When Non-Christian Faiths Seep Under the Door

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 30, 2012 — 54 Comments

On Wednesday, the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida did an admirable thing, they invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation. Ishwar Singh, who gave the invocation, is the president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, and a small business owner. Singh expressed his hope that his inclusion, coming in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, will show “that we are one family.”

“I hope that my presence Wednesday on the national stage will play a small part in helping Sikhs  and people of all races, faiths and orientations  be seen as part of the great American family. We Sikhs draw strength from the nonpartisan support we have received in response to the terrible tragedy in Oak Creek. […] After Wednesday, I hope that we will see more engagement and inclusion. I hope our elected officials will stand against hateful speech this election season. I hope that the government tracks hate crimes specifically against Sikhs and that Sikhs will be considered eligible to serve this country, as we have served so many others, in the police and armed forces.” 

This, as I mentioned, was an admirable move by the Republican Party, and they should be commended for it. Politics should be about policy, not about which God or gods we worship (which is why I’m so glad Rick Warren’s absurd religious-test forum collapsed this year). Sadly, elements of the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base, which are already uneasy with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, saw this expansive and empathetic act as a harbinger for societal collapse. Right Wing Watch notes that radio talk-show hater Janet Mefferd, who’s on constant alert for signs of the gay-pagan axis tainting her precious bodily fluids, saw this invocation as a sign the party was being (I kid you not) gassed with syncretism.

Janet Mefferd

Janet Mefferd: I’m fine with other faiths voting Republican, I’m just equating them with an invasive gas that’s making us syncretic.

“This adds new spin to my view of what’s going on at the RNC right now because you still hear a little bit of talk God here and there, but it’s different. When Mitt Romney talks about God, he’s not talking about our God and he has yet to give his speech yet. But we now have a party that is allowing people to pray at the Republican National Convention who don’t have the slightest similarity to us, when it comes to our view of God, at all. At all.

It wasn’t that long ago that Pat Buchanan at the 1992 RNC was talking about the great culture war and being a Judeo-Christian nation and how important it was to hold that all together because that was the foundation upon which our country was built. And he was right. He got skewered for it, but he was right.

And look how far we’ve come. Now, 2012 we have somebody from an Eastern religion offering the invocation at the Republican National Convention. I’m not saying people from different religions can’t vote Republican, but what this really is is a syncretism that is kind of seeping under the door like a gas.

Every time I write about Mefferd, I feel the need to point out that she’s not a fringe figure. Her syndicated radio program plays on over 110 affiliates in the United States, and often brings on big-name figures like Herman CainFranklin GrahamRick Perry, and Michele Bachmann. So this isn’t someone out-of-touch with the Republican mainstream. Her distaste with an “Eastern religion” being allowed an invocation is no doubt shared by many, but only echoed by those already comfortable with controversy. It’s an attitude that says, to paraphrase Mefferd, please vote Republican, but keep it to yourself if you’re not a Christian. A “God Closet” if you will.

What we are seeing here is a tension that will only grow within the Republican Party. No major party can afford to keep being seen as a Christians-only party as religious demographics continue to shift. It may work for now, but eventually you’re going to see districts start to slip from your grasp as non-Christian and non-religious populations grow. In some states Christianity is already being seriously challenged by “unchurched” and “non-religious” voters. The longer you rely on a base that fears and distrusts non-Christian faiths, the more alienated growing populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, and Pagans will become. Eventually a realignment will have to happen, and the Janet Mefferds will have to be marginalized to allow for a “big tent” conservatism that casts aside Christian prejudices and fears. Otherwise, you’ll eventually be forced into schism with a Christian rump clinging to its ideals of party purity. It will make the Ron Paul unrest of this week seem quaint.

The truth is that non-Christians have been “seeping under the door” for generations, it’s just that we can no longer ignore them, their issues, and their desires. We don’t live in a monoculture where it’s acceptable to ignore voices or views that “don’t fit.” The RNC organizers who invited Ishwar Singh know that, and his invocation may truthfully be a important moment in the Republican Party if they fulfill Sing’s wish that “our children and grandchildren will be permitted to be full and equal members of this great American family.”

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Rory

    WTF? Christianity is an eastern religion!

    Anyone with the vaguest concept of Abrahamic religions understands that, and how much Christianity is a product of pan-hellenic syncretism.

    • http://twitter.com/jeux999 Daner Doodle

      modern american christianity is a different animal.

      • tailmon12

        It was birthed by its Eastern parent though. No matter how mutated it might have ended up being, its roots are STILL Eastern.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Right. Western Christianity severed its ties with the East on Christmas Day, 800 AD, when Charlemagne was crowned Augustus, a title previously reserved (in Christendom) for the (up til then) one and only Christian Emperor whose throne was in Constantinople. To insist, 12 centuries later, that Christianity is still a “near eastern religion” is taking essentialism much too far. Western Christianity (=Catholicism + Protestantism) is a European religion. In fact, it is arguably the only truly European religion.

    • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

      Rory, you are quite correct. A near eastern rather than far eastern one, but an eastern one nonetheless. Thanks for that important reminder.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      Catholicism and its various “Protestant” offspring are actually European religions. In fact, Europe became Christianized simultaneously with the process by which Christianity became Europeanized.

      It must be emphasized that Roman Catholicism was formed by men who could not be bothered to learn the language in which the Gospels were written, and who had resolved to make a very conscious break with the Eastern/Greek portion of The Church.

      The unchallenged domination of ethic Europeans in Western Christianity is quickly becoming a thing of the past, but Africans and Asians who adopt Christianity also invariably adopt a variety of Western cultural trappings along with it, including Western dress, Western political ideologies, Western business practices, Western forms of education, Western forms of entertainment, and often Western languages as well.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        All true and valid points. But Christianity still follows the (bastardised) teachings of a middle eastern god.

        • kittylu

          a paganized version of the middle eastern god… they had to adapt it to those heathen western and northern european beliefs.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            They constantly adapt it to fit whatever scenario they want to take advantage of.

    • kittylu

      It is a middle eastern desert religion for slave owning desert nomads with a little zorastrian son of god flair.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Gunn/614861817 Jeff Gunn

      judaism is an oriental religion and christianity is a completely new religion
      (jews = god is not a man; christians = god is a man) – this would make
      christianity a religion derived out of rome by hellenists – that’s
      western as in greco-roman (see greek septuagint and new testament) – where do you
      get this information about christianity being an eastern religion? any links?

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Probably from the fact that it is/was a cult of Messianic Judaism and keeps many of the teachings of Judaism (such as the the commandments and the rest of the OT.)

        Originally, the term ‘Christian’ was a pejorative one used by the ‘pagans’ in their persecutions of the Judaic cultists.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    I am disappointed at being completely unable to come up with a decent fart joke to post here.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      We’d settle for a bad one.

    • Guest

      Blame it on the dog, I mean god, or someone

    • Michelle

      Will this suffice? It’s her in another one of her speeches: http://youtu.be/PSKQ3ZNQ_O8

  • http://www.facebook.com/silverseale Sarah SilversealeSpencer

    Mark my words–what you just saw there was the unofficial kickoff of Nikki Haley’s 2016 campaign. Whether her name will appear first or second on that presidential ballot, who knows? But you don’t have to be psychic to predict more interesting times ahead featuring Nikki Haley.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    The American Sikh community has long had close ties to the Republican Party, and to bat-shit-crazy Indiana Congressman Dan (“Nuke ‘Em”) Burton in particular. Go figure.

    • A.C. Fisher Aldag

      Many Sikhs are successful business owners, taxpayers, pro-family. Thus, many Sikhs are Republicans… as are many Muslims. They’re voting for the party which will lower taxes, get rid of ridiculous government regulations, and thus enhance a climate for business.

      • BryonMorrigan

        “If ye love WEALTH better than LIBERTY, the tranquility of SERVITUDE than the animated contest of FREEDOM — go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!” — Samuel Adams [Emphasis Mine]

  • carma62918

    Maybe I missed it–but I heard him pray only to “god”–sooooo……what’s the problem?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      He did it the wrong way! OMG…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651573838 Jeff Sockwell

      They have a non-Christian concept of God. It makes the wing nuts feel all squirmy inside to think that someone uses the same name for a different entity.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It’s bad enough when someone uses a different name for the same entity.

    • carma62918

      sounded pretty standard to me, except for lacking the standard “Amen.” And he said God is God. Seemed quite uncontroversial to me. Of course, they may have had a totally secret Christian (non-Mormon) prayer before opening the convention to the public.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The GOP can give anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage wingnuts their own plank in the platform, but they can’t do that with their Janet Mefferds. “May they live in interesting times.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.w.morehead John W. Morehead

    Thankfully I have never heard of Mefferd, but then again I don’t listen to Christian radio, so as a very different kind of evangelical I am not familiar with those personalities who unfortunately inform and confirm the mindsets of my religious subculture. The gutsy choice of the RNC of a Sikh for the prayer understandably raises red flags for evangelicals, and I fear that many are now circling the wagons. Unfortunately, the very presence of non-Christian religions in the public square, let alone the active participation of one in the RNC, will provoke fears evangelicalism has of the “religious other,” reinforced by the many spokespersons like Mefferd. What we need are alternative voices in evangelicalism, working in tandem with reasoned and civil voices in paganism, to address this challenge.

