of the Constitution.
If Ryan disagrees with his church on this one, that's perfectly fine. I know I don't agree with everything the Disciples have done over the course of their history.
But he should probably just come out and say so.
Update: Gary Weiss, writing for CNN, just came out with an interesting piece that touches on some of these same issues, and he concludes that Ryan "can either be an objectivist or a Christian. He can't have it both ways." Do you agree with such a dichotomy? Do you disagree? Why?
Yours in Christ,