Archives For Mitt Romney

“We represent the rise of something Christian leaders thought they had vanquished long ago, and we should never forget that initial vanquishing involved the sword far more than persuasion.”Gus diZerega

At the beginning of this year influential conservative evangelical Christian, and former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer engaged in a “thought experiment” for USA Today. The conclusion of this experiment was that voters should  ”support policies that align with their values,”except in once instance.

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.”

In short, political expediency is all well and good to further conservative causes, but there is a theological line in the sand, and if you’re a Christian that line is drawn at polytheism. This isn’t normally a problem for Republicans, who since the Reagan era have tended to nominate socially conservative Christians for office. But the Republican presidential candidate for 2012 is Mitt Romney, and Mr. Romney is a Mormon, something that makes a certain segment of the Republican base very uneasy.

“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,”  [Pastor Robert Jeffress] told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

Romney is no fool, he knows a number of evangelical Christians are wary, at best, of his faith, and he’s tried his best to reassure them that his social agenda lines up with theirs. However, as Bible scholar Ben Witherington recently pointed out, a big sticking point is the matter of polytheism.

Mormons are polytheists, not monotheists. [emphasis mine] That is, they believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings, thus denying the essential monotheistic statements of both the OT and NT that God is One. […] Mormons believe that even God the Father has, and apparently, needs a body, denying that God in the divine nature is spirit. Indeed they believe that God the Father is an exalted man! […] The goal of Mormon soteriology is that we all become as ‘gods’ become both immortal and divine, blurring the creator/creature distinction which was already badly blurred by a theology that suggested that God is actually a sort of uber-human being, with less flaws. One rather familiar teaching is ‘as God was, so we are. As God is, so we shall be’.”

In explaining why he wrote this post now, Witherington explained that he didn’t want Christians to have “false assumptions” going to the ballot box about who they were voting for. In short, if you vote for Romney, you are voting for a polytheist, not a Christian monotheist. Luckily for Romney, conservative Christians have been working to delegitimize President Obama’s Christian faith for years now, so that the choice is between a fake/un-biblical Christian vs. a polytheist Mormon who lines up with conservative social teachings. Pastor Robert Jeffress, quoted above, revealed as much after he caused controversy with his “Mormonism is a cult” statements.

 “I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

What’s interesting about this whole issue is that it tests the waters for the day when a truly non-Christian candidate runs for president of the United States. You’d hardly have to change the above quotes if a Hindu, Buddhist, or even a Pagan, someday managed to overcome the massive structural and cultural impediments to non-Christians in our political system and managed to receive a major party’s nomination. It is only thanks to a massive amount of PR work on the part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that America is as comfortable with Mormonism as it is, but even that can’t stop some Mormon candidates from flaming out when they try to reach the heights Romeny has. This is mainly due to the fact that a important part of the Republican party’s base are conservative Christians who are reluctant (to put it nicely) to vote for what they perceive as a non-Christian.

Despite the fact that our very origins as a nation are very “pagan,” many in the United States aren’t ready to elect non-Christians to high office, instinctively assuming that Christians are more moral, giving, or “normal.” This will change over time, but not before many men and women will have to run a gauntlet defending their personal beliefs in a very public manner. Polytheism, the belief in  many gods, makes certain Christians very uneasy because we represent a specter thought long defeated. We are supposed to be the boogie men slaughtered on Mount Carmel, never to return, powerless in the face of true Christianity. We aren’t supposed to be thriving, running for office, or even making demands for fair and equal treatment. We’re simply not supposed to exist.

Romney’s ascendancy creates a tension for the evangelical power-players, because they know they have to support him, and they also know many of their supporters simply won’t , often because they themselves labeled his religion a cult. However, terms like “polytheism”, and “cult”, are going to keep losing their impact as we move into a post-Christian era, and eventually electing a Mormon, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Wiccan, will be based on their policies and stances, not their theology. Until then, Christians are going to have to wrestle with Mormon “polytheism” at the polls come November.

