Archives For Republican Party

There are a lot of people out there who have misguided, distorted, or willfully wrong attitudes about modern Pagan religions, and this can become a problem when those individuals start running for elected offices that will affect the lives of Pagans living in the state or district under their potential influence. Such is the case with E.W. Jackson, a Christian minister and Republican nominee for Lt. Governor of Virginia. As Mother Jones reports, Jackson opined about Witches, Buddhists, and other non-Christian “spiritual” people in his 2008 book “Ten Commandments To An Extraordinary Life.”

E.W. Jackson

E.W. Jackson

“There are those who engage in witchcraft, fortune telling, Tarot Card, tea leaf and palm reading and other “spiritual” practices. These practices are wrong and dangerous. They are spoken of as an “abomination”—a particularly detestable sin—in the sight of God. They bring a terrible curse on the person who engages in such things, and you do so at your own peril. [...] Non-Christian religions have their own values which are often highly questionable. Yet there is a remarkable deference paid to any religious system that does not include Christ as the Son of God. Affinity for anything but what is truly of God is the nature of spiritual death?”

That’s just a taste, Jackson is full-blown adherent of Christian spiritual warfare principles, though he’s been trying to soft-peddle his ardent Christian beliefs as more and more scrutiny has been paid to the many, frankly outrageous, statements he has made over the years.

“He was soft-spoken and earnest as I questioned him about how his religious beliefs interact with his political views. Christian values make us free, Jackson told me, and people should live as they see fit as long as they don’t hurt others. While he opposes same-sex marriage, he said he wouldn’t support any sort of ban on gay sex. He also said there shouldn’t be any legal sanction of a religion, and that he would oppose a constitutional amendment naming Christianity as America’s official religion. But that doesn’t mean that our culture isn’t historically Judeo-Christian, he added, and influenced by the Bible. Acknowledging that isn’t an imposition of religion.”

This creates a quandary of sorts for voters in Virginia concerned about the treatment of minority religions: which E.W. Jackson do we believe? Do we believe the “soft-spoken and earnest” Jackson who tells us he opposes legal sanctions on any religion, and that he opposes naming Christianity as America’s official religion, or do we believe the man whose rhetoric implies that there’s disaster on the horizon if Christians don’t “rise up?”

“This is an emergency, a critical point in American history. Continuing down the path we are on will result in escalating persecution of Christianity, but even worse, risk losing the favor of God on our country, which would be an unimaginable horror. I am asking Christians to unite on the biblical principles which founded our country and help me take those principles to the United States Senate. Those who understand the history of our country know the vital role the church played not only in the establishment of hospitals, colleges, and a host of other charitable organizations, but in the revolution which established this great nation. If Christians do not rise up, the future of our country is bleak. I ask you to go to the polls on June 12 and cast a vote for the glory of God. I’m not a perfect man, but I love the Lord, and I love this country, and I will always be grateful that He has saved me and gave me citizenship to the most free and prosperous nation in history. I will fight to see to it that it stays that way. As a brother in Christ, I ask for your prayers, your support, and for your vote…”

It may surprise some to note that Virginia is home to many Pagans. A Pagan (and Unitarian-Universalist) holds an elected conservation post in that state, and there was a high-profile case involving a Wiccan getting clergy status so she could perform legal weddings in 2012. Virginia has been a place where debate over the regulation of divination services has raged, and where a local candidate for a Board of Supervisors seat had her Pagan identity outed and smeared by local media. So it matters quite a bit what Jackson thinks about Witches and Pagans, because legislation affecting the lives of Pagans in that state isn’t a hypothetical. Jackson has tried to draw a line between “candidate” Jackson and “minister” Jackson, saying they are different jobs that hold different standards, and that his religious rhetoric “must be taken in context.” However, I fail to see how any non-Christian candidate would be allowed such a dispensation within the political realm.

