Political Animal


February 21, 2012 12:16 PM Santorum: “You’re Not A Christian”

By Ed Kilgore

Defenders of Rick Santorum are very angry that anyone would suggest his “phony theology” comments about the president represented an attack on a fellow Christian’s beliefs. Turns out he was a bit more direct about it in an appearance in 2008, as reported at the time by Beliefnet founder Steve Waldman (who passed along a link to his post):

After he’d accused Obama and other Democrats of religious fraudulance for a few minutes, journalist Terry Mattingly of GetReligion.org asked whether it’s possible that rather than being fake, perhaps, Obama was sincerely reflecting a form of liberal Christianity in the tradition of Reinhold Neibuhr. Santorum surprised me by answering that yes, “I could buy that.” However, he questioned whether liberal christianity was really, well, Christian. “You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.” He continued, “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it.”
In other words, Obama’s faith is fraudulant in part because liberal Christianity is. I’ve come across this sentiment before. To a degree rarely discussed, many conservative Christians truly doubt both the theological truth and the spiritual authenticity of liberal Christians.

As it happens, the Santorum appearance Waldman wrote about occurred around the same time in 2008 as the Pennsylvanian’s now famous speech at Ave Maria University when he regaled his audience with a narrative of the ongoing war for America between true Christians and Satan. He sadly concluded that mainline Protestantism, which was “gone from the world of Christianity,” had already been lost to His Infernal Majesty. Clearly, the apostasy of liberal Protestants was on his mind at that time, perhaps because of the rise to national power of Barack Obama.

As Waldman noted, this is not that unusual an attitude for self-consciously conservative Christians to have these days, but it’s unusual to hear it from a politician. Rick Santorum cannot have it both ways, though. If he feels so strongly that Christians who don’t share his particular “world view” aren’t really Christian at all, then he should be loud and proud about it, and stop pretending he’s just this mild-mannered man of faith being persecuted by people who despise the very name of Jesus Christ.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • DAY on February 21, 2012 12:25 PM:

    Obama claims to be a Christian; and I will take him at his word.
    Santorum claims to be a human, and I will take him at his word.
    (Others may want to see DNA evidence)

  • MattF on February 21, 2012 12:27 PM:

    I guess "Not my kind of Christian" resonates with Santorum's constituency. However...

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 21, 2012 12:30 PM:

    To the Sweater Vested One, I doubt Jesus Christ would pass the True Christian Test... especially with all that helping the needy, peace mongering, forgiveness-preaching, and anti-material wealth proselytizing silliness He was always talking about...

  • Stephen Stralka on February 21, 2012 12:30 PM:

    Santorum does realize he's running for President of the United States, right? Not pope? Perhaps he doesn't realize there's a difference.

  • Mimikatz on February 21, 2012 12:34 PM:

    Jesus wept. His message, at least as set forth in Matthew and the other Gospels, has been totally subsumed by his death in their theology, his dying for our sins. All of what Jesus appears to have really cared about, at least as set forth by those who were closest in time to him, really isn't that important to these folks, rather it is sin and death that matter.

  • RollaMO on February 21, 2012 12:35 PM:

    Sgt.Gym Bunny - it's the "Sweater of Sanctimony."

  • T2 on February 21, 2012 12:42 PM:

    Santorum is quickly approaching the territory where a large percentage of Americans will finally get to know him. They won't like what they find. If he manages to win in Michigan, then maybe Ohio (way ahead now), the nation will see what the GOP elders see. And that is a person quite unhinged. Understand, he lost re-election to his second Senate term, and he lost by a whopping 18%. People who voted him into office, voted him out... emphatically. When they saw him in action for two terms, they realized they'd made a huge mistake. Why? because he is off the charts. And even the GOPers know it.

  • andyvillager on February 21, 2012 12:58 PM:

    how can Santorum claim to be a Christian? According to his own tax returns he doesn't come close to tithing.

