Archives For Presidential election

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

obama twitter1

President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. […] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.'”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

TulsiMazie

Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.'” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

Back in June I wrote about how a initiative in Washington state on the issue of same-sex marriage could see the first real test of a post-Christian majority at the ballot box. More than half of Washington’s citizens don’t belong to any formal religion, becoming part of the demographic known as “nones,” and these “unchurched” have increasingly gotten more and more attention as their numbers swell. In addition, nones in the Pacific Northwest have their own special character according to the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” they are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.

 

Further, Washington isn’t alone in making history with a popular vote for same-sex marriage instead of against it. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota are also poised to make breakthroughs on this particular issue if the latest polls are to be believed.

Polling numbers suggest a majority of voters support legalizing same-sex marriage on the ballots in Maine, Maryland and Washington, while Minnesota straddles the fence. Should any of the states approve the ballots, it will be the first time gay marriage passes by popular vote as opposed to going through the courts or legislature. “We’re feeling positive. The reality is, we haven’t won a ballot measure on marriage yet,” Human Rights Campaign state legislative director Sarah Warbelow told NBC News. “I think it’s very reasonable and realistic to expect that we’ll win one or more of these ballot measures; certainly the polling suggests that all four are … a possibility.”

Sticking with my “nones” theory, 25% of Maine residents are religiously unaffiliated according to the Pew Forum, while the 2010 US Religion Census shows that area also dominated by the “unchurched.” Likewise, Maryland’s numbers are also highly religiously unaffiliated (you can download a larger version of the map below here). So, like Washington, they could prefigure a “post-Christian” vote in terms of hot-button social issues like gay marriage.

However, it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action. Of course, this vote could go the other way, as elections are largely about who’s more motivated, and opponents to same-sex unions are often highly motivated and well funded. Also, with this being a presidential election year, enthusiasm for the candidate(s) who supports same-sex marriage will also be a factor. Still this is a very good sign that a demographic tide may have turned in Washington. We’ll check back in as new data emerges.

Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not.

Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo. No one will be forced to confront, as Brian Jay Stanley was, their own prejudices or assumptions.

“Before college I was a skeptic and rationalist toward every religion except my own, Christianity. Like most of humanity, I had believed the religion I’d heard first, and on its authority dismissed all the religions I’d heard second. Seeing Muslims wearing turbans or Hindus bindis, I thought the oddity of their customs proved the error of their beliefs. Studying all faiths in one class in college, however, I saw my religion from the outside and realized that the rites of my Sundays — warbling choirs and smocked babies dipped in silver fonts and bread as the body of Christ — were as curious as what I had disparaged as myths. In class discussions I sometimes unwittingly revealed assumptions that I thought were axioms, and would read surprise in the eyes of a Hare Krishna or Bahai. My notion of normal was an accident of my birth and upbringing. Whomever I saw as strange saw me as strange. I had raised a doubtful brow at Buddhists bowing to golden statues, even as I prayed weekly to a crucified first-century Jew, not realizing that either all religions are bizarre or none is.”

As Jeffrey Weiss at RealClearReligion notes, the slow demographic shift away from institutional faiths, the rise of “nones,” those claiming to particular religion, have yet to be eagerly courted by either party, particularly the Republicans.

“Where religion came up in Tampa last week, at least among the best-known and prime-time speakers, it was mostly in reference to a fairly specific notion of God. The speakers used language most familiar to a particular reading of Christianity. To be fair, much of the language would also have been familiar in the mid-1700s, as America’s founders crafted their exquisite balance of freedoms and responsibilities. But today, as many as one American in five belongs to the religious “Nones,” depending on the polls you read. That’s a huge leap from a couple of decades ago. And members of this group are far more likely to describe themselves as political independents than people who say they ascribe to any particular religion. They may have been more turned off than inspired by the way the Republicans wove religion and politics together.”

This isn’t a uniquely Republican problem, as the Democrats aren’t exactly eager to give non-Christians a prime-time voice. Both seek to keep Christians in their base, while hoping their policy stances will appeal to non-Christians who will overlook all the monotheistic God talk. Change, it seems, happens in frustratingly small increments. No one is forced to deal with people who don’t have the slightest similarity to us,” even within the “big tent” of our national parties, and that’s a shame. That said, CNN believes the Democratic convention will be less “faith-y” (ie less Christian) than four years ago, but it’s all speculation at this point.