    By the way, look to Religion Dispatches tomorrow for my essay on Burning Man that critiques an evangelical counter-cult treatment of Burning Man that mentions paganism and which invokes the same fears that Mefferd articulates.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=693252858 Holli S. Emore

    What’s missed in this article and the comments so far is that last night’s speaker, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, was born and raised Sikh. No, I do not support her, though I do work on interfaith issues with her parents.

    • BryonMorrigan

      She converted to Christianity… Never would have been elected without that, just like Bobby Jindal.

    • http://www.facebook.com/silverseale Sarah SilversealeSpencer

      Actually, I referenced Nikki Haley (see below), but didn’t fully explain my reference – I’m glad you did so, since this story has both religious and political implications. (You and I met in person several years ago through our mutual friend Crow Moon, but I no longer live in SC.)

  • Kilmrnock

    The Abrahaic ” big three” monotheistic religions are all Middleastern in origon . Gotta love the extremist left wackos that don’t seem to know this .But then again logical , critical thought is not big with these folks

    • BryonMorrigan

      “Extremist left wackos”? What are you even talking about? Yeah, Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion…but it’s usually the Christian Conservatives who refuse to admit this, rather than the other way around…

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I’m guessing you got your left and right confused.

    • AnantaAndroscoggin

      As evidence that the Reactionary Christianist Reich doesns’t get this, they keep trying to pass laws and amendmentss in order to prevent courts from considering any “foreign laws” in hopes of preventing the nonexistent “Sharia Law” takeover of America. Don’t they ever remember that Mosaic Law also came from Asia Minor? And English Common Law is commonly an early basis for American laws, but it is ALSO FOREIGN.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        White Americans are technically foreign, too.

        • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

          Technically. I suppose if one wants to be that pedantic about it, that’s fine. We could go back far enough and EVERYONE is foreign almost EVERYWHERE. :P

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Pretty much. Of course, that could easily lead into the question of how long does it take for something to be classified as ‘native’.

          • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

            Yeah, I agree. My family has been in the Americas since one of the first waves of settlers arrived at Jamestown. Anyone who argues with that history (exceeding this country’s foundation) is just arguing against me being here simply for being white.

      • BryonMorrigan

        It’s also PAGAN.

        “For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by
        the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by
        proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which
        terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that
        of the statute law, or Lex Scripta. This settlement took place about the middle
        of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh
        century; the conversion of the first christian king of the Heptarchy having
        taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was
        a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and
        Christianity no part of it.” — Thomas Jefferson

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Of course, Jefferson was not exactly right.

          There was no England at that time. Unification happened much later.

          • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

            No, but even at that time, the idea of Britannia had existed since at least 43 CE, the personified, coalesced image of Britain as a singular body. Yes, Britain is more than England, and obviously, Jefferson was speaking of the land of the Anglecynn, simply using “England” as a reference. But it’s not so hard to believe that the idea of England existed already.

            Jefferson was an Anglo-Saxonist and linguist in the extreme, and was one of those scholars who held the myths of Anglo-Saxon individualistic purity and liberty up as one of the shining paragons that all truly enlightened societies should strive towards. We can forgive him for his 18th century scholarship and thinking. :P

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Sorry, that was my political leaning coming through – I’m a Wessaxon regionalist.

          • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

            I see. Very interesting!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

      Republicans, Tea partiers, and nutbar Christians are the political right, Kilm, not left.

    • Kilmrnock

      Aye , i mixed the two up , was quite tied last night . That should have been extremist right wing wackos , sorry Kilm

      • Kilmrnock

        tired

  • Guest

    Astral travel? Most of the time I’m too corporeal to seep through the door

  • kittylu

    What would Mefferd have preferred, a celebration of the neonazi that murdered those people? She is sick. Its because of voices like hers that the republican party has become associated with white supremacist movement.

    • AnantaAndroscoggin

      Not to mention the Protestant Supremacist movement — those on the Reactionary fringes of the political right are not bashful about proclaiming that Catholics aren’t even Christians at all.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    here’s for hoping that both political parties implode on themselves, fracturing into many, many smaller parties (Even more so, I wish both parties would be investigated under RICO, not that that’ll happen).

  • http://twitter.com/YearInWhite Year In White
  • http://www.facebook.com/agni.ashwin Agni Ashwin

    When Nikki Haley runs in 2016, the GOP will see Sikhi as the latest addition to the GOP family of religions (Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Glenna-Jones-Kachtik/1258771759 Glenna Jones-Kachtik

    Has Janet Mefford heard that big hair is out????

  • http://www.facebook.com/kericker Kathleen Grimes Ricker

    This makes me sad. There are people in the Republican party who are decent human beings. It’s less and less apparent that they belong there.