Bobby Jindal may not yet be a household name across the entire United States. But hopefully that's about to change.
At age 36, Jindal is a former member of the United States House of Representatives; a former Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, where he took the state agency from a $400 million deficit to a $200 million surplus without tax increases; and is now the current Republican Governor of Louisiana.
Governor Jindal made national news last week when he, along with Florida Governor Charlie Crist and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney schmoozed at John McCain’s private residence in Arizona. The presumption at the time was that Mr. McCain had all three of these men under consideration as prospective Vice Presidential picks, and, while I’m not convinced that this is accurate, it did nonetheless garner Jindal a lot of attention.
But let‘s set aside the V.P speculation for a moment. Objectively, Governor Jindal has an impressive record as both a legislator and as a Governor; he is receiving very enthusiastic responses from both fiscal and social conservative leaders; and he looks more and more to be a part of the future of American political conservatism.
So what could possibly get in the way of Governor Jindal’s rise to national influence? Could it be the fact that he is a Catholic, and not an evangelical?
If the recent Republican presidential primary races demonstrated anything, they showed us that, among the religious social conservative movement (a movement mostly comprised of evangelical protestants), theological views and church affiliation trump just about everything else when it comes to selecting a political candidate.
Consider what happened, and didn’t happen, with the candidacy of Mitt Romney. The former Governor of Massachusetts was certainly something less than a perfect Republican presidential candidate, to be sure. Yet, much of the public dialog about the Romney candidacy was not about his gubernatorial track record, or about his policy positions, or about his impressive private sector business experience, but about his Mormonism.
Let me cite my graduate school alma mater as an example. Biola University is a distinctly evangelical liberal arts university in suburban Los Angeles, with a fully accredited graduate school of clinical psychology, and a graduate school of theology. Earlier this winter, the university’s impressive alumni magazine “Connections” published an article which was ostensibly about the prospect of Romney being elected President.
In reality, the article had very little if anything to say about Romney’s policy positions, or his qualifications to be President, or the American presidency, or about statesmanship. Instead, the article focused primarily on Mormonism. And ultimately, the article seemed to conclude that a vote for Romney would essentially amount to a vote for a false church (the Mormon church), and this would in turn result in growth of the Mormon church, which would in turn result in more “lost souls” (or as one quoted professor called it, “sheep stealing”).
I’m not suggesting that this one article, or its author, or the individuals quoted in the article, speak for all of evangelicalism, or for the entirety of Biola University and all of its alumni. Additionally, I am not making statements here about theology, nor am I arguing about Romney’s merits as a candidate.
My point here is that there is some number of American evangelicals who, while they may “lean Republican” in their voting habits, still can’t bring themselves to vote for a candidate that doesn’t share all or most of their theological views. Essentially, there is not consensus among American evangelicalism as to whether or not one can share a common worldview with a person or group that does not first share one’s theological views. This poses a serious problem for the Republican Party, and is bad news for American politics generally. Yet the problem seems to have been mostly misunderstood, or, if it is understood, mostly ignored.
But what does any of this have to do with Governor Jindal and his future on the national stage? Well, let’s start with the fact that Jindal is a Catholic.
To be sure, Catholics and evangelicals have plenty of common ground, both theologically and in terms of worldview, whereas Mormonism entails a dramatic divergence from historic Christian theology. Yet despite this fact, and the fact that there are lots of Catholics involved in socially conservative activism, there are still plenty of evangelicals in the pews whose opinions of Catholicism are not much better than their views of Mormonism.
Indeed, my alma mater’s alumni magazine recently published an article that was highly critical of the on-again-off-again “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” movement, which featured a theology professor whose objections to this effort of uniting evangelicals and Catholics are based on theological concerns.
My hope is that, as Americans, we all remain free to believe as we choose, but that our cultural values, and therefore our public policy views, can begin to transcend our theological differences. I’m also hoping that Governor Jindal will play a vital role in our nation’s future.