  • grandpa john on February 21, 2012 1:01 PM:

    So mr. Santorum, like many other demagogues commits heresy by thinking that he is God and gets to decide who is a Christian and who is not just like the pope and upper echelon of the catholic church who bends Biblical scripture to mean what they decide it should mean
    It would seem that none of their bible contain the anew testament,the placer where Jesus teachings were found especially the book of Matthew . Mr Santorum should read Matt 7: 21 daily Not everyone who says to me "Lord,Lord " will enter the kindom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven

  • j on February 21, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Santorum is a pompous git, it is not up to him to question anyone's faith, he is not God.
    Secondly, as president, the holder of that office must be the president of people of all faiths & no faith.

  • Registeredguest on February 21, 2012 1:11 PM:

    This questioning seems to be making the rounds.

    This morning on Morning Joe Franklin Graham was asked the same thing. He weaseled around for awhile and claimed that he could only assume Obama was a Christian because Obama says he is.

    He wasn't so equivocal with Santorum and Gingrich of all people. They are Christian. Graham says you can tell by their actions. Go figure.

    Oh, and Romney is not. He's Mormon which isn't Christian.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 21, 2012 1:12 PM:


    I bet he'd love to have that thing upgraded to a floor-length cassock--in burgundy cableknit.

  • John Dillinger on February 21, 2012 1:13 PM:

    Translating Santorum: rightwing cafeteria Catholicism good, leftwing Catholicism not really Christian. He's an embarassment to the faith.

  • Marko on February 21, 2012 1:32 PM:

    "To the Sweater Vested One, I doubt Jesus Christ would pass the True Christian Test... especially with all that helping the needy, peace mongering, forgiveness-preaching, and anti-material wealth proselytizing silliness He was always talking about..." - Sgt. Gym Bunny

    And cheek turning. Don't forget the cheek turning.

  • David Carlton on February 21, 2012 1:32 PM:

    Actually, either the confusion or the pandering goes even deeper. Note that Waldman pointed out that Obama is arguably a liberal Christian in the tradition of Niebuhr. Santorum's response didn't use the term "liberal," but the term "liberation." Needless to say, Niebuhr was hardly a liberation theologist, but Santorum either assumes that Obama is, or wants to suggest as much to voters who think he's some sort of Third-World anticolonialist. Basically, this isn't a guy who engages with theology or the Bible much at all; like all too many evangelicals, he assumes that "Christian" is whatever he is. The same holds with his hash of an environmental argument, that Obama is some sort of Earth-Firster as opposed to being rooted in a biblical understanding of stewardship or the Earth. In, fact, Obama's environamental policies are perfectly consistent with a notion of stewardship; it's *Santorum's* stance that's fundamentally hostile to the notion that anyone might be obligated to take care of the environment. This isn't Christianity, it's tribalism--or, as Sullivan likes to say, Christianism. His "religion" is nothing more than a toxic stew of right-wing prejudices masquerading as faith. Perhaps now that he's under media scrutiny, the MSM idiots will figure that out.

  • st john on February 21, 2012 1:38 PM:

    Rick Sanctorum is not an authentic Christian, in my eyes. Does that make me a heretic? "By your works will ye be known." Now, what works are we citing? Healing the sick (insured or not), feeding the hungry (with or without food stamps), clothing the naked (including the emperor who has no clothes) and housing the homeless (who have not paid their mortgages on time)? It seems to me that Jesus the Christ condemned the hypocrites, those religious fanatics standing on the corner making a display of their righteousness in words but not practices of humility and compassion. What I see is the collapse of a system of civility that exists to benefit the many and through its governance balance the scales of justice for all. I watch in awe as the slow collapse of our culture brings to light all the negativity that has existed for eons. May the Light shine on all and peace of mind return.

  • Ed on February 21, 2012 1:41 PM:

    Santorum sounds like the vast majority of the conservative christians I've encountered in my half-century. I grew up in a fundamentalist church, went to a christian college and still attend a conservative church (albeit a mainline denomination, yes, such things exist). My entire extended family is evangelical and consverative.

    Yes, they truly believe that there are a narrow range of beliefs that one must have in order to be a true christian.

    They claim to believe 100% in the bible without getting the irony that there is nothing in the bible that remotely teaches what they believe.

  • SecularAnimist on February 21, 2012 1:46 PM:

    If I were a grifter running a con game in which I would bilk gullible rubes out of their money by pretending to be a "true Christian", pretty much the first thing I would want to do is convince them that the other Christians are not "true Christians".