Happening in the shadow of the “values voter” election of 2004, the 2008 Democratic convention was something of a faith fest, especially when it came to evangelicals. Convention roles went to the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megapastor from Florida, and best-selling Christian author Don Miller. This year, some religious activists are quietly wondering if the convention will come off as more secular. Hunter, who remains close to Obama, is skipping Charlotte. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” he told us. “My relationship with the president is pastoral and not political.”

Let me be clear, this is not a “both parties are the same” argument, I think there are clear and definable differences in policy between the Democrats and Republicans. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to discern where their interests lie in those matters, as The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates. However, both parties do have a “religion” problem, and it isn’t the problem of appealing to Christians of various inclinations.

The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Both parties need to embrace the “communion of strangers,” and realize that pluralism is the core value regarding religion in America. Both parties need to either embrace the full tapestry of faith in their conventions, or they need to stop pandering to religious groups entirely. That isn’t so strange a notion, as it wasn’t until our modern era that faith became so politicized that we injected it into the very fabric of partisan politics. Of course, it used to be a given that we were all Christians, and that all “others” lived here by our sufferance. Still, one direction or another needs to be taken, or the parties will soon find themselves catering to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie until it will a case of change or die. My hope is that secularism can stop being a dirty word, and we can simply get down to the business of rationally hashing out our policy differences without invoking divine backing to bolster an argument. If not now, then soon.

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.”

“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.

  • Reminder: We are in the midst of our first annual Winter Pledge Drive! If you value this blog, its mission, and its content, please consider making a donation to keep The Wild Hunt open, ad-free, and updated daily. Spread the word, and thanks to all who have donated so far!

Much to Andrew Sullivan’s chagrin, former Vice Presidential candidate and Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin is once again dominating the media. Touting her new book, duking it out with Levi, and chatting with Oprah. But while political junkies are taking bets as to whether she’ll run for President, the media blitz also draws us back into the folks who incubated her political career, and support her to this day. The spiritual-war loving neo-Charismatic, neo-Pentecostal movement known by some as the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit”. Vehemently anti-Pagan and anti-Catholic, Palin publicly distanced herself from them during the campaign after an embarrassing video emerged showing her being blessed by a self-proclaimed African witch-hunter. Now, Talk to Action’s Bruce Wilson cites sources that Palin not only kept in contact with prominent Third Wavers (specifically Mary Glazier) throughout the campaign, but that they believed a terror attack would kill McCain and place her in the Oval Office.

“On September 22, with the 2008 presidential election little more than five weeks away, Glazier sent a prophetic “Warning of Imminent Attack” out through her prayer network [see 1, 2, 3]. Glazier later released a slightly sanitized version but her original “warning” concerned an “imminent” terrorist attack that could leave American in mourning with Sarah Palin “stepping into an office that she was mantled for.” Sarah Palin has been close to Mary Glazier throughout the entire course of Palin’s political career. On June 13, 2008 Mary Glazier told Christian leaders at a church conference held near Seattle that Palin had joined Glazier’s personal prayer group in 1989, around the time Palin went into politics…”

Who is Mary Glazier? She’s the Palin spiritual mentor who, as I’ve reported before, took credit for giving a Wiccan cancer and driving her out of the state of Alaska.

Mary Glazier is one of two religious leaders (along with Thomas Muthee) associated with Sarah Palin who claim to have successfully fought witches. Glazier has described a campaign of “prayer warfare” which she says her prayer group used to drive a woman, whom Glazier claimed was a witch, out of the state of Alaska. As Glazier told the Christian magazine SpiritLed Woman, for a 2003 article, “As we continued to pray against the spirit of witchcraft, her incense altar caught on fire, her car engine blew up, she went blind in her left eye, and she was diagnosed with cancer.”

So far from being a misguided youthful foray into a radical Christian sect, Palin’s friendship with these extremists is seemingly ongoing, and they believe she’s bound for greatness. So while some think Palin has simply become tabloid-fodder, a joke to be ignored, some will know that she’s haunted by these extremist supporters, and that “terror attack” is simply another word for “opportunity” in their eyes. Especially if you’re going to be stepping into an office you were “mantled” by God for. If in 2012 she does run against Obama, as some think she might, we better keep a close eye on Sarah’s friends.

