Trump Is Converting America’s Nuns

Trump Is Converting America’s Nuns

By Elle Hardy via UnHerd

Bespectacled and berobed, a softly spoken nun may seem an unlikely figurehead for the hard-Right of American politics — but Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God isn’t just any nun. With her broadsides against liberalism, President Biden, and Satan’s hold on the media, she is a fitting representative for the conservative turn of fringe Catholicism in the United States.

Last month, unconsecrated nun Rosalind Moss, as the Vatican would have her, was praised by Texas Governor and practising Catholic Greg Abbott for supporting what has become the holiest of causes for Republicans: the re-election of Donald Trump. “Across the globe, men and women are waking up to the alarming truth that governments no longer serve God and the people,” Moss said in her weekly broadcast on the Catholic Media Network, simulcast on Facebook. “If President Trump gets in, it’s a complete act of God,” she continued. “We are up against not just an election, but an absolute war for good against evil.”

Mother Miriam, a Jewish-turned-evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who wears a full nun’s habit, claims to have been kicked out of two dioceses, and had her vows cancelled by one bishop and denied by three others. Yet this has only increased the size of her pulpit among a reactionary coalition of defrocked. Joining her in the “Nuns for Trump” crusade are The Dominican Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a disavowed Michigan “order” of anti-socialist activists, and Ohio-based Children of Mary, who have attended rallies wearing MAGA masks.

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Not to be outdone, in 2020 Wisconsin priest Father James Altman went viral with a YouTube video stating that “you cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat”, warning that those who were would “face the fires of hell” with “60 million aborted babies standing at the gates of heaven barring your Democrat entrance”. Altman was subsequently stripped of his duties, but gained the support of prominent Texas Bishop Joseph Strickland, who was himself removed from his post late last year by Pope Francis, reportedly after calling him the “usurper of Peter’s chair”.

“Joe Biden might be a Catholic, but in this febrile political climate, he is not Catholic enough.”

Suffice it to say that the vision of God promoted by these extremist figures differs widely from that worshipped by the Pope, who has been critical of the exploitative nature of global capitalism, and even declared that, in a “sociological” way, “I am a communist, and so too is Jesus”. But despite their fundamentalism, the views of these consecrated influencers still speak to a broader shift among American Catholics. Although the White House is now occupied by a mass-going Catholic, his co-religionists have lurched dramatically to the Right. Joe Biden might be a Catholic, but in this febrile political climate, he is not Catholic enough.

Traditionally, Catholic voters have been fairly evenly split between the two parties, only swaying to one side in notable landslide elections such as with George Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008. Donald Trump is changing that, and it’s likely to have far-reaching consequences. Only four years ago, Catholics voted for Trump by just 1%. This year, the Republican candidate is currently up 12 points on Biden among Catholics. And this shift is most profound among Hispanics, who make up 40% of the country’s Catholics. In the past two national elections, Hispanic Catholics voted around 2-to-1 for Democratic candidates. In current polling, however, they have Biden only at two points ahead, at 49-47. To put that in context, a similar poll in 2020 found Hispanic Catholics preferred Biden to Trump by 67-26 — a staggering 20-point swing.

Dr Andrew Chesnut, a professor of Catholic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that American consecrated nuns — unlike Mother Miriam — have historically been known for progressive Catholicism, particularly social action work and charity. The rise to prominence of renegade clergy is “reflective of the political shift among white Catholics, and now increasingly Hispanic Catholics as well”, he says. While they can no longer partake in activities sanctioned by the Vatican, they are nevertheless representative of those who do. “Those who attend mass on a regular basis tend to be even more Republican and more pro-Trump,” Chesnut says.

This is largely why Trump’s lead among white Catholics is continuing to grow, an eight-point swing from 57-42 in 2020 to 61-38 today. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics who go to mass has halved since the Seventies, pointing to a population that is dwindling in numbers, but increasingly rusted on to conservative values. Indeed, no one is more representative of the changing mood of the Catholic laity than Bishop Strickland. According to the National Catholic Registeruntil 2016, he was “considered mild-mannered and middle-of-the-road”. But as that year’s election grew near, he ceased being a “management bishop” and adopted an aggressive and controversial approach. Recalling his words in prayer, he told the paper that he asked himself: “Are you going to just sort of follow this management model [or] are you going to teach the truth?”