  • stinger on February 21, 2012 1:46 PM:

    Growing up, all my little Catholic friends assured me that, as a Methodist, I was going to hell when I died. As a young adult in the Southern Baptist/E.Free world, I was assured that Catholics were going to hell when they died. (Both groups knew that Mormons were going to hell.) I don't see the Santorum/evangelical Protestant love affair lasting much longer.

    This is a really great comment thread!

  • nitpicker on February 21, 2012 1:54 PM:

    Santorum's full quote even worse in context.

  • BoulderBo on February 21, 2012 1:59 PM:

    I'm surprised he didn't accuse Obama of also being associated with the Girl Scouts. What a freak.

  • ComradeAnon on February 21, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Because Mitt "ain't right with Jesus" as an old neighbor of mine used to say about Mormons.

  • Memekiller on February 21, 2012 2:19 PM:

    Obama's phony theology, re: environment and ACA, are more in line with the Vatican whom added polluting to the deadly sins.Santorum's are more in line with the atheist Ayn Rand.

  • Objective Dem on February 21, 2012 2:21 PM:

    Obama has cited Reinhold Niebuhr as an important influence which is one reason I like Obama. For those who have not read Niebuhr, I encourage you to understand his philosophy/theology because it is as relevant today as ever.

    However, it is grossly misinterpreting Niebuhr to call him "liberal." The wikipedia entry on him states "Niebuhr battled with the religious liberals over what he called their naive views of sin and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their na´ve view of Scripture and their narrow definition of "true religion"."

    Niebuhr understood the complex nature of humanity and was equally opposed to simplistic view "if we all just love one another, everything will be alright" as he was to "if we are the strongest, everything will be alright" viewpoints. One common theme in his work was a concern with group think leading to particularly immoral actions.

    In addition to the Serenity Prayer, another famous saying that provides a sense of his complexity is "Man's capacity for justice makes Democracy possible, Man's capacity for injustice makes Democracy necessary."

  • nitpicker on February 21, 2012 2:24 PM:

    Well, Objective, once you include complexity, whatever you're talking about automatically becomes "liberal" today. Modern conservatives don't do nuance.

  • Josef K on February 21, 2012 2:31 PM:

    I'm starting to wonder if religious fervor shouldn't be categorized as a form of dementia. Santorum certainly seems to be getting more demented every time he opens his mouth.

  • DAY on February 21, 2012 2:43 PM:

    Josef K, "Faith" all by itself can be considered a dementia. No need for adjectives.

  • jjm on February 21, 2012 2:44 PM:

    I wonder if some part of the Catholic Church will come down on this guy for trying to make new doctrine? Isn't that the role of the Pope? Does Santorum has such delusions of grandeur?

  • Peter C on February 21, 2012 2:52 PM:

    So, Santorum feels comfortable judging the validity of your religion, and is willing to say it is 'invalid' if he disagrees with it. Nice. How very respectful.

  • Kim B on February 21, 2012 3:09 PM:

    Great comment, grampa john. I can have a reasoned conversation with Christian conservatives if they would just take the justice and poverty message of the Bible literally and stop trying to worm their way out of it by saying it's "spiritual" poverty or that "the Bible doesn't say anything about government."

  • Objective Dem on February 21, 2012 3:18 PM:


    I would like to see the media ask Santorum about Ayn Rand and the libertarian philosophy of Dr. Paul.

  • Steve P on February 21, 2012 3:30 PM:

    Back it up there for a minute. "Ave Maria University"? Is that Kult Kampus still turning out diplomas? Do they have a department of theology still, or has Pizza Man fired them all?

    You can probably find someone at Fordham who can quantify exactly what a swindle that place is.

  • Gandhi on February 21, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Is Santorum running for Pope?

  • Ganhi on February 21, 2012 3:35 PM:

    Does Santorum follow the Roman Catholic Church regarding the death penalty?

    No! Then he is no real Catholic!

