As the stand off between workers and Governor Scott Walker continues
in Wisconsin, religious leaders have weighed in on the dispute. Roman Catholic bishops came out on the
side of the unions, urging the governor to protect worker’s rights. Many mainline pastors, including
Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists, and
American Baptists have written letters, issued statements, and preached sermons
supporting labor, unions, and collective bargaining. In Madison, interfaith prayers and proclamations have upheld
and encouraged the teachers, police, firefighters, and other public employees
in their resistance to the governor’s plan to break their union.
This is an impressive religious group by any
standards–particularly so in Wisconsin where traditional faith still plays an
important role in the life of a large number of its citizens. Wisconsin is almost evenly split
between the three largest American religious groups: 29% are Roman Catholics;
24% are evangelical Protestants; and 23% are mainline Protestants.
Yet none of these prayers or sermons has swayed Scott
Walker. He has steadfastly stayed
on his original course, unfazed by the full weight of Roman Catholic authority
or the mainline social justice tradition pressing upon him and urging him
toward compromise and change.
Scott Walker is neither Roman Catholic nor a mainline
churchgoer. The son of a Baptist
pastor, born in Colorado Springs, the heartland of the Religious Right, Walker
is a member of Meadowbrook Church in Wauwatosa, a non-denominational
evangelical church. Meadowbrook’s statement
of faith, a fairly typical boilerplate of conservative evangelical theology,
includes beliefs in biblical inerrancy, sin, exclusive salvation through Christ,
and eternal damnation.
In other words, Scott Walker does not give a rip about
pronouncements by the Roman Catholic Church, any Lutheran, Episcopal, or
Methodist bishop, or the Protestant social justice pastors. These religious authorities, steeped in
centuries of theology and Christian ethics mean absolutely nothing in Scott
Walker’s world. His spiritual
universe is that of 20th century fundamentalism, in its softer
evangelical form, a vision that emphasizes “me and Jesus” and personal
Before he was elected governor, Walker shared his testimony
with a group of Christian businessmen.
In it, he said that his religious life was expressed in the words of an
old hymn, “Trust and Obey.” From
childhood onward, Walker recounted how God specifically directed his life, how
he had learned to trust that direction, and how he sought to obey Christ in all
things and at all times. He
related the biblical story of the apostle Peter in a boat, whom Jesus directed
to walk on the water. At first,
Peter followed Jesus and did, indeed, walk upon water. But Peter became fearful and sank. According to Walker, this is a parable
of the whole Christian life. If
you “fail to trust and obey,” Walker said, “You sink.” Doubt is not allowed. Only obedience.
This is the same sort of evangelical spirituality that
shaped George W. Bush–and led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Once you
know God’s direction, no change is allowed. Doubt opens the door to failure. Obeying Christ’s plan is the only option. In this theological universe,
hard-headedness is a virtue, compromise is the work of the Devil, and anything
that works to accomplish God’s plan is considered ethically justifiable.
In other words, the Catholic bishops and mainline pastors–as
well as the Quakers, Jews, Buddhists, and others–who have been trying to convince
the governor to shift course are pretty well preaching in the wind. Other than David Koch (fake or
otherwise), Walker is listening to One Person and One Person only: Jesus speaking
directly to him. God, evidently,
has directed him on his current path.
Scott’s just trusting and obeying.
He bears no responsibility other than that.
Unlike the Roman Catholics and traditional Protestants who
have spoken on behalf of the laborers, Walker has no spiritual “check” on him,
no authority other than the ones he hears in his own head, and no moral
culpability in this situation.
He’s the good Christian soldier, just following God’s lead.
And this is why Scott Walker’s religion is actually
dangerous in the public square.
Because it lacks the ability to compromise, it is profoundly
anti-democratic. Many faith traditions actually possess deep spiritual
resources that allow them to participate in pluralistic, democratic, and
creative political change. But
those sort of traditions tend emphasize the love of God and neighbor over
strict obedience to an unyielding Father God. Unlike the confident dictum of the old hymn, “Trust and
Obey” is not the best way to govern a state.