Saddleback Church’s evangelical mega-pastor Rick Warren has announced that he’ll be holding another presidential forum, just as he famously did in 2008 with Barack Obama and John McCain. While nothing is confirmed yet, it is tentatively scheduled for the end of August and will supposedly work “to promote social civility so that people with major disagreements (can) talk without beating each other up.” However, neither President Obama nor Republican challenger Mitt Romney should be fooled, this is an exercise in conservative Christian power, a religious litmus test in all but name.

John McCain, Rick Warren, and Barack Obama.

John McCain, Rick Warren, and Barack Obama.

Obama should consider that Warren either lied about his plans for the 2008 forum or bowed to pressure from other conservatives regarding the topics up for discussion. In the week before the earlier event, Warren told TIME’s David van Biema that his questions would center on four areas: poverty, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and human rights. “There is no Christian religious test,” said Warren. The night of forum, however, Warren stuck to a more conservative script, quizzing the candidates about gay marriage, judges, and abortion—and only briefly touching on poverty and climate change. As one progressive religious leader told me at the time: “They hadn’t done their research on Warren. Obama wasn’t prepared for the Saddleback thing at all, and Warren bushwhacked him.”

Pastor Rick Warren has an entirely undeserved reputation as a “moderate” evangelical Christian because has no trouble being courted by Democrats, or signing toothless global warming documents. In truth, the man who has sold countless “Purpose Driven Life” books is lock-step with the evangelical mainstream on almost all social and theological issues. He’s for banning same-sex marriage, doesn’t believe in evolution, and only spoke out against draconian anti-gay legislation in Uganda (he had ties to one of the bill’s supporters) after immense public pressure. The only real difference between Warren and many other figures within the realm of conservative Christianity is his genial self-help-book-writer tone. In short, this is not a man I’d trust to explore alone the serious moral and ethical questions inherent to the world’s more powerful job, because there’s only one moral and ethical standard he’s truly capable of understanding.

“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.” – Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance

Around 20% of Americans fall outside the accepted boundaries of the Abrahamic traditions (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) entirely. If we’re talking just non-Christians, then the number is about 22%. Around 18% of American Christians belong to (generally more liberal) Mainline Protestant Churches. Catholics claim  24% of the population. Evangelical Christians make up around 26% of religious adherents in the United States, the largest faith grouping in America, but does their size justify the prominence of place they seem to now inhabit in national politics? The margins are small enough that it seems like folly to think that the moral concerns of an evangelical pastor will line up with a the concerns of all the other groups. It’s more a testament to the organizing power of conservative protestants, than a true reflection of their demographic weight or cultural influence.

The reason Obama and Romney are so eager to engage in what is a de facto religious test for office is that each want to convince different parts of American evangelical culture to vote for them. Obama wants the “small but significant chunks of white evangelical voters” that helped propel to the White House in 2008 to do so again (an uphill climb considering his evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage). Romney, meanwhile, will try convince still-skeptical evangelicals that he lines up with their moral values, despite belonging to a “false religion” (Mormonism). Both will emphasize their commitment to Christ, and Christian values. All of which is great, if you’re an evangelical Christian. You get two hours of presidential candidates making the case directly to you that they support, or at least respect, your moral universe. For everyone else, from liberal Christians to Hindus, you’re reminded that your vote, and the issues you’re most concerned about, aren’t quite as important.

When voters are indirectly told that one kind of religion, or even one kind of Christianity, is the one that gets catered to on the national stage, the one that needs to be wooed, we enter dangerous ground. We are told subtle lies about what’s foundational in our nation, that we were not built on Enlightenment values with a commitment to secular pluralism, but that instead we are a “Christian Nation” and all non-Christians (or Christians who aren’t the right kind of Christians) exist here by either a quirk of fate, the erosion of values, or the sufferance of the not-so-silent majority. It says that on matters of faith, presidents are accountable to the Rick Warren’s of this world, not to the “others” (or “nones”). This creates a narrative where morality is debated only within a spectrum acceptable to the most politically powerful faiths, where pundits can say straight-faced what “religious” people believe about an issue while really only talking to one subset of Christianity.