  • Ohio Voter on February 21, 2012 3:43 PM:

    A couple of years ago, someone on NPR (Tavis Smiley, if I remember correctly) had the late Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (see Sojourners.com) on his show. Falwell said categorically that Wallis was not a Christian and made a few other nasty remarks. He also wouldn't let Wallis get a word in edgewise. Unfortunately, the program host did nothing to call him on it.

  • rrk1 on February 21, 2012 3:51 PM:

    The war between the modernist Christianity (Niehbuhr) and the authoritarian conservative Christians (fundamentalists) has been raging for well over a century. Without a strong voice, any voice, on the progressive or liberal side the fundamentalists have gotten the upper hand.

    Santorum, on the other hand, is a whole other phenomenon. He has decided he's the decider. He knows what's right and wrong, natural and unnatural, Christian or not Christian, and anyone who disagrees with him is in trouble with god. Or is it only icky, sticky, Ricky (as another poster calls him)?

    Ricky is a fascist, pure and simple. For those in the electorate who want an uber-leader, he is just their ticket. They can surrender their brains, give him a hand salute, and goose step to his rallies to hear how it is directly from his mouth. The fundies love him.

    Santorum is getting the voters that Perry lost. Watch him clean up in the south.

  • KK on February 21, 2012 3:54 PM:

    Can Ricky please get the nomination? Ricky really wants to just write off any shot at a Northern State I would guess. My denomination is the same as BHO's, UCC. my congregation is about half D and half R. Pretty sure not one would vote for Ricky.

  • Six on February 21, 2012 3:57 PM:

    My mother, a lifelong Democrat and proud liberal, is gentle, kind, charitable, loving, forgiving (to a fault, even), believes in good environmental stewardship, strives to get over the prejudice that was normal for her generation, and is intensely active and involved in her Episcopalian church. She is a devoted follower of the teachings of Christ.

    My biological father, a lifelong Republican and blustering conservative is mean-spirited, selfish, manipulative, deceptive, angry, and physically and emotionally abusive to women and children. He is Catholic in name only. And Santorum would probably describe him as "the Real Christian."

  • square1 on February 21, 2012 4:01 PM:

    Terms like "liberal" lose all meaning in the context of religious discussion.

    OOH, most people would recognize that the Catholic Church is one of the most socially conservative institutions on the planet, what with male-only priests, celibacy, and opposition to gays and birth control.

    OTOH, the Catholic Church can be seen as incredibly liberal on economic issues, even further to the left than Bernie Sanders. Sure, in practice, the Church hoards billions. But actual Church doctrine supports a socially just and charitable economic system.

    So, is the Catholic Church "liberal"? It is impossible to answer the question in a meaningful way.

  • Mawm on February 21, 2012 4:02 PM:

    I'm hoping the various factions (true or not true) will kill each other off.

  • mjzhiky on February 21, 2012 4:09 PM:

  • Mitch on February 21, 2012 4:41 PM:


    "Terms like "liberal" lose all meaning in the context of religious discussion."

    Hell, my friend, I feel that terms like Liberal have lost all meaning period. A huge part of the country thinks Liberal = Commie un-American hippies. That same portion of the population thinks that Conservative = God Loving, old fashioned, American values. That's exactly as much as some people "know" about politics; and they are the ones Frothy Mix is a-courting.

    When you have enough Faith, you don't need to question anything. Everyone, especially the faithful person, longs to be told that they are on the side of Good. The fact that the Republican definition of "good" happens to be unrestrained plutocracy, social Darwinism to the extreme and arrogant assumptions about America's place in the world makes no difference. They hear what they want to hear.

    Their sin is Pride, and Frothy Mix is taking it to a whole new level by being a Presidential Candidate who voices such anti-American, almost fascist, feelings as this. Wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross, indeed.

  • in the biblical sense on February 21, 2012 5:29 PM:

    Heed the word, those who would blaspheme. The prophet from Pennsylvania has spoken.

    The prophet is busy feeding the zealots and the ignorant.

    Next stop amendment 19.

  • bcinaz on February 21, 2012 5:39 PM:

    As an atheist, I'd always believed that true Christianity aligned more with Liberal thinking; like caring for and healing the sick, being non-judgmental, blind justice and fairness for all people. Now you tell me that's upside down; that Christianity and it's namesake have to be shrunken down into a theology that fits inside Rick Santorum's little mind. Who knew that a Millinial-spanning religion could fit inside a teacup.

