Governor Mike Parson of Missouri insisted this week that he would only ever appoint someone who shares his “Christian values,” suggesting he has a narrow religious litmus test for positions of power in his government.
The situation ensued after Parson’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Senior Services, Don Kauerauf, was effectively killed off by Republican senators who refused to hold hearings for him. The Republicans weren’t fans of Kauerauf because, even though he’s against COVID vaccine mandates, mask mandates, and abortion rights, they still felt he wasn’t conservative enough. That’s because Kauerauf made the mistake of saying vaccines were effective and that Missouri’s low vaccination rates were “atrocious.” (As we know all too well by now, acknowledging scientific reality offends Republican sensibilities.)
But it’s what happened next that caused the real stir.
Parson took to Twitter to defend his nomination — how dare you accuse ME of not being conservative enough?! — and claimed he would only ever hire True Christians™ like himself.
He “would not have nominated someone who does not share the same Christian values.” So… no Jews. No atheists. No Muslims. No progressive Christians either, apparently. All this from the same GOP that’s also complaining about a potential Black female Supreme Court nominee…
Maybe you’d argue Parson gave himself an out: He didn’t say he would only nominate Christians. He said people with Christian values. But the subtext is loud and clear. He’s not interested in hiring the best people for the job. He wants health officials who bow down to Jesus before listening to the science.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded an apology in a letter to Parson:
… you needlessly and inappropriately inserted religion into the discussion of whether or not Kauerauf should have been confirmed. You imply that only Christians are fit to serve in Missouri as public officials or appointed officials. Additionally, you appear to be saying that sharing your same Christian beliefs is a prerequisite to be appointed to a high-level position in your state. This is unacceptable coming from your secular office.
Further, by defending Kauerauf’s fitness for office by pointing to his Christian beliefs, you are falsely equating Christian belief with competency, suitability and even morality generally. In fact, studies have consistently found that nonreligious individuals are arguably more moral than believers, on a variety of grounds.
Even a Republican State House member, Adam Schwadron, joined the pile-on:
Parson’s office responded to the controversy by saying he had no Christian-only rule at all… which comes as quite a shock to those of us who can read.
… Kelli Jones, spokeswoman for Parson, said in an email that the governor’s statement “was intended to point out that Don Kauerauf shared values that aligned with the Governor’s and was not intended to imply that he imposes a requirement that job applicants adhere to any particular religion.”
Parson, Jones said, “has never required a religious litmus test for appointments as evidenced by the broad spectrum of religious backgrounds of his appointees. Just because an appointee happens to possess values that align with the Governor’s Christian faith doesn’t mean that he requires them to adhere to his religion.”
Got that, everyone? All that matters is that someone’s values align with Parson’s Christian faith. What values, you ask? Shut up. No follow-up questions allowed.
Jones cited a Muslim who was appointed by Parson to the state’s Board of Probation and Parole — as if one seat on a seven-member board is anywhere close to a position of serious power — but still, none of that negates what Parson wrote.
Simply put, if a Muslim lawmaker said she’d only hire someone who shared her Islamic values, conservative Christians would be whining for multiple news cycles. They would call the statement discrimination against Christians. They would demand to know which values. They would call for her resignation. But because Parson is Christian, he figured he could just get away with coded language.
When he starts nominating more atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, etc. to positions of power, then maybe he’d have a leg to stand on here. For now, his actions match his words. Parson only wants Christians in his government. He might throw non-Christians a bone every now and then, but the overall message is clear.
As the Associated Press noted, this is hardly the first time he’s promoted this aspect of Christian Nationalism, saying something even more appalling in 2017:
“First of all, I can’t even begin to imagine to do these jobs if you don’t have faith,” Parson said. “I mean, if you’re not a believer, there’s no way, I believe, you can be a truly effective leader because when you are in this arena you are a leader. And to make decisions without faith, to me, would be impossible. I don’t know how you make the decision and how you’re going to affect the future if you don’t have belief and faith.”
Now that’s some raw bigotry for you. It says more about Parson’s ignorance and lack of imagination than anything else. There are plenty of atheists in political office who do an excellent job of representing all their constituents. They could do Parson’s job much better than he could.
Again, I say, if Parson wasn’t a Christian, this sort of rhetoric would never be tolerated. It’s only because Christians have massive privilege that denigrating non-Christians is just a casual act in politics instead of a jaw-dropping scandal that ought to lead to someone’s resignation.