David Brat is a Republican congressman from Virginia. He is also a conservative Christian who recently told the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios that President Barack Obama just doesn’t meet his exacting theological standards.“He’s using the Christian tradition and trying to bring about compassion by bonking Republicans over the head with the Bible,” Brat told Rios. “It’s almost a comedy routine on what compassion and love is. He’s mocking his enemies in order to compel a larger federal state using the tradition of love.
“Our side, the conservative side, needs to reeducate its people that we own the entire tradition. If you lose the moral argument, you lose the policy argument every time, so we need to reclaim the moral argument, where we’re so strong,” he added.
Rios, of course, is a sympathetic audience for this. Just yesterday she took to her radio show (which is inexplicably a real thing) to tell her listeners (another inexplicable phenomenon) that Obama would soon implement “martial law” and start “a civil war.” (Thanks to Right Wing Watch for the clips.)
But back to Brat. He and Rios rest secure in one righteous conviction: They are the right sort of Christian, and unless you agree with them you are the wrong sort of Christian and perhaps should not call yourself one at all. To them, Jesus was a boot-strap capitalist.
It is not clear why Brat in particular believes he possesses such powerful doctrinal authority. He is a self-described Calvinist: Protestants do not have a pope, and he is neither a minister nor a theologian. He is an economist, albeit one whose curriculum vitae consists of decades of attempts to “synthesize capitalism and Christianity.”
Those attempts have arguably not been very successful, at least as far as the academic community is concerned. Mother Jones reported in 2014 that as a scholar, Brat largely failed to leave a mark on his field. Although he chaired Randolph Macon College’s economics department, he published his “most prestigious” articles in 1995 and 1996; other academics rarely cite his work.“One could say this lack of citations reflects a career that is not impressive,” Virginia Tech economist Dr. Nicolaus Tideman told the magazine at the time.
Perhaps that’s why Brat now turns to theology. But if he does indeed long for a ministerial career, he’s in the wrong profession. His job now is to uphold the Constitution. That includes the First Amendment, which in turn protects people who do not think the way Brat believes they should – and that includes people who believe Jesus was really more of a liberal.In a perfect world, Obama’s religious views would be irrelevant to his ability to perform his office – unless, of course, he tried to govern the nation based on doctrinal idiosyncrasy rather than the Constitution. Obama has not done so. The same cannot be said of Brat.
But Brat’s remarks aren’t completely useless. They’re simply the most recent evidence that government must remain religiously neutral. No government can truly keep the peace if its leaders endorse a faith. They can do nothing but endorse their interpretation of that faith, and there will always be someone like David Brat to tell them that they are wrong.