    A question for any Conservatives tuning in - do you have to fit the whole camel through the eye on a needle? Or just a molecule?

  • MNRD on February 21, 2012 5:49 PM:

    When Senator Santorum uses the phrase "phony theology" what he means is "heresy". He is accusing President Obama of being a "heretic". This animosity of right-wing Christians toward the President is turning into a generalized animosity toward liberal Christianity itself. These right-wing Christians are essentially claiming that ALL liberal Christians are heretics! Ironically, although these right-wing Christians claim to be fighting against religious intolerance, it has now reached the point where they are actually engaging in religious intolerance against liberal Christians! Another irony: How many people came to this country to escape from just that kind of religious intolerance?

  • ezra abrams on February 21, 2012 6:02 PM:

    A few years ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger, now the pope, was author of an official statement of Catholic Doctrine, which stated that other Christian faiths were "defective" compared to Roman Catholocism.

    I always assume that people of faith have bad feelings toward each other; The author of "the friends of eddie coyle", in one of his other books, has one of his characters, a Boston Irish hoodlum, say, appropos of the Church's stance on birth control, if you pardon the vulgarity, thats just the ravin guinea pope in his bubble top limosine

  • MelanieN on February 22, 2012 1:11 PM:

    Santorum claims to be a Catholic, but he talks and thinks like an evangelical Protestant. For example, in the above speech he attacks mainstream Protestants for not taking the Bible literally. But Biblical literalism is not a Catholic doctrine; it is a fundamentalist Protestant doctrine. (For example, the Catholic church has no problem with Evolution, which at least one Pope proclaimed to be "true" and "more than a theory".) And his assertions as to who is a "Christian" and who is not come straight from the born-again crowd. Back in the 1980s I had a fundamentalist sister-in-law who would casually and with the best will in the world tell me that she was going to do something with "one of her Christian friends". It never occurred to her that in describing her fundamentalist friends to me as "Christian," she was explicitly distinguishing them from people like me (a church-going Presbyterian who later became a church elder). She didn't even notice her implication that I was not "one of her Christian friends", it was so natural to her way of thinking.

    BTW I think David Carlton is right (above) in thinking that Santorum confused "liberal" (as in, liberal Christian like most mainstream Protestants) with "liberation" (as in, the Catholic splinter group that preaches liberation theology for third-world countries). Nobody ever said Santorum was particularly bright. This is just another example.

  • Robert Waldmann on February 22, 2012 11:47 PM:

    Hey Santorum can tell me that I am not a Christian no problemo. I am an atheist. I can't remember ever thinking that I might be Christian (or Jewish or Moslem or Buddhist or Hindu or Sickh or Zoroastrian or Wiccan or Animist or Santarian or whatever).

    And to religious readers of this thread: if you think that because of Santorum we are laughing at you. Uh in the words of Spiro T Agnew nolo contendere.

    Look really I try to respect religious faith, really I do, but buffoons like Santorum make it so hard to do.

  • Robert Waldmann on February 23, 2012 12:01 AM:

    Hey Santorum can tell me that I am not a Christian no problemo. I am an atheist. I can't remember ever thinking that I might be Christian (or Jewish or Moslem or Buddhist or Hindu or Sickh or Zoroastrian or Wiccan or Animist or Santarian or whatever).

    And to religious readers of this thread: if you think that because of Santorum we are laughing at you. Uh in the words of Spiro T Agnew nolo contendere.

    Look really I try to respect religious faith, really I do, but buffoons like Santorum make it so hard to do.

  • ral on February 23, 2012 2:57 AM:

    All I know is this: even if I were willing to give up my right to control my own body, or my daughter's to control theirs, I sure as hell wouldn't give control to the American Talliban, and their Mullah Santorum.

  • Spiny Norman on February 23, 2012 10:47 AM:

    The problem with trying to define other people on your terms is that the payback can really be a bitch. For example, consider Santorum: 1. The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. 2. Senator Rick Santorum.

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