Simply put, we all have to own our words and deeds, no matter what sphere in which they occur (just ask any candidate for president ever). As the National Review points out, the elected Lt. Governor in Virginia will hold increased power as a tie-breaker in the currently equally-balanced state senate, so stakes are quite high. Candidate Jackson, if elected, may very well get to vote on a number of initiatives that minister Jackson might have some strong opinions on. Any candidate, no matter what their party, or their personal faith, has to be able to serve all of their constituents. A Lt. Governor Jackson would be lieutenant governor for Buddhists, Witches, tarot-card readers, practitioners of Yoga, and Christians alike. Whether he governs and votes from a conservative or liberal philosophy is his prerogative, but he’s running in a secular nation, one that’s becoming increasingly post-Christian. Voters have a right to question whether he’ll be able to fully serve Virginians who follow a religion he thinks is “wrong and dangerous.” 

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann today announced that she would not be seeking re-election to her seat in 2014. While partisans on both sides of the left-right divide can speculate on why she has chosen to do this, I think it’s important to take a quick look at the legacy left by her somewhat unorthodox and highly effective mixture of (politically and socially) conservative Christian populism. Specifically, I think it’s important to showcase how religious minorities (including modern Pagans) were made increasingly anxious by the affiliations she celebrated and stances she took.

Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann

“We’re in a state of crisis where our nation is literally ripping apart at the seams right now, and lawlessness is occurring from one ocean to the other. And we’re seeing the fulfillment of the Book of Judges here in our own time, where every man doing that which is right in his own eyes—in other words, anarchy.”Michele Bachmann

Whatever Bachmann’s plans are in the future, I’d prefer they be outside of a political office. It’s easy to make a “greatest hits” of Bachmann’s various comments, but I was always more concerned by her unwavering allegiance to inserting a very particular kind of Christianity into our political discourse. It’s easy to paint Bachmann as “kooky” but I think few people took her as seriously as they should have. Whatever one’s opinion of her, Bachmann was effective at winning elections and influencing the discourse, and considering her religious views that rightfully made a lot of religious minorities very nervous.

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.

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.”

“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” – John B. Finch, 1882

If you follow religion news these days, you can’t help but be inundated with the current debate over what, exactly, “religious freedom” means, and what its limits are. The most popular manifestation concerns Catholic opposition to new contraception guidelines set forth by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (a topic I’ve covered before), but a large number of enterprising souls have taken this proverbial football and are running as far as they can with it. The most recent effort to “protect” religious freedom comes from a consortium of 66 Republican lawmakers who have written a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for an investigation into “a series of steps signaling hostility towards religious freedom” by the Air Force.

The lawmakers outlined several instances where they had problems with Air Force policy, particularly a memo last year from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, which said that “chaplains, not commanders” should notify airmen about chaplains’ religious programs. The lawmakers wrote the memo was “suggesting that the mere mention of these programs is impermissible.” They also took issue with the suspension of a briefing that discussed Bible references, the changing of a Latin office motto that included God and removing Bibles from Air Force Inn checklists. They wrote the policy of “complete separation” between church and state is having a “chilling effect” down the chain of command.

An Air Force spokesperson responded by saying that “Airmen are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion—in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems.” Indeed, these instances the 66 Republican lawmakers are concerned about aren’t initiatives to limit religious freedom, but to instead avoid showing favoritism for any particular faith.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

“The Air Force’s top officer has issued a stern reminder to leaders about religion and their jobs: Don’t proselytize or show favoritism toward a particular faith. Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent a servicewide memo Sept. 1 cautioning leaders at all levels to balance the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion. “We have seen instances where well-meaning commanders and senior noncommissioned officers appeared to advance a particular religious view among their subordinates, calling into question their impartiality and objectivity. We can learn from these instances,” said Lt. Col. Sam Highley, Schwartz’s spokesman.”

We should also remember that these corrections aren’t happening in a vacuum, and were prompted by a culture of evangelical Christian takeover within the Air Force Academy, where blatant religious favoritism was in full and open display.

…my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder.  He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks.  This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy.  I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.”

This was a major scandal for the Air Force, which, like all government bodies, isn’t supposed to favor any particular faith, and to maintain separation between Church and State. They’ve since made major efforts to make their branch of the military a place where all faiths are respected, including the building of a Pagan/Nature Religions worship area at the Air Force Academy.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

Sadly, these worthy efforts towards making the Air Force a place that respects all manifestations of faith is being framed as an attack on “religious freedom” by these lawmakers. For them, religious freedom means freedom for Christians to swing their theological “arms” without any regard to whose nose might be struck. When U.S. Representatives Diane Black of Tennessee, Randy Forbes of Virginia and Todd Akin of Missouri assert that “the combination of events mentioned above raises concerns that the Air Force is developing a culture that is hostile towards religion” what they mean is hostile toward unfettered Christian expression, and little else. I cannot imagine that any of the 66 lawmakers gave one thought as to what things were like for religious minorities before the recent shift in policy and tone. Religious freedom, for them, begins and ends with their conception of America as a “Judeo-Christian” nation that exists under a single, monotheistic, God.