These days, Strickland is a MAGA disciple, rejecting the established religious order to pursue the truths weighing on his soul, engaging in Covid-scepticism, stoking anti-LGBT sentiment, and attending rallies protesting the election “stolen” from Trump alongside other dismissed Catholic luminaries. “They form a traditionalist, pre-Vatican II wing who are not recognised by the Roman Catholic Church,” Chesnut says. In the Saint Dominic order, claimed by the Michigan Nuns for Trump, they have a figure known for combating heresy “which is what they see themselves doing in fighting against ‘godless socialism’ implemented by Biden”.

The Bible shows that one man’s heretic can be another’s hero, but equally, the gospels are nothing if not about the horrors of persecution and the importance of mercy. “American bishops have been at the forefront criticising, questioning and challenging Pope Francis’s papacy,” Chesnut says. “The bigger, more interesting picture here is that we’ve always seen Trump’s main constituency as white evangelicals. But we can now make the blanket statement that Trump is the candidate of white Christians.” Given the pace with which Hispanic Catholics are fast moving to the Right, it might not be long before we can say that Trump is the candidate of Hispanic Christians, too. And, even though black Protestants are firmly in the Democratic camp, some 18% are leaning towards voting for Trump this election, twice that of 2020, and six times the number who voted for him in 2016.

Yet while Trump’s spiritual coalition is taking shape, the question of why Catholics are now in the tent is a little thornier. “Catholics have moved to the Right for the same reason as Evangelicals are already there,” Andrew Chesnut believes, “and that is the perception of a declining standard of living due to immigration and a departure from traditional Christian values”. And the ramifications of this shift cannot be underestimated. Evangelicals have traditionally been seen as the Republicans’ most reliable constituency, accounting for about a quarter of the United States population. Yet Catholics represent around one in five Americans, meaning their change as a bloc from an essentially neutral political stance to reliable conservatives is likely to be electorally significant. In fact, it bears a resemblance to the shift in the Seventies, when evangelical voters swung behind Ronald Reagan.

In 1976, Reverend Jerry Falwell launched his “I Love America” tour, a nationwide campaign on socially conservative issuesIn the same year, fellow evangelical Jimmy Carter had been sworn into office — but the cardigan-clad, micromanaging ditherer in the White House was in stark contrast to the charismatic, smooth-talking and morally unambiguous Baptist minister. Carter might have been the first born-again president, but the energy of the evangelical movement was firmly with Falwell, who turned his personal crusade into the national Moral Majority movement in 1979. In turn, evangelicals became a key pillar of support for the Republican candidate Ronald Reagan, a divorced former actor and former Democrat whose spirituality appeared to bend more towards his astrology-worshipping wife than his God-fearing mother.

Similarly, the activism of out-and-proud Catholic heretics since 2016 has been, if not a result of the conservative political candidate of the day, then at least influenced by the same forces that swept the former reality television star to the highest office in the land. Today, Catholics are moving towards the flame of a twice-divorced reality television star making patently insincere Christian overtures while being found liable for sexually abusing one woman and facing allegations of trying to buy the silence of a porn star over their affair.

Amid this paradox, should we be surprised that Mother Miriam and the renegade clergy are gaining influence on the Right by trading bells and smells for fire and brimstone? Today’s America isn’t anywhere near as Godly a place as it was in 1976, but the politics of faith are as potent as ever.

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(TLB) Published this article by Elle Hardy as posted at UnHerd and ZH

Elle Hardy is a freelance journalist who’s reported from North Korea and the former Soviet Union. She is the author of Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World.

 

Header featured image (edited) credit: Nuns for Trump out in full force/Getty

Emphasis added by (TLB)

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