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Circle of Protection Subordinates Religion to Politics

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The question of “What Would Jesus Cut” raised in new ads for John Boehner’s, Harry Reid’s, and Mitch McConnell’s home states is fundamentally wrongheaded. It reverses the proper approach of religious leaders to politics and threatens to mislead their flocks.

The PowerBlog has already addressed the Left’s inclination toward class warfare rhetoric during the debt ceiling debate. Much to our surprise, President Obama didn’t seem to have read that post in time to include its insights in Monday night’s speech. Instead, we heard the same disheartening lines about corporate jets and big oil: the president doubled-down on his jealousy-inducement strategy and continued to ignore economic reality.

The country’s religious leaders who have begun to parrot this class warfare language are failing an even greater responsibility than the President’s. It is good that they enter into the debate, but as we explained last week with reference to Archbishop Charles Chaput, religion must always guide political engagement, not the other way around. Evangelization is the necessary and proper motivation of political speech by a religious leader. To reverse this engagement—to turn to religion secondarily, as a means to solving political ends—is to court error.

Aristotle writes his Nicomachean Ethics first, and then his Politics, for precisely this reason. Ethical inquiry (and metaphysical before it) must precede and direct political inquiry. To reverse that order is essentially to justify means by ends.

Father Sirico addressed the WWJC question in April, during Wisconsin’s showdown with its public sector unions. On the Paul Edwards Program he explained the invalidity of Sojourner’s WWJC approach:

I have a very difficult time taking a question like that seriously. It politicizes the gospel: it reduces the gospel—the mission of Jesus Christ—to a question of budget priorities…. It really attenuates the whole thrust of what the gospel is.

The very name the group behind the ads has chosen for itself, the Circle of Protection, is reflective of their misunderstanding. Rather than venturing into the political realm driven by an evangelical spirit, they circle the wagons around a particular policy and use Christianity as a shield.

None of this is to say that the practical solutions advanced by the Circle of Protection are necessarily wrong—only that if the group is right, it has stumbled upon the best policies without the enlightenment of Christianity that it claims.

Kenneth Spence


  • “To reverse this engagement—to turn to religion secondarily, as a means to solving political ends—is to court error.”


    I’m not exactly seeing how “Circle of Protection” is subordinating religion to politics. Their Circle of Protection Statement makes it pretty clear that their political commitments flow from their theological understanding,

    “As Christians, we believe the moral measure of the debate is how the most poor and vulnerable people fare. We look at every budget proposal from the bottom up—how it treats those Jesus called “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45).”

    Now their theology may be overly simplistic and their understanding of economics and state bureaucracy naive but those are a different set of problems.

    • I think the difference is there, although it is subtle, and I know I didn’t explain it as well as possible. I would note that to take “the moral measure of the debate” as “how the most poor and vulnerable people fare” is backwards. Whatever the “moral measure” of a debate might be, I think the Acton approach would be to agree on principles and then debate the prudence of different courses of action. That’s not what Wallis & co. want though–they want to make moral judgments about the debate itself based on the end result of the debate. To me, it seems they’re working backwards.


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  • Bernadette

    Why is the “Circle of Protection” so reliant on Government aid? (rhetorical)  Whatever happened to the Principle of Subsidiarity?  Get out of bed with politics and politicians!  We must do what we can with what we have and leave the rest to God who says that the “poor you will always have with you.”  God comes first.  Not the U.S. govt. When our faith becomes beholden to the secular world, beware!  Isn’t that what we are suffering from now?

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