As I’ve said before, to these Christians, government-enforced secularism isn’t a neutral ethos, but a method of attacking their faith and limiting their free expression. In the minds of these Christians “religious freedom” means, in this time of demographic dominance, the right to let the majority dictate the religious norms of a society. Any deviance from that, in limiting prayer in schools, or sectarian prayer at government meetings, is a persecution of their church. We are increasingly caught in Christianity’s own crisis over its role and purpose in a post-Christian pluralistic society, and the results aren’t always pretty. This crisis will only escalate as religious minorities continue to stand up for real equality, for their voices to be heard in the public square, and as litigation starts to reevaluate what the standards for inclusion are in government-backed religious initiatives.

Whatever valid concerns Catholics, Evangelicals, and other conservative Christians might have over religious freedom in the United States, they are continually tempered by their insistence on being the sole definer of where that concept begins and ends. No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input, and in many cases the same Christian leaders and lawmakers who cry persecution are the very same who ignore our concerns, or are outright dismissive of non-Christian religious expressions.

“I don’t care what the naysayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. There is only one God. There is only one God, and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words. I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or we can’t no longer pray in public. Listen to me. If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out! [...] We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

To me, the Catholic Bishops and Evangelical leaders who claim to be baking the bread of freedom, produce only the taste of ashes in my mouth. Have we really forgotten that Christian Republican lawmakers as recently as 1999 tried to get the practice of Wicca banned from the military? That the Catholic Church, openly hostile to non-Christian faiths, has proposed a grand coalition of the dominant monotheisms to quash the rights of faiths and traditions who want to perform legal same-sex marriages? To my mind these are not the defenders of my religious freedom, to say the least.

If religious freedom as a concept is going to mean anything, if isn’t going to just be hollow rhetoric, then it needs to apply equally to everyone. That means creating a level playing field in the realm of government, it means not privileging the Christian majority simply because it’s a politically expedient thing to do. Sometimes it even means rolling back privileges that some have mistaken for “rights.” The problem is that far too many Christians in America have grown over fond of having no limits on their arm-swinging, and every judicial decision or law that tells them that certain noses are off-limits enrages them, and feeds into an ugly persecution complex (to the point where the majority assumes the mantle of the persecuted minority). Real religious freedom starts when groups stop twisting the concept to privilege themselves at the expense of others.

Ever since his religious affiliation was outed to the general public back in 2009, Republican Dan Halloran has tried to keep the subject off his adherence to Theodish Heathenism, and on day-to-day political matters. After his Heathen faith became an issue in the successful 2009 campaign for a seat on the New York City Council, he finally released a public statement entitled “I believe in God,” which downplayed his Pagan identity, and stressed Halloran’s Catholic heritage.

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune.These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...] I am a man of faith – and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.”

Not once in the statement does Halloran mention the terms “Heathen,” “Theodish,” or “Pagan.”  A fact that soured many in the Heathen community to Halloran, believing that they were “thrown under the bus” so he could win the election. From that point, Halloran has steered clear of talking explicitly about his faith, even when journalists dug up former co-religionists who made allegations relating to his leadership role within Theodism. In a 2010 interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective, Halloran reiterated that his faith is private, and “irrelevant” to any policy decision he might make.

“My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

However, it now seems like Halloran may be willingly (if unwittingly) opening the “black box” of his religion by attacking one of his potential Democratic opponents in the upcoming congressional race. In an interview with the Jewish political blog Gestetner Updates, Halloran praises Assemblyman Rory Lancman as his toughest potential opponent, but also claims his voting record doesn’t reflect his personal faith.

“Unfortunately his voting record does not match his personal commitment to his faith,” he said. “He was on the opposite side of gay marriage; opposite side of abortion; and the opposite side on the issues of school vouchers, and tax credits and incentives for those who use private schools to educate our young children.”

