America’s toxic politics are having an unholy effect on religion 

A chronicle of Donald Trump's Crimes or Allegations

America’s toxic politics are having an unholy effect on religion 

In my last column, I noted the divisions within the Catholic Church that have roiled the papacy of Pope Francis. Today, those dividing lines have spilled over into our politics. This should come as no surprise as even those of different faiths also find themselves embroiled in political controversies.  

Adeel Mangi, who would become the first Muslim American to serve on a federal appeals court, was recently denied a Senate vote. During his confirmation hearing, Mangi was asked whether he condemned the 9/11 attacks, or supported the Hamas attacks on Israel. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wondered, “What American is asked such questions?” and answered, “Only Mangi, who happens to be a Muslim American.” 

Next, Donald Trump impugned Jews saying, “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion, they hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves.” An outraged Donny Deutsch rebutted Trump’s claim on “Morning Joe”: “How dare you, Donald Trump, dare to tell me what it takes to be a good Jew.” 

Now, the infusion of Catholicism into our politics has dragged the Catholic Church into a political maelstrom. A pro-Trump organization with the provocative name, Catholics for Catholics, recently held a “Catholic Prayer for Trump” at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.  

The occasion featured ex-convicts Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, along with James Caviezel, who played Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.”  

Speaking at the event, Flynn invoked the 23rd Psalm by claiming the United States finds itself in “the valley of the shadow of death.” Flynn called for all Catholics to be “fearless” in their fervor to restore “Judeo-Christian principles and values.”  

Behind these sentiments is a fear that the very existence of the Catholic Church is threatened unless Donald Trump is returned to office. As Catholics for Catholics state on their website: “The deafening silence of Church leaders, who are the first ones tasked with guarding the truths of our Faith, has made it all the more urgent that we stand up now and hold the line.”  

Joe Biden is the only the second Catholic to become president, following John F. Kennedy. Biden’s Catholic faith is deeply rooted in his persona and forged in the fires of tragedies he has endured during his long life. After the deaths of his first wife, infant daughter and son, Biden sought comfort from many Catholic pastors. To this day, Biden is a regular attendee at Catholic Mass

On St. Patrick’s Day, Biden celebrated his Irish and Catholic heritage at the White House for an event I was invited to attend. Several Catholic leaders, including the Papal Nuncio Cardinal Christophe Pierre, Frs. Thomas Reese and James Martin, Sisters Simone Campbell and Carol Keehan and members of the Kennedy family were there. 

Biden lauded the Catholic Church for having “always stepped in when people were suffering to meet their needs — food, shelter, healthcare, education. Your organizations make real the instructions of Jesus, ‘Whatever you do unto the least of my brothers — these, my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.’”  

One pro-Trump Catholic writer described the gathering as “a real rogues’ gallery of left-wing subversives masquerading as ‘Catholic leaders.’” Cultural issues, particularly abortion and gay marriage, trigger their outrage and call them to question Biden’s Catholic faith.  

This is a far cry from 1960 when John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism was a preeminent voting issue. Back then, anti-Catholic sentiment was strong, and many believed that, as president, Kennedy would be subservient to the pope. 

But Kennedy argued that religion and politics should occupy two distinct and separate universes. Addressing the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy declared his belief in an America “where the separation of church and state is absolute.”  

Today, the walls between church and state have collapsed, and Catholics are often asked to prove their bonafides by answering how they intend to vote. At the Catholic Prayer for Trump gathering, one speaker asserted that Trump was “the only Catholic option” who could “restore” the Catholic faith. As if to emphasize the point, Trump has now opted to sell his “God Bless the USA Bibles” and calling upon America to “pray again.” 

The impugning of one’s faith for those Catholics opposed to Trump often means that the spiritual sustenance they seek is lost in the “us vs. them” mindset that infuses today’s partisan divide. For too many Americans of various faiths, spiritual comfort often translates into political comfort, where mingling among like-minded partisans and co-religionists means that listening to differing points of view is no longer a virtue but a vice.  

In his new autobiography, Pope Francis expressed his desire for “a Church that listens as only a mother can; a synodal Church, united, that places itself at the service of the people of God, even though there are those within it, consumed by pride and egotism and prey to diabolical temptations, who would like to see it divided as if there were two groups of rival fans.” 

As if to confirm the pope’s fears, staffers at Catholic Charities have been subjected to numerous death threats after a small group of House Republicans accused the organization of being complicit in a “secretive, taxpayer-funded, and likely illegal operation to move unknown migrants into the United States.” San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy wrote in response, “Christ weeps at the invocation of His name to justify such outrages.” 

Turning the faithful of whatever faith into distinct groups of rival fans is a prescription for disaster. Religious leaders should add moral clarity to political discussions. But their voices should not resemble rabid fans shouting at each other. 

John Kenneth White is a professor of Politics at The Catholic University of America. His forthcoming book is, “Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism.” He can be reached at