Gary Bauer’s Hypothetical Pagan Candidate

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 10, 2012 — 44 Comments

Influential conservative evangelical Christian, and former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, engages in a thought experiment for his most recent USA Today column.

Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer

“A thought experiment: Imagine a presidential candidate. He has spent years in politics, rising to become a trusted leader in his party. He also has spent time in the business world, has an impeccable personal life, a deep understanding of the issues, and is eloquent in speech and moderate in temperament. Sounds like a dream candidate, right?”

I see where this is going; this is obviously about Mitt Romney, right? I mean, Bauer is part of an upcoming semi-secret meeting of conservative Christian presidential kingmakers that some have defined as a “stop Mitt” gathering, and Bauer has endorsed social conservative darling Rick Santorum, the official not-Mitt of Iowa. But then, Bauer throws us a rhetorical curve-ball!

“But imagine that, along with those qualities, the candidate is also a Wiccan, a modern pagan. It’s not an implausible idea. Some estimates put the number of American Wiccans at more than 100,000. It’s safe to say most voters would at least have a few questions for our hypothetical candidate. After all, Wicca involves magic, spell-casting and sorcery — not exactly mainstream religious practices. But would this candidate’s beliefs make you question his fitness for office? Would you oppose him based solely on his faith?”

A Wiccan candidate! The other religious other in America! Is Bauer going say that a politician’s positions and experience are more important than their personal faith? Would Bauer endorse a sufficiently conservative Pagan?

“The question Americans should ask is not whether a candidate is affiliated with a particular faith but rather whether that candidate’s faith makes it more likely he or she will support policies that align with their values.”

Oh man, he’s totally going to say he’ll vote for a Pagan!

I wouldn’t vote for a pagan, I’d vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn’t support those things.”

What? Wait a minute, what about all the rhetoric about supporting policies that align with a voter’s values? I guess the minute you enter the world of “magic, spell-casting and sorcery” all other considerations fly out the window. You see, when it comes down to it, voting for a non-Christian is anathema to the conservative Christians who make up a large portion of the Republican party’s base. The not-so-secret “controversy” about Romney among Christian conservatives is that many of them think Mormon’s aren’t Christian either, but he’s the likely candidate so the smarter leaders are looking for some other way to tip-toe around the issue (like talk about “Wiccans”).

The funny thing is, a Pagan politician isn’t a hypothetical. There’s (the very conservative) New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Heathen whose had quite a bit of attention focused on his faith. There’s Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman in Centralia, Missouri, a Hellenic polytheist who recently celebrated Columbia, Missouri’s decision to outlaw gender discrimination. In November Virginia Pagan Lonnie Murray won a seat on the Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District (TJSWCD), and Rita Moran, chairperson of the Kennebec County (Maine) Democratic Committee, served as an openly Pagan at-large national delegate for Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. That’s only a sample, a selection of higher-profile examples. There are many more Pagans working at the grass-roots in local committees, groups, and political parties. A Pagan politician isn’t merely plausible, it’s an ongoing reality. Something that I suspect will change the dynamics of Bauer’s thought experiment.

The dominance of Christianity in the United States, while still impressive, is “softening.” Our population becoming polarized between those who place religion first, and those who don’t. The reality of non-Christian politicians on the national stage a growing certainty. We already have openly Buddhist members of Congress, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Hank Johnsonof Georgia, and its only a matter of time before we elect our first Hindu to Congress. The “thought experiment” of a non-Christian high-profile candidate has become a fact of life, one that conservative Christians will have to increasingly wrestle with. All that said, I do agree with the sentiment, if not the wording, of Bauer’s closing point.

“It’s important to ask candidates about their beliefs, in part because politicians frequently exploit religious faith […] we could ask the Wiccan candidate whether sorcery would be covered under his health care reform proposal. […] Americans have not only a right but a responsibility to consider the values of those who seek to lead them — whether they arise from life experience, political ideology or religious belief.”

If Wiccan “sorcery” is fair game in a hypothetical political campaign, doesn’t that mean questions over Dominionism and associations with fringe Christian groups by top-tier Republican candidates are also fair game? If Bauer is correct, and lets assume that he is, we’ve been far too easy on the current crop of Republican hopefuls, and reporters should ask for more robust and challenging questions regarding how their faith informs their politics. In the meantime, I hope Mr. Bauer comes up with some fresher thought experiments.

Jason Pitzl-Waters