In short, Halloran kinda implied that Lancman may be a bad Jew when it comes to these issues, echoing the criticisms of conservative New York Jews. That may seem like good politics when you’re trying to win over moderate and conservative Jews, but it also opens the “black box” of his own religion, making him fair game for similar questions and statements. Considering the fact that the Village Voice has already attacked Halloran for being a hypocrite, specifically on the question of abortion, it doesn’t seem wise to run on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“In early 2011, a legislative fight emerged in New York City over anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” advertising abortion counseling when they don’t actually offer abortions. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill that would force such organizations to advertise that they don’t perform abortions and to disclose if they have any medical staff on hand.  [...] Quinn’s bill would eventually pass overwhelmingly in the council without Halloran’s vote. According to Little Neck Patch, Halloran “did not see the issue . . . as a part of the decades-old debate over abortion rights.” (Still, through a spokesman, he also noted “the Council member is pro-life.”) [...] The episode infuriated some of Halloran’s former followers, who not only had known him to be pro-choice, but also to be “pro-abortion to nearly the point of endorsing infanticide,” as one put it.

The Voice piece quotes Halloran at length defending abortion within the context of his faith, and while I publicly criticized the piece for crossing the line, this new interview now partially undercuts my argument that “too much is made of his faith, and in improper contexts.”

I can only think of three possibilities for why Halloran has decided to bring up same-sex marriage and abortion in the context of a potential opponent’s religion: that it was a mistake, that he felt it was a calculated risk worth the potential blowback, or he’s hoping to preemptively make the religion question moot by muddying the waters now, instead of during the general election. Whatever the reason, it just seems risky to open yourself up for attack after you’ve spent years saying your religion isn’t an issue for public debate or commentary.

In the coming weeks I’ll be highlighting a two-part guest commentary from our resident Theodism expert Nick Ritter on what Theodism is and isn’t, and the political career and congressional candidacy of Dan Halloran from a Theodish perspective. I feel that as this campaign heats up, it will be important to talk to voices who can bring more light to the issues that will no doubt be raised regarding religion. In the meantime you can listen to my podcast featuring Nick Ritter and PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz on Halloran’s congressional run. I fear we’re going to be hearing a lot about Halloran’s faith in the mainstream media come November, and we should be prepared for what that might mean for the broader Pagan and Heathen communities.

Welcome to the latest installment of Unleash the Hounds, in which I round up articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans. Before we get started I wanted to give an update on the Pagan journalism crowdfunding experiment I launched on March 21st. The very excellent news is that not only have I reached my fundraising goal of $1850 dollars to send The Wild Hunt to Chicago in November so that I can cover the American Academy of Religion’s 2012 Annual Meeting, but I’ve surpassed that goal by hundreds of dollars. All in less than a week! Thank you! Your enthusiastic response not only means I’ll be covering the AAR’s Annual Meeting, but that we have a head start on the next crowdfunding assignment (all monies raised beyond the goal will be rolled over into the next campaign).

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

Once the month-long campaign officially ends I’ll update my affiliates page with all those who chose to become underwriters, and update all who’ve donated on other promised perks. Considering the success of this initial go, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be using this model to fund other assignments. The big question now is, where would you like me to go, and how often do you think I should hold a crowdfunding assignment campaign? I welcome your feedback, and once we have some solid ideas for events you’d like to see me at, we can even hold a poll to gauge reader interest. Some initial ideas for future assignments include the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, and Paganicon in Minnesota. Make your voices heard, and if there’s enough demand, we’ll try to fund them one at a time. Ultimately, I would like to build this up and work towards funding a trip to the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

So again, thank you to my generous supporters. You made this happen. Now then, let’s unleash the hounds, shall we?

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

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

There had been rumblings for several days, and yesterday it was confirmed, that Republican New York City Councilman Dan Halloran will run for the newly created Sixth Congressional District. On Sunday, Halloran received the endorsement of the Queens County Republican Party, who called him “a proven vote getter and a strong voice for taxpayers, small businesses and seniors.” Halloran responded by saying that “it is time for politics to go for non-entrenched people,” and “we don’t need career politicians in Washington carving up the turf and making things worse.”