When you factor in the vast amount of theological (and political) diversity in the world’s religions, from indigenous traditions to pacifist Quakers, the amount of room between, say, “religious left” titan Jim Wallis and Rev. Dennis “non-Christians get out” Terry, starts to seem pretty arbitrary to those outside the halls of power looking in. It’s “lefty” Jesus vs. “righty” Jesus, but guess what, one acceptable face or another of Christian power always wins. This isn’t just bad for non-Christians, it’s bad for authentic Christianity as well. Jefferson was smart enough to know that religious wars could tear our nation apart should we appear to favor one over another, so he smartly built a “wall of separation” to avoid the problem.

Perhaps there was a time when it was acceptable, even necessary, for our nation to use Christianity as a source of unity, but if that time truly existed it has long since past. We live in a age where American diversity isn’t just a slogan, it’s real, and religious pluralism is happening in the atomic structure of our society every day whether we want it or not. Allowing Rick Warren to be our nation’s religious moderator is a bad idea, one that both candidates should reject. I can’t imagine that John F. Kennedy, our nation’s first Catholic president, would have participated in this religious test disguised as a forum.

“I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it. I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.”

“Even by indirection,” which I argue includes a forum supposedly about moral issues, but asks questions about trusting Christ, a topic immaterial to every non-Christian voter. We have allowed this to happen, we have allowed one group to set the rules of engagement in the public sphere when it comes to faith and morality. Conservative evangelicals have been masterful in becoming political power players in the span of a generation, and the rest of us have been busy playing defense. This has to end, and the best place to start would be for Obama and Romney to tell Rick Warren “no.” Failing that, American people of all faiths need to reengage with our political process, no matter what their party or ideology, so that we can embrace the pluralistic promise of our nation, and put an end to litmus tests in all but name.

ADDENDUM: Obama campaign officials have stated that there will be no joint pre-debate appearances, so it looks like Warren was a bit premature to imply that both campaigns had agreed to appear.

It hasn’t been a very good week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee has been dealing with the revelations of “troubling incidents” related to bullying gay classmates in the same week that the president gave his support for same-sex marriage rights. Now, in what can only be called unfortunate timing, Romney will be giving the commencement speech today at Liberty University, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“Whatever the exact explanation, Romney and his team clearly do not feel that they can take the support and – maybe more importantly – the enthusiasm of evangelicals for granted the way most previous Republican nominees could. This could severely complicate Romney’s efforts to separate himself from what to general election swing voters are some of the most unappealing aspects of the modern Republican Party. Any position he takes or utterance he makes that puts him at odds with the Christian right threatens to prompt a loud uproar from evangelical leaders. How much slack (if any) they’re willing to cut Romney in the name of general election expediency is unclear at this point.”

All eyes will be on Romney to see if he can solidify support among conservative Evangelical Christians, a group that has been reluctant to admit he’s Christian at all due to his Mormon faith. While Romney has tentatively tried to stand up for his religion, a full-throated defense of the rights of religious minorities in this country has yet to emerge. Anyone expecting a “Sister Souljah moment” will no doubt be disappointed, Romney needs Liberty University and the forces it represents on his side, and that means overlooking its unfortunate, hurtful, retrograde, beliefs. Those beliefs include fighting against “homosexual propaganda,” and, naturally, a virulently anti-Pagan ethos. It is an ethos that goes far beyond the late Falwell’s infamous 9/11 comments.

“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say “you helped [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”

According to Right Wing Watch, school policy itself reserves the harshest of punishments for Liberty students who might engage in a Pagan or esoteric practices.

30 Reprimands + $500.00 Fine + 30 hours Disciplinary Community Service + possible Administrative Withdrawal. […] Involvement with witchcraft, séances or other satanic or demonic activity.

It should be pointed out that “involvement with witchcraft” is placed in the same category as rape, committing a felony crime, unauthorized weaponry, and selling drugs. As a private university, LU certainly has the right to make any rules it wants for its students, including the banning of “demonic activity,” but it should also make us ask what that means when individuals who want to run the United States pander to them.  Frankly, any national politician who seeks the imprimatur of Liberty University needs to immediately clarify their stance on pluralism in our country.

