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Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump jeer the motorcade of Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden as it passes by in Dunmore, Pa., on July 9, 2020.Matt Slocum/The Associated Press

Michael Coren is an author and ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada.

The wars of religion have started in the United States. As an opening shot leading up to November’s presidential election, Donald Trump has roared that Democrat challenger Joe Biden is “following the radical left agenda: take away your guns, destroy your second amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God.” Irony aside, in that Jesus is known as The Prince of Peace and the early Christians were pacifists, Mr. Biden responded that the attack was “shameful” and that his Roman Catholic faith was “the bedrock foundation” of his life.

The exchange set off its own clash of faiths between both candidates’ supporters. Mr. Biden was a devout Catholic, said Democrats and liberal Catholics. He’s a heretic, said Republicans and conservative Catholics, because he supports abortion and gay marriage. (Satan must be sending bonus payments to Hell’s public relations department.)

Mr. Trump didn’t show any interest in organized religion until he ran for office, and while conversions are certainly welcome, it’s difficult not to be cynical about a man who acts so harshly and even unethically, both personally and publicly. But he gained 81 per cent of the white evangelical vote in 2016, and a surprisingly high proportion of the historically Democratic Catholic electorate. Evangelical and Catholic traditionalists may or may not believe Mr. Trump’s claims of religiosity, but they know he’ll oppose abortion, appoint right-wing judges, oppose the LGBTQ+ community and back conservative churches when they claim persecution. It’s a grimy twisting of morality from a Christian standpoint, but it’s been a political success.

Mr. Biden, just like Barack Obama, appears to be a man of authentic faith, and was faithful long before he considered running for president. Like Mr. Obama, and unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden prefers to keep his beliefs private. The tragedy of modern Christian politicians, including Mr. Biden, is that far too often they’re judged not by the issues that Jesus spoke about – poverty, justice, peace, inclusion, the dangers of materialism and legalism – but on topics that Jesus never mentioned, such as abortion and homosexuality. Mr. Trump can behave appallingly, but if he says and does the right things on these theological hot-button topics, he’s considered a saint by some.

Mr. Biden began his Senate career in 1973 as an opponent of abortion, but over the decades he has evolved on the issue. His progressivism has been careful and considered. Similarly, he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, but in 2012 explained that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. It was a considered and, we’re told, prayerful development.

But the Catholic Church regards abortion as a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law,” and its catechism describes homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.” This is why some of the more conservative Catholic clergy have spoken out against Mr. Biden. In October, 2019, South Carolina Catholic priest Father Robert Morey denied Mr. Biden Holy Communion. It was a crass, hurtful action but made the priest a hero to the anti-abortion movement.

Compare this to Attorney-General Bill Barr, a vocal Catholic who has worked to further the death penalty in the U.S. and reinstated executions as a federal legal measure. His church is opposed to capital punishment, and the manner in which it targets Black citizens and the poor is notorious. Mr. Barr, however, is seen as a champion by the same people currently condemning Joe Biden as a traitor.

Similarly, with policies that target the poor and needy, enable the powerful or damage the developing world, there is an open wound of inconsistency or even hypocrisy. Conservative Catholics argue that abortion is dogma, whereas other issues are mere policy. Truth cries out to be heard. There’s a massive disconnect between Rome’s teachings and Rome’s followers, and every survey shows that ordinary lay Catholics largely accept contraception, equal marriage and even abortion. The priests do not speak for the pews, and even many of the clergy are far more liberal on these issues than we might think. Faith should expand and not smother personal conscience.

Then there is the separation of church and state, ostensibly rigid in the U.S., which helped John F. Kennedy become the only Catholic president. It allows a political leader to have personal spiritual beliefs, but to put first the representation of all people, whatever their faith (or lack of it), for the greater good.

Tragically, it’s likely that “good” will not be a word heard too often during this race. And that’s genuinely sinful.

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