The Faith Factor in 2008 ~ Religion and Politics in America

Let’s be honest, folks, even though 94% of us profess to believe in God, fewer than half of us darken the door of any church more than twice a year.  And, although most of us have one or more Bibles in our homes, only about 3% of us regularly read from them.

Favoring Barack Obama to be the Democratic Party’s nominee this election year, some of my less-than-liberal friends have asked me recently why I’m not concerned about his past connection to Islam or his current membership at Trinity United Church of Christ.  According to some reports, the former pastor of this church, the Reverend Jeramiah Wright, preached themes popular among many African Americans, themes that seem to be inconsistent with the candidate’s own message of tolerance, reconciliation and spiritual inclusion. 

 

Well, yeah…  this bothers me, not because Reverend Wright’s sermons were tailored to his congregations’ needs and desires for social change in America.  It bothers me because detractors of Obama’s candidacy have chosen to make differences of worship style and historical/social perspectives a political issue.  In my opinion, this is American politics at its worst.

“Efforts to portray Sen. Barack Obama’s Chicago church as racist and anti-American are absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated,” said the Rev. John Thomas, head of the United Church of Christ http://pewforum.org/news/display.php?NewsID=14765.

Sadly, the United States is a divided nation, more so today than ever.  We are divided ethically, politically, racially, economically and religiously.  But there was a time, and I’m old enough to remember it, when political candidates didn’t have to defend their faith persuasions.  In fact, if a political candidate wasn’t partic- ularly devout and active in whatever faith they claimed, or didn’t claim, voters wouldn’t even know.  Nobody knew or even asked; it simply wasn’t “politic” to do so.  Then, in 1960, John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was chosen by his party to be their candidate for President.  Americans became concerned that, if elected, he might be more guided by Papal decrees than by the will of the people or even the Constitution.  But in an address to the nation by way of a speech delivered to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, he answered the peoples’ concerns when in part he said, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” You may read his entire speech at http://www.beliefnet.com/story/40/story_4080_1.html.

According to National Public Radio http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=7260620, the Los Angeles Times reported the following poll back in June of 2006:  The percentage of 1,321 respondents who said they could NOT vote for the following presidential candidates because of religion were…

  • A Mormon candidate — 37%
  • A Jewish candidate — 15%
  • A Muslim candidate — 54%
  • An evangelical Christian candidate — 21%
  • A Catholic candidate — 10%

A later polling of the same question conducted by Fox News concluded that 24% of Americans would not vote for a member of the Christian Coalition, that 50% would not vote for an atheist, and that 53% would not vote for a Scientologist.  Personally, my own faith notwithstanding, I would have more trouble supporting a candidate who professes to believe literally in the creation story found in the book of Genesis, or that Intelligent Design should be taught as a science in public schools than I would supporting a candidate who recognizes that prejudice and bigotry are still alive and well in America.

Who knows or even cares that John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian (more a society than a religion), that Harry S. Truman was a Southern Baptist, or that Dwight David Eisenhower, once a Jehovah’s Witness, was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian Church in a single ceremony on February 1, 1953, just weeks after his first inauguration as president.  But most interesting to me, a member of the United Methodist Church, is that our current Commander In Chief also calls himself a Methodist http://www.adherents.com/adh_presidents.html.

In a remarkable display of candor before he was inaugurated for his first term, the United Methodist News Service detailed Mr. Bush’s political differences with the denomination, pointing out that Mr. Bush’s political views have often been compared to those of a rival denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.  “Having a United Methodist in office does not mean the president’s policies will reflect those of the church,” said the statement from the United Methodist News Service.  “Methodists officially oppose capital punishment and handgun ownership; Mr. Bush supports both.” And the list of disagreements goes on: abortion rights, gays in the military, school vouchers, even Social Security policy. 

“United Methodists are extremely diverse, and there would be some who would take a great deal of pride [in Mr. Bush’s presidency], and some who would be concerned about some of his stands,” said Bishop Susan W. Hassinger, the church’s top official in New England.  http://www.adherents.com/people/pb/George_W_Bush.html

Then, of course, there are troubling questions involving the Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson campaigns too.  Of all the candidates, only Hillary Clinton and John McCain seem to be benefiting from the faith factor this year; heaven help us.  For those of you who really care about what the candidates say they believe or how effectively they are using God to levitate their campaigns, there’s an interesting website called the God-o-Meter that you might want to check out http://blog.beliefnet.com/godometer/

Let’s be honest, folks, even though 94% of us profess to believe in God, fewer than half of us darken the door of any church more than twice a year.  And, although most of us have one or more Bibles in our homes, only about 3% of us regularly read from them http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_the_United_States.  So don’t you think we are making more out of the faith factor in this election year than we should?