To reiterate what I’ve said before, the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

Perhaps we truly are entering a “Libertarian moment” in 2012, and fiscally conservative/socially liberal Pagans alienated by the prominence of conservative Christianity will flock to former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, who expressed no consternation within my campaign” when it comes to taking modern Pagans seriously in our electorate. That may not worry Mitt Romney, but is should worry Republicans who want to thrive in an increasingly post-Christian world. Eventually all those “others,” agnostics, and “nones” will add up to the margin of victory.

So, it has come down to this. The Republican Party, the unchallenged standard-bearer for conservative Christianity in America since Ronald Reagan was president, seems to be deciding between a sometimes-moderate, formerly pro-choice, Mormon, and an ethics-challenged serial philanderer with unfavorability numbers that would make any politician blanch, in their presidential primaries. The candidates who seemed to bank their support on evangelicals and conservative Christians: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum, have seen their campaigns run out of steam, dismantle in a stream of never-ending gaffes, or slowly fade into the background. It’s enough to make one wonder if the power of conservative Christianity in the United States is waning. Two recent articles at The New Republic debate this very question. The first, from Michael Kazin, argues that we are experiencing the twilight of the Christian Right.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

“…contrary to the whims of lazy pundits, the waning of enthusiasm for battling over “social issues” is not due to higher concerns about jobs, the deficit, and the economic future […] Put simply, the Christian Right is getting old. According to the largest and most recent study we have of American religion and politics, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, almost twice as many people 18 to 29 confess to no faith at all as adhere to evangelical Protestantism. Young people who have attended college, a growing percentage of the population, are more secular still. Catholicism has held its own only because the Church keeps gathering in newcomers from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, few of whom are likely to show up at a Santorum rally. To their surprise, Putnam and Campbell discovered that conservative preachers infrequently discuss polarizing issues from the pulpit. Sermons about hunger and poverty far outnumber those about homosexuality or abortion. On any given Sunday, just one group of Christians routinely grapples with divisive political issues: black Protestants, the most reliably Democratic constituency of them all.”

Kazin concludes that if conservative Christians “hope to transform our pluralistic, profane culture into a new Jerusalem”, they will have to “find new holy battles to wage.” So are the culture wars essentially over? Are Christian conservatives no longer kingmakers in the Republican Party? Not so fast, says Ed Kilgore, who notes that while the Christian Right has botched attempts to control this election cycle, news of their demise is greatly exaggerated.

“It is true that they have been less conspicuous in this campaign, and less united in candidate preferences. But if they haven’t been able to pull their muscle behind a single candidate, that’s not a sign that they are on the wane—it’s a sign that, as far as the Republican Party is concerned, they have already won. Look at the potential nominees: Unlike 2008, no candidate in the field is pro-choice by any definition. Only Ron Paul seems reluctant to enact a national ban on same-sex marriage. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum. and Herman Cain have been vocal in fanning the flames of Islamophobia; again, only Paul has bothered to dissent to any significant degree.”

Kilgore points out that the fight over abortion, a key issue for Christian conservatives, is escalating at the state level, not diminishing, and that a younger generation of culture warriors, some more radical than their elders, are just beginning to come into view.” Indeed, if there’s been one new phenomenon this year within Christian Right circles, its been the emergence of controversial neo-Pentecostal spiritual warriors into the mainstream. Journalist and author Jeff Sharlet has long argued against assertions that the Christian Right will fade away after a bad election or two, or because the current crop of leaders are growing old. That they have been a part of our spiritual makeup since the beginning.

“We don’t like to consider the possibility that they are not newcomers to power but returnees, that the revivals that have been sweeping America with generational regularity since its inception are not flare-ups but the natural temperature of the nation. We can’t conceive of the possibility that the dupes, the saps, the fools—the believers—have been with us from the very beginning, that their story about what America once was and should be seems to some great portion of the population more compelling, more just, and more beautiful than the perfunctory processes of secular democracy. Thus we are at a loss to account for this recurring American mood.”

So should we worry about the Religious Right? In so far as they battle against the rights and freedoms of religious minorities, yes, we should. Bad candidates and legislative setbacks don’t erase generations of grassroots organizing from the pulpits, and it would be folly to believe otherwise. Until demographics finally hit that magical tipping point, and conservative Christianity becomes simply one voice among many, vigilance is the watchword. As for Newt Gingrich’s ethical problems, we should never forget that evangelicals love a good forgiven sinner.

