May 13th, 2011
04:31 PM ET
Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
The pro-life label isn’t just for abortion opponents anymore.
On Wednesday, 70 professors, priests and nuns at Catholic universities criticized House Speaker John Boehner for a legislative record on the poor that was, in their words “among the worst in Congress.” His “anti-life” budget, they wrote, ignores the “most ancient moral teachings” of the Catholic Church on the duty of the powerful to care for the powerless.
A similar scolding is now being meted out to Rep. Paul Ryan, who spearheaded that GOP budget. In a pro-life ad that will greet Ryan as he returns to Wisconsin this weekend for a congressional recess, Father Thomas Kelley of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, blasts Ryan for proposing a budget that “abandons pro-life values.”
“I’m pro-life because God calls us to protect life at all stages,” Kelly says in the ad, which was paid for by a pair of Catholic and evangelical groups, before arguing that the proposed GOP federal budget offers no such protections.
The budget “makes huge, irresponsible cuts hurts families who are struggling to find jobs and put food on the table, but provides big tax breaks for millionaires and large corporations whose profits are soaring,” Kelly says.
“Saying you're pro-life isn't enough,” the ad concludes. “Congressman Ryan, actions speak louder than words."
According to Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which helped to pay for the ad, “Being consistently pro-life requires more than caring for the unborn, it requires following the Biblical call to care for the poor and the downtrodden. "
On that measure, in his view, the GOP budget “falls far short.”
For nearly a generation, the GOP has enjoyed a monopoly on religion in the corridors of power. Democrats, invoking Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor of a “wall of separation between church and state,” responded the rise of the Religious Right in the late seventies by arguing that religion was a private matter that should have no place in political life.
As a result, Republicans enjoyed a free pass on the religion question. They were the party of God, and a halo of sorts hovered over their public policy positions on "family values."
But just how biblical were these positions? No one really knew, because neither the public nor the press were religiously literate enough to ask.
After John Kerry’s 2004 presidential election defeat, however, the Democrats decided that in a country where only 2% of the population self-identifies as atheist, it was probably not so smart to be seen as the anti-God party. Over the last few years, Democrats, including President Obama, have spoken freely about their faith.
Following the Republicans’ lead, they have connected the dots between their policies and the teachings of the Bible. “What Would Jesus Tax?” they have asked, even as they scrutinized anti-immigration legislation in light of the good samaritan story.
What we are seeing in the attacks this week on Boehner and Ryan is the beginning of a long overdue public conversation about what it means to protect the sanctity of life.
We are also seeing the mainstreaming of the Religious Left. Jim Wallis of the Sojourners community is no longer a voice crying in the wilderness when it comes to questioning the Republican monopoly on biblical values.
The days when Republicans could simply assert that they are Bible-believing Christians appear to be over. Now they are going to have to show it.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.”
Do Boehner and Ryan think the poor are the blessed of God? Thanks to these recent provocations, we are going to find out.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.