As more pollsters dissect Obama’s win, we continue to get a trickle of interesting data points regarding modern Pagans. Conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group has released their look at how “people of faith” voted in the 2008 election. Of specific interest is their data concerning “other” faiths and Wicca specifically.

“About 5% of America’s adult population associates with faiths other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). Within this group, about half (47%) were registered as Democrats, 30% were independent, and one-quarter (23%) were Republicans. The ballots of this group were most often cast for Barack Obama (62%) rather than John McCain (36%). The support provided to the Democratic candidate is identical to the backing this group provided to John Kerry four years ago (61%) … Among voters who had a favorable view of Wicca, Sen. Obama was the favored candidate 64% to 35%.

It is important to look at the language in that last line. It isn’t about Wiccans specifically, but people who had a “favorable view” of Wicca. To further extrapolate, the family, friends, and co-workers of the estimated 1.2 million modern Pagans in America tended to favor the candidate favored by the majority of modern Pagans. Further proof that using Pagan faiths as a political weapon is quickly becoming ineffective? Should candidates with anti-occult/Pagan skeletons in their closet fear this “Pagan ripple effect”?

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 8, 2008 — 3 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

It seems our troubled economy is sparing no-one. The International New Age Trade Show has canceled their East coast show for 2009 (the West coast show is proceeding normally), citing concerns over the “current worldwide economic situation”.

“In light of the current worldwide economic situation, we’ve decided to postpone the INATS East show until 2010. By waiting out these hard times, we feel we’ll be better able to provide the buyer attendance that is crucial to exhibitor success. It’s always our goal to provide the optimum situation for both buyers and exhibitors. With the holidays upon us and the predictions being made about retailer slow-downs, we feel it is in our exhibitors’ best interest to postpone at this time.”

So much for that “one decimal point”. Will Pagan festivals and conventions also see postponements, cancellations, and moves to smaller venues as the world tightens its collective belt? After all, it’s hard to buy trinkets and take time off work when you’re barely making ends meet. Thanks to Juliaki for tipping me off to this developing story.

We aren’t the only ones noticing that Republicans have lost the non-Christian vote.

“For Republicans, the news only gets worse. Not only is the country becoming less White Anglo, it’s becoming less rural, and perhaps even less religious. Meaning, in political terms, less Christian, specifically less Protestant. Most Catholics voted Democratic Tuesday. Jews and Muslims mostly voted for Obama. So did that still small but growing minority—mostly Asian-American—raised in the Buddhist or Hindu traditions. So, in all likelihood (the exit polls don’t get into these areas) did those who were raised as Christians but now consider themselves New Age, neo-pagan or simply indifferent. Every year, there are more of these folks, fewer of the stereotypical traditional American—the rural, white Protestant whose ancestors have been here for generations. Every year, the country gets more diverse, more metropolitan, more cosmopolitan, even a bit more secular. In the process, it gets less Republican.”

The strategy of doubling-down on conservative Christianity may have seemed like a great idea thirty years ago, but in an increasingly religiously pluralistic society it can cost you elections.

Speaking of the Obama victory, I’ve rounded up reactions from some notable Pagans, including Thorn Coyle, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Hrafnkell, Cat Chapin-Bishop, Erynn Rowan Laurie, and Judith Laura. Meanwhile Pagan authors Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Edain McCoy have sent out a call for spiritual protection for our 44th president.

“We have been made aware that a clear and present danger hangs over the head of Sen. Barrack Obama. Unfortunately, we still live a country where many are taught to hate and fear others based on nothing more than the hue of their skin. Our community mobilizes all the time to send healing and protection to others, and we hope you will join us in a multi-faith magickal effort to keep Barrack Obama–and his family–safe from harm as he transitions into the role of our President.”

They are asking for focused workings at Yule/Midwinter and on inauguration day. Also, while technically not a Pagan, I think Nobel-winner Wangari Maathai eloquently puts forth a prime concern among many Pagans looking towards the next four years.

“If there is one thing I would personally wish of Obama, it would be to fight for the environment. I would urge his administration to help Africa protect its forests and to adapt to the changing climate. We know that Africa will be very adversely affected. The post-Kyoto protocol negotiations are ongoing, and forests must be included as part of the solution. I hope America will support that.”

Here’s hoping that global warming and the environment is at the top of his priority list, for all our sakes.

