Any illusion one might have had that the race for America’s chief executive is a secular affair was thoroughly shattered yesterday at the Saddleback Civil Forum on The Presidency. Evangelical superstar Rick “Purpose Driven Life” Warren got the two candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, to sit down individually in his church, submit to his questions, and expound on concerns most important to evangelical Christians.
“Now you’ve made no doubt about your faith in Jesus Christ, what does that mean to you? What does it mean to you to trust in Christ and what does it mean on a daily basis?”
The fact that several questions in the “civil” forum sounded more like a job interview for the pastor of a Christian church didn’t escape the notice of the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance.
“Some of the questions Pastor Warren posed crossed the line and promoted the fiction that the American people are electing a pastor-in-chief, rather than a commander-in-chief. Questions like ‘What does it mean to trust in Christ?’ create a religious test for public office and should have no place in the political discourse for a secular office. America is the most religiously diverse country in the world, and Christianity is only one of those faith traditions. Millions of voters who tuned in tonight will feel disenfranchised by some of the questions posed in this forum.”
Despite admonitions from interfaith activists, I doubt that the intense wooing of evangelicals will stop. With recent Presidential races being so evenly split, the “freestyle evangelicals” are portrayed as king-makers. Alienate them at your peril, and certainly don’t be anything other than Christian if you hope to win. It is little wonder that this year’s Democratic National Convention will commence with an interfaith service organized by a Pentecostal preacher, a first for the party, and a move that has troubled atheist and secular organizations.
“Democratic National Convention’s Aug. 24 interfaith service in Denver is supposed to be about unity. But to a Washington, D.C., coalition that supports nontheistic views, it’s about division. The Secular Coalition Group, a lobbying organization for church-and-state separation, is pushing to get an atheist on the speaker list, and contends the service is divisive because it alienates nonreligious Democrats at a time when the party needs to unite to support the presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.”
It should be interesting to see how this will be resolved. Because if the party isn’t ready to navigate a compromise between secularists and the monotheist (and token Buddhist “participant”) interfaith club, what will they do when Hindu, Pagan, Native, and Afro-Caribbean faiths start asking for a place at the interfaith podium? The post-Christian era is upon us, and the longer the two major political parties court 25% of America’s religious adherents to the near-exclusion of nearly everyone else, the sooner they experience irrelevance as that demographic becomes just one voice in a cacophony of faiths and philosophies.