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Is Rep. Michelle Bachman a Bigot?

“Hey, I’m not anti-Catholic, I just think the Pope is the Antichrist.” While not a direct quote (I will get to those in a moment) from Rev. Mark Schroeder, president of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, this is essentially his message in a July 18, 2011 piece he wrote for Religion News.

The issue is whether congresswoman and presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, who was once a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, is anti-Catholic. On that issue Rev. Schroeder wrote, “Michele Bachmann is no longer a member of our church, and we are not in any position to comment on her current religious views. But we can say that her previous membership in our church does not make her guilty of being an ‘anti-Catholic bigot.’”

The reason why is that the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod itself isn’t anti-Catholic. As Rev. Schroeder wrote, “WELS holds to the historic Lutheran position that the Roman Catholic papacy fits the biblical characteristics of the Antichrist. We do this without reservation and without apology. We believe that our doctrines cannot be tempered by political correctness or modified to align with changing culture or public opinion.”

Holding such views about the papacy isn’t the same as being anti-Catholic, and, as the good reverend says, “we rejoice that even in the Catholic Church (where we believe the gospel has been distorted) there are many Catholics who hold to a simple faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and who will ultimately be saved.”

Even in the Catholic church? This is like someone saying, “I’m no anti-Semite; some of my best friends are Jewish.”

Really, if you think the papacy is the Antichrist, it stands to reason (which, I know, often has no place in religion) that those who follow the Antichrist are your enemies. But does this make you a bigot?

Merriam-Webster defines bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” When Rev. Schroeder says “our doctrines cannot be tempered by political correctness or modified to align with changing culture or public opinion,” is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod being obstinate or intolerant?

Of course it is. Being bigoted (as defined by Merriam-Webster) is, for many religious denominations, what being religious is all about. But do Michelle Bachman and Rev. Schroeder hate Catholics? I doubt it. In fact, I bet some of their best friends are Catholic. Politics makes strange bedfellows.

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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