Though the Halloween interview season is over, that hasn’t stopped New Jersey monthly from interviewing local Pagan shop owners and the editor of the forthcoming “Thorn” magazine.

“For those who want to explore paganism in relation to modern culture, Thorn Magazine, will make its debut this month. Editor Chip O’Brien said it’s the only one of its kind in the northeast. He hopes this Matawan-based publication and website will ‘illuminate the joys and complications of living ancient paths in the wired era.'”

Nice to see a reporter actually scour the state looking for Pagans to interview, though overall points have been deducted for not fact-checking claims that Wicca stems from “ancient Egyptians and Celtic lore”. Still, a generally decent overview of the Pagan business community in the state.

In a final note, it looks like all sorts of litigation of interest to modern Pagans will be in our future. South Carolina is going ahead with their controversial “I Believe” license plate design, Bill O’Reilly is gearing up to fight the Christmas Wars once again, and the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has decided to include religious displays after all.

“Yesterday’s Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent reports that the proposed policy that would have allowed only secular displays on government property has now been changed. By a vote of 8-4, Council added language stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved combined religious and nonreligious displays, and that city officials, at their discretion, may permit these as well as purely secular ones. Before final passage, Green Bay’s city attorney will study the new language.”

You can click here for a quick overview of the whole sordid religious mess caused by Green Bay’s mayor and city council because they want to place a plastic baby Jesus on their building (litigation is already pending). Also, keep an eye out for news of the the Supreme Court case Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which will hear arguments on November 12th.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

I don’t know if you heard, but Barack Obama won the race for president of the United States of America last night. Though “won” doesn’t quite express the historic margins of victory on display here. The Obama campaign won commanding majorities of several key demographics.

“Mr. Obama built a coalition that included majorities of women, independent voters, political moderates, Hispanics, African-Americans, people of most income groups and education levels and voters under age 45, according to nationwide surveys of voters leaving the polls on Tuesday and telephone interviews of some people who had voted early.”

So the pollsters, psychics, practitioners of divination, and other “spiritually advanced people” who predicted an Obama win can rest easy in the knowledge that they were correct. Which brings us to the Pagans. How did they vote this election? Thanks to The Witches’ Voice, we have a rough snapshot of who our community supported in 2008.


Witchvox 2008 Presidential Poll

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pagans overall preferred Obama and the Democratic party, with nearly 3/4ths supporting Barack Obama. This is an improvement of almost 2 percentage points over Kerry in 2004. Republican-leaning Pagans on the other hand seemed deeply unhappy with their party’s nominee. While Bush garnered 17.7% of the Pagan vote in 2004, McCain dropped seven percentage points, with most of those voters migrating to the “None of the above” category. In contrast, only 1.5% of Pagans went with “other” in 2004. Could the appointment of Sarah Palin, with her ties to anti-Pagan “spiritual warfare” churches, have been a poison pill for conservative Pagans?

This election cycle also saw progressive Pagans vote for the Green party in larger numbers, 3.2% this year as opposed to 0.8% in 2004. Support for Ralph Nader, who ran as an independent in 2004 and 2008, remained stable with around 2.5% of the vote in both elections. Among the smaller political parties, the Libertarians were hardest hit this election. While 5.6% went for Michael Badnarik in ’04, only 2.3% voted for Bob Barr. I can only imagine that Barr’s anti-Pagan past came back to haunt him.

While Pagan Obama supporters must be very happy right now, it wasn’t all good news for us. Paganistan (aka Minnesota’s Twin Cities) saw the reelection of congresswoman Michele “investigate the liberals” Bachmann, a woman unafraid to dump money on anti-Pagan charities. It also isn’t looking very good for gay marriage in California (anti-gay marriage bans were also passed in Arizona and Florida). Earlier this year I explained how these marriage bans interfere with the religious liberties of Pagan clergy willing to perform ceremonies for gay couples.

Despite these political setbacks, I can say I’m truly happy that the age of George “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion” Bush is finally coming to an end. I’m also pleased to see the emergence of a more politically engaged Pagan movement. I look optimistically to the future of America, and the continuing growth and influence of modern Pagans in our world.

ADDENDUM: Nate Silver at the 538 blog has posted exit-polling data from the election and finds that the Witchvox poll numbers are pretty darn accurate (with 73% of religious “other” voters preferring Obama).