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.

I truly admire it when public figures bluntly state their true views on a subject. There is so much hedging, retracting, and re-positioning in modern politics that it can be hard to pin down anyone on anything. So when Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 10,000-strong First Baptist Church of Dallas, introduced and endorsed presidential contender Rick Perry at the Values Voters Summit it was something of a jolt to hear him publicly proclaim what many Christians secretly profess.

“That is a mainstream view, that Mormonism is a cult,” Jeffress told reporters here. “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”

There it is: “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” That’s the bottom line. No matter how conservative you are, how in-line your values are with the Republican party, a massive chunk of the grass-roots and conservative king-makers won’t embrace you if you aren’t (the right kind of) Christian. As Andrew Sullivan says, “If you turn a political party into a church, as the GOP essentially now is, sectarianism will eventually emerge.” There is only one exception to this “don’t vote for non-Christians” rule, and that is if the only choice is between Romney and Obama.

“I’m going to instruct, I’m going to advise people that it is much better to vote for a non-Christian who embraces biblical values than to vote for a professing Christian like Barack Obama who embraces un-biblical values.”

Of course many conservative Christians have been trying to make the argument that Obama isn’t actually a Christian for years now. So in their minds it would be non-Christian vs non-Christian (In which case thumbs-up Romney? I guess?).

According to a Pew poll, 68% of Americans are ready to vote for a Mormon president. That support or understanding is built on a “big tent” view of Christianity. If Mormons are just another flavor of Christianity, then it’s OK to vote for them (and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been on a charm offensive for years). However, that support evaporates if you aren’t seen as religious. 61% of voters see atheism as a negative when considering a candidate, no doubt numbers are similar if you have religion but are part of a “cult” and not seen as part of the Judeo-Christian mainstream. As Jeffress would say: “Private citizens can impose all kinds of religious tests.” As it stands now a third of white evangelical Protestants (34%) say they are less likely to support a Mormon. That may not seem like a lot, but it’s a potentially damaging percentage when you take into account the fact that more than half of Republicans are evangelicals.

This is a problem for the Republicans. Not because they prefer Christians, but because Christianity is losing its hold on America, or “softening” as Duke Divinity School professor Mark Chaves would put it. If you become the party of “Christians only” (outside of rare exceptions) you’re setting yourself up for long-term demographic irrelevance. As Americans become more comfortable with atheists, agnostics, and minority religions, the more a political party whose grass-roots demand theological purity suffers. Right now we are in a place where it seems only a Christian (or possibly a Jew) could be elected president, but as the calculus changes, the groups that are more agile in embracing a post-Christian future will ultimately benefit.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On September 28th the Get Religion blog, which critiques religion coverage in the mainstream media, asked its readership a question: “Let’s pretend for a minute that you get to spend 30 minutes with any presidential candidate. What questions would you ask? How would you shape those questions that makes sense for your readership?” The author of that post, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, then narrowed that down to “you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.”

Here’s my response:

“Do you think this is a Christian nation? If so (or if not) what roles and rights should adherents to minority faith groups expect in the United States? Do you feel a follower of Wicca should have the same rights and expectations in this country as an evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, or Catholic?”

Stretching my question into rules-bending multi-part territory, I would follow up and ask if they agreed with the notion that the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment only applied to Christians and Jews, a theory advanced by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton and American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer. Of course Barton’s and Fischer’s opinions regarding the First Amendment aren’t even remotely accurate or historically valid, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming heavyweights within the politically-minded Christian conservative network.