I look forward to receiving your comments on this.  If you are anything like me, you’ll be glad when, after whoever gets elected, we can get back to being concerned about fixing what’s wrong with this country.  My prayer is that we might come back together so we can get it done.

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Published in: on January 20, 2008 at 3:03 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Interesting discussion, Kent. Personally, I am more concerned about a candidate’s position on the issues of importance to me rather than his religious background. Making religion a litmus test is shallow, in my opinion. What about the candidate’s qualifications, experience, past voting record, stand on issues, etc. – that’s what’s important. As someone aspiring to attend the national Democratic convention, these are the things that are important to me. Just my 2 cents worth

  2. Well Kent, you have done it again. You have given us something to stir our feeble brain. I cannot wrap my brain around this so called religion factor. As a Lutheran, I just do not quite understand what all the fuss is about. Now people should understand that there is a difference between religion and Christianity.

    Why do we make so much to do about Mr. Obama religion and his place of worship? I know the Rev. Wright very well and I know his church. I really do not see anything different about his church and other churches.
    Part of my family go to his church and they seem to be all right with me. I chose to become a Lutheran many winters ago and they (my relatives) chose to attend Rev. Wright’s church and I haven’t seen any horns on their head as yet. I think Mr. Obama and his experience in life has taught him a lesson many of us have yet to learn. Christ taught tolerance and reconciliation (forgiving others as He has forgiven us). No Rev. Wright church is not racist—he tries to teach his congregation to become better people, citizens, etc. Now what is wrong with that? Chicago has too many youths dropping out of school, having babies without the benefit of father involvement, drugs, gangs and you name it. If someone is preaching to try to right some of these things, all I can say is that I am in his corner.

    We as Americans need to get past this racist and religious thing. We need to get back to the basis of what we want out country to be. I cringe each time I hear that Mr. Obama is African-American. Why can’t he just be American? What happen to his mother’s culture? Have we just washed that down the drain? Was she a nobody that was conjured up or was she not a member of the human race?

    Boy, have we become a “nutty” society. Of course I could write all night on this subject but I thought I would add my two cents for what it is worth.

    Nancy Coleman

  3. The office of president is a political one, not a religious one. Why, then, should religion matter at all? People need to realize that the president needs to be a good leader first and foremost. Their religion shouldn’t come into play at all, really. An atheist could do just as good a job at leading the country as a Mormon or a Baptist or a Muslim.

  4. Kent, you hit the nail on the head!
    To Thelma, Nancy and Cody, I say amen,amen, amen, although I am not in agreement about the Atheist.

    Let’s look at the story of the choosing of Saul as leader/king in 1 Samuel 12:13-25 and then of David in 1 Samuel 16. God heard the cries of the people and sent them one THEY wanted. What do the people of this country want? There is no PERFECT human.

    It is sickening how the media models for the people on how to disect individuals and attack one another. IT has become the god for some people!
    I would not choose a candidate who goes out of his/her way to attack another; rules that one out for me. We need someone to lead us against the evils of this world.

    Thank goodness for what has transpired in their lives, their loves, their experiences, it makes them better people for having walked in many different shoes. Are we apoligizing for living? Forgive them and us for being human.
    Pray, pray, pray for God to lead in this choice. God, give us a leader of YOUR choosing.

  5. “I will sweep away everything in all your land,” says the LORD. “I will sweep away both people and animals alike. Even the birds of the air and the fish in the sea will die. I will reduce the wicked to heaps of rubble, along with the rest of humanity,” says the LORD. “I will crush Judah and Jerusalem with my fist and destroy every last trace of their Baal worship. I will put an end to all the idolatrous priests, so that even the memory of them will disappear. For they go up to their roofs and bow to the sun, moon, and stars. They claim to follow the LORD, but then they worship Molech, too. So now I will destroy them! And I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the LORD’s guidance or seek my blessings.” (Zephaniah 1:2-6 NLT)


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