I was Roman Catholic before I became a Baptist. The Church of Rome, for all I know, considers me, after my initial Catholic baptism and First Communion to be forever one of theirs. That’s fine; I’ll never turn down a friend when the Final Trump may sound.
But I became a Baptist for some serious reasons, mostly having to do with freedom of conscience. Given the history of persecution over the centuries, Baptists (and Mormons for that matter) are, or ought to be, especially sensitive when any sect is discriminated against.
Which brings me to yesterday’s primary election results in two states not known as being especially friendly soil for Catholics. Alabama and Mississippi, both, gave a plurality win to the uber-Catholic Rick Santorum.
From the Washington Post, the results:
Candidate Mississippi Alabama Rick Santorum 33% 35% Mitt Romney 30 29 Newt Gingrich 31 29 Ron Paul 4 5
To those who have never been there, both states are as deep in Dixie as you can get. When I lived in Louisiana and traveled to either, I was treated as a foreigner. Not a Yankee, to be sure, but there was a great distrust of anyone from the Pelican State.
Why? Two words: Roman. Catholic. Back then (this is going on 40 years ago), anyone from Louisiana, at least south of Lake Pontchartrain, was not particularly welcome in Mississippi or Alabama. There was a deep hostility towards the Church of Rome.
Fast forward to yesterday. Times and attitudes have changed. Rick Santorum, a devout Roman Catholic, an Opus Dei kind of Catholic (that’s theologically quite conservative, for those who don’t follow Catholic infrastructure and infighting) won.
This is not your grandfather’s Deep South. Does this mean that Rick Santorum can beat out Mr. Inevitable, Mitt Romney? Not necessarily. And it’s got to be said that Alabama and Mississippi are dead solid locks for any Republican this fall.
The takeaway? Evangelicals will vote for a Roman Catholic who shares their values. Just as they will for a Mormon. Quite a different dynamic than 40 years ago.