It’s no great secret that it is vital to get the support of conservative Christians if you want to win the Republican nomination for president of the United States. They are the lifeblood of the Republican grass-roots, the ones who ultimately set the agenda, and tomorrow the Values Voter Summit, perhaps the ultimate symbol of that power, begins. The speakers list is a who’s who of the confluence between the Republican party and conservative Christianity, and all the Republican hopefuls will be there to try and garner more support going into the primaries. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will be speaking at this event just before Bryan Fischer, and People For the American Way have called on him to publicly denounce his views.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

“At next week’s Values Voter Summit, Mitt Romney is scheduled to take the stage immediately before Bryan Fischer, an American Family Association (AFA) spokesman with a long and shocking record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, American Muslims, Native Americans and other minority groups. Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to speak at the event, which is sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council, the AFA, and other Religious Right groups. PFAW is urging these candidates for our nation’s highest office to condemn bigotry.

What makes this even harder to ignore for Romney is the fact that Fischer has also publicly stated that Mormons aren’t entitled to First Amendment protection either, and that Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy.

“On a recent episode of his television show Focal Point, Fischer said that the First Amendmentdoes not apply to Mormons and that the Church of Latter Day Saints still supports polygamy. But next week, Fischer will be sharing a stage with America’s most famous Mormon, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, TPM reports in a story headlined “Awkward: Mitt Romney Set to Share Stage with Anti-Mormon Shock Jock.” Despite the “inflammatory, hateful and occasionally just plain bizarre remarks” Fischer has made on his show, Republicans vying for the presidency, including Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich all made appearances on Fischer’s show earlier this year, TPM reports.”

It really all comes down to my one question, do minority religions have the same rights and expectations as the politically and culturally dominant (Christian) faiths? I see this as a Rubicon moment, will Romney, who many believe will become the Republican nominee, actually say anything to repudiate the notion that his faith isn’t equal in standing to other Christian faiths? Does he have the courage of character to strike a blow for American pluralism, or will he make nice with Fischer, a man whose record of utterances are so vile even his own organization distanced itself from him.

“The American Family Association celebrates Religious Freedom for all people and for all beliefs as one of the foundational values that make the United States of America a great nation […] under American law all religions enjoy freedom from government interference.  However Joseph Story’s view continues to have proponents, including Bryan Fischer, one of American Family Radio’s talk show hosts.  However, the American Family Association (“AFA”) officially sides with Jefferson on this question.   AFA is confident that the truth of Christianity will prevail whenever it is allowed to freely compete in the marketplace of ideas.”

Andrew Sullivan says that the “Christianists” have succeeded in taking over the Republican party, and that this is the reason Romney isn’t a shoo-in for the nomination.

“Well, a few years later, examine the candidacies of the two front-runners for the GOP. One [Rick Perry] launched his campaign in a revival meeting calling for God to solve our economic problems (having previously led mass prayers for the end of the Texas drought); the other [Michelle Bachmann] emerges entirely out of Dominionist theology and built her entire career in the Christianist world of home-schooling, and anti-gay demonization. One reason Mitt Romney is not a shoo-in? Sectarianism, and his own previous deviations from binding orthodoxy. And it is this fundamentalist mindset – in which nothing doctrinal can be questioned, and the real world must be bent to the shape of a rigid theo-ideology – that defines these two candidates.”

I can’t remember a candidate for either party who was both a front-runner, yet almost universally disliked by the party he’s trying to woo. Clinton and Obama’s long 2008 primary battle may have been exhausting and divisive, but both managed to emerge unscathed and willing to work together when it was done. I’m not sure if the same can be said of Romney once this is all said and done. In any case, this is the moment. Romney can say to the values voters: “I’m with you, but as a Mormon I recognize that all faiths need to be respected under the First Amendment.” This can also be an opportunity for the other candidates to stand behind Romney on this one thing, if nothing else. Sadly, Mormon-raised religion commentator Joanna Brooks doesn’t think it will happen.

“It’s a marvelous image:  a strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fischer accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all of Americans who are non-white, non-straight, or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it). But it will never happen. […]  Saturday morning, Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he’s feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he’ll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio.”

There’s little chance that I’m going to vote Republican in this, or any, election, but the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me.  If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken.  I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 10, 2007 — 1 Comment

A slow news day in the Pagan world, but there were a few interesting tidbits I would like to share with you. First off, UU-Blogger Philocrites says everything I could possibly want to say concerning Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America” speech.

