Religion and Politics
Two white male evangelists say the problem with Evangelicalism today is white males.
Compare the rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaign with that of the previous election. Most of the lofty rhetoric and references to civil religion gave way to the practical realities of the day: the economy, the national debt and international challenges.
The rhetoric of the party conventions is substantially different from the previous presidential campaign. Then, the lofty imagery of civil religion tinged the speeches. Now, the harsh reality of the economy pervades. Flash back to 2008.
Americans like to hear how ‘exceptional’ their country is, rather than confronting national problems. American exceptionalism is often confused with civil religion, an idea that binds the country together with a national purpose.
The previous presidential campaign was marked by lofty rhetoric – complete with the burnished image of the “city on a hill.” Such rhetoric is largely missing from this campaign. At times, the old civil religion has been replaced by an “economic religion.”
In more overt ways than ever, Republican candidates vying for support from Iowa caucusgoers are turning to religious language and imagery in their advertisements, seeking to appeal to the Christian conservative base.
“A candidate’s religious faith may ground a sustaining core of values, but it may also conflict with meaningful discussion of policy or conflict with the nation’s best interest. Only after we have determined that both these conflicts are unlikely should we follow the ‘decisions, not deity’ rule.”
In his 2013 Inaugural Address, President Obama used the word “collective” — “that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” — rhetoric that Obama detractors might take as evidence of his inner-socialist. But such rhetoric is nothing new in American politics. See primer.
Four years ago, Barack Obama achieved what many thought was impossible. Now, his re-election and rhetoric seem banal. Read what gave Obama the edge during his first campaign: Barack Obama and civil religion.
Rev. Rick Warren's selection to deliver the inauguration invocation; the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's inflammatory statements; and Sarah Palin's cultural-religious rhetoric were all important factors in the 2008 presidential election. Religious Liberty in America provides a comprehensive analysis of religion and politics in America. See press release.
Once squarely in the Republican fold, religious voters shifted toward Democrats in 2008, contributing to Obama's historic victory. Obama's ease in talking about his religion helped him win over religious voters. Religious Liberty in America begins with a discussion of the role of religion and values in the 2004 and 2006 elections. See press release.
Other political candidates
Liza Mundy of the New America Foundation says that Mitt Romney has not adequately addressed matters of his Mormon faith, particularly as it applies to women. “Hiring a president is not like hiring a corporate manager, whose spiritual life needn’t concern us. It’s not even like hiring a governor. We deserve to know our presidential candidates, to have them explain to us their formative experiences, associations, and influences. Mormonism has clearly been important to Romney throughout his life. What that means for a Romney presidency is a legitimate question: one we shouldn’t be left to draw our own conclusions about.”
John F. Kennedy was born May 29, 1917. His landmark 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association has been the source of discussion and revision among the 2012 presidential candidates. See SageLaw article.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called for a Christian day of prayer and fasting to "seek God's guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation." Lawrence M. Krauss of Arizona State University comments, "When those empowered by the electorate to govern suggest that governance should be based not only on a religious premise but the premise of one religion in particular, to the exclusion and derision of those whose spiritual inclinations may differ, we must be on guard." News update. New York Times column, "Outsourcing to the supernatural."
Rick Perry's call for a national day of prayer is the result of years of "vague talk of once again making a place for God in the public square and a historical insistence that America was founded as a Christian nation have brought us," according to Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten. "Public religiosity must inevitably assume a sectarian character because belief is such a necessarily particular experience."
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum criticizes John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech calling for the rigid separation of religion and politics. Also see New York Times column, “Campaigning Against the Modern World” by Tom Ferrick.
“Perhaps the single most profound change in our political culture over the last 30 years has been the transformation of conservatism from a political movement, with all the limitations, hedges and forbearances of politics, into a kind of fundamentalist religious movement, with the absolute certainty of religious belief.” — Neal Gabler, Oct. 2, 2009, Los Angeles Times
Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln and many other American presidents quoted liberally from the Bible. The new University of Massachusetts Press book, Religious Liberty in America: The First Amendment in Historical and Contemporary Perspective by Bruce T. Murray, places Lincoln's and Obama's rhetoric in the context of American civil religion and the prophetic tradition. See press release. Also see story on the inauguration and ceremonial deism.
Recently disclosed documents show that former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld commonly prefaced his intelligence reports with biblical verses. The disclosures have added to lingering concerns about the role of religion during the Bush administration.
On June 9, 1954, Army counsel Joseph N. Welch confronted Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in a famous exchange in which Welch said: “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” See SageLaw article on political civility.
Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has pledged civility in his campaign. Read about the connection between religious liberty and political civility.
“What gets you on the news is the extreme statement. The easiest way to get 15 minutes on the news, or your 15 minutes of fame, is to be rude,” President Obama said on NBC's Meet the Press. See “A crash course in American coarseness” by Tim Rutten. Also see Web Sage essay on religion and political civility.
South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson's outburst during President Obama's speech Sept. 9 is indicative of a zero-sum political game and a degeneration of political civility in America. “I think that the opposition has made a decision. They are just not going to support anything for political reasons. ... There's some people who just cynically want to defeat me politically,” President Obama said on Univision.