“By trying to define “faith” as conservative traditionalism and “pluralism” as a name for monotheistic traditionalism, Romney misrepresented the true diversity of American religion, explicitly dismissed Americans who don’t identify with a religious tradition, and painted the traditions he did mention in a way that celebrates their most traditionalist wings and ignores almost all of their visions for the commonweal. What a disappointment.”

Also of interest is Slacktivist’s analysis of the speech, in which he questions the logic of throwing (non-Mormon) religious outsiders under the bus in order to curry favor with the Christian Right.

“The speech includes some decent stretches, but it was not, primarily, a courageous plea for religious tolerance and mutual respect. It was, instead, primarily an obsequious bit of sucking up by an outsider hoping to curry favor with the in crowd by parroting their condemnation of other outsiders … Romney’s gambit here comes straight from the school yard. As a Mormon, he is an outsider, getting picked on by the bullies of the religious right. Instead of standing up to the bullies, he sucks up to them, trying to prove his loyalty and win their approval by acting like them and picking on the other outcasts and outsiders. ‘You guys want to pretend that ‘secular’ and ‘profane’ are synonyms? I can do that. Look, I’ll even beat up this atheist kid for you. See? I’m just like you guys!'”

Turning from politics to holiday celebrations (a topic that is only slightly less contentious), the expected “winter festivals other than Christmas” stories are starting to pop up. The American Chronicle runs a commentary piece by Saqqara Aleister concerning pre-Christian winter holidays and how they have influenced our present-day festivities.

“So as the Winter Solstice once again is upon planet Earth, look to where your celebration may have come from. Look to others in this time of “Christmas” and see, we are all celebrating the same season. Everyone may not celebrate in the same way but we are all celebrating birth, death and rebirth in our own unique way. A way that our ancient forefathers saw coming thousands of years ago as they huddled in caves watching over their food stores waiting for the snow to melt and the warmth of spring to return. May your observance be merry and happy.”

Meanwhile, The Daily Titan (a college paper for the California State University in Fullerton) interviews a Wiccan about Yule celebrations.

“Tracing its roots back to Scandinavian aboriginals, Yule celebrates the winter solstice. “[It] centers around December 20 to the 23 in the northern hemisphere,” said Paul Levesque, comparative religion professor. This year, it will take place on Dec. 20 and pagans will celebrate the return of the warm sun ahead of the long winter days. “[It’s about] showing the unity of creation, light in the darkness,” Levesque said. Yule also reinforces the notion of rebirth during the wintertime and it commemorates the New Year in western and northern traditions of Wicca.”

No doubt an expose on the mysterious “Western” and “Northern” traditions of Wicca will be forthcoming. In addition to these stories, you can find plenty of “pagan roots of Christmas” articles written with different degrees of talent by a variety of columnists hard-up for fresh ideas. They should all take a cue from Tony Sachs at the Huffington Post, who writes an amusing story of how his grade-school tried to solve the religious diversity problem by settling on a common denominator: paganism.

“I can sort of understand, however, why none of us thought twice about what was called “Candlelighting Day” but was really “Freaky Quasi-Druidic Festival.” We were just kids, for cryin’ out loud. Give us a half day of school with an assembly instead of classes and we’d do anything. Celebrate the holidays with a mass wedding presided over by Sun Myung Moon? No problem, as long as it gets me out of algebra. Bite the heads off some Christmas doves with Ozzy Osbourne? Like, sure, whatever. Is it noon yet?”

Ah, the innocence of childhood.

Finally, for the book lovers out there (and you know who you are), Bookslut has a profile of the literary smorgasbord that is the Exhibit Hall of the American Academy of Religion’s yearly meeting.

“Any academic conference’s pedestrian aorta leads right into the Exhibit Hall, a place clogged with publishers’ book booths. Last month, I immersed myself in the clamorous annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR) — Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in San Diego, and thus was able to graze in the mother of all Exhibit Halls. As one of 9,000-plus attendees, I joined other book lovers in walking up one aisle and down the next, refusing to miss a back corner or hidden grotto and thus a possible gem.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m totally planning on being at the next AAR meeting in Chicago. Pagan scholars, academic papers, and more books than you can shake a stick at. What more could you want?