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

The Queens County GOP endorsement is a big deal, as the new 6th Congressional District sits within Queens County, and so far, Halloran hasn’t received any primary challengers. Still, this will be an uphill battle for the Councilman. The redrawn district is still expected to lean heavily Democratic, and retiring Representative Gary L. Ackerman (D) noted that “if there was a chance Democrats couldn’t hold it, I would be running.” Halloran’s most likely opponent is Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who received the endorsement of the Queens Democratic Party. However, Meng will face a primary challenge from two other local Democrats, and the results of that contest could swing the race in Halloran’s favor.

Halloran had considered a run at Ackerman’s seat back in 2010, but wavered, and ultimately backed off due to a lack of resources. Now, with the seat wide open, it seems likely that the Republican establishment will funnel money into Halloran’s campaign in hopes that they can pick up a congressional seat. Of course, one big question mark over his campaign is how religion will affect the race. For as long-time readers of The Wild Hunt know, Halloran is Theodish, a Heathen reconstructionist religion that focuses on Anglo-Saxon gods and traditions.

From the beginning of his political career, Halloran’s opponents have made his faith an issue. None more ardently than Steven Thrasher at The Village Voice, who sensationalized the candidate’s beliefs back in 2009, then following up with a 2011 piece about Halloran’s“strange career” as a city councilman that featured cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak. Thrasher is already licking his chops at the thought of Halloran running, making it plain he intends to once more make Halloran’s faith into an issue.

“Either way, we look forward to covering this race and speaking further with Halloran’s constituents, as well as the supportive and disaffected members of his Theodish kingdom, New Normandy.”

The New York Times, in their report, noted that Halloran has “come under the microscope for his religion,” while the New York Post snarkily runs with the headline “well, he’s got the Pagan vote.” Knowing that Halloran’s faith will be an issue, Robert Hornak, executive director of the Queens GOP, was already framing the Republican Party’s response.

“This as an issue of religious freedom, if they want to attack him for that, they can go ahead.”

In short, they are taking the high ground on religion. As for Halloran, PNC reporter Cara Schulz, who interviewed Halloran in 2010, asked him how his constituents felts about his faith after it was made an issue during his election to City Council.

“It’s not an issue….Almost everyone sees what was done as a terrible campaign hit-piece. My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

That may all be, but with everyone predicting a hard-fought presidential battle this November, many Congressional seats are going to swing with the prevailing electoral winds. It seems unlikely that no one will go after Halloran for religion, though I doubt Meng herself would, since many of her supporters and constituents in the New York Asian community are Buddhist. In fact, if Meng were Buddhist herself (something I can’t confirm, if anyone has seen an article where she talks about her faith, please let me know) we could have a race were neither candidate were Christian. Could this be the first truly post-Christian Congressional campaign in the United States? Will we see the first openly Pagan member of Congress in the United States?

I will, of course, be following Halloran’s campaign closely. The Councilman is expected to hold a press conference today at 5pm (Eastern) announcing his candidacy, and I’ll update here with links and other resources once it’s up.

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich participated in a conference call to conservative Christian supporters. In a statistical tie with fellow contender Mitt Romney in the upcoming Florida primary, Gingrich is trying to win the support of as many evangelicals and religious conservatives as possible, a demographic that Romney has had a hard time winning over. During the call, which had around 1000 participants, and was moderated by Jim “Cracking Da Vinci’s Code” Garlow, Gingrich called same-sex marriage a “fundamental violation of our civilization” that illustrates the “rise of paganism” in the United States.

“It’s pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.”

Gingrich also doubled down on earlier statements by saying during the call that “a lot of what surrounds us today is paganism,” drawing parallels to Christianity during ancient Rome. In Gingrich’s mind secularism and paganism seem to be one and the same, a force that joins Islam in a two-pronged “war” against Christianity. You can download and listen to the entire conference call, here.

Newt Gingrich has got your nose.

Newt Gingrich has got your nose. Photo: New York Magazine

I have two responses to Gingrich’s comments, and this conference call. First, for a historian, Gingrich seems to have a shaky grasp on the history of marriage. Marriage has been an ever-shifting thing, practiced in a number of ways, and Christians did not always treat it as a holy condition. I’m certainly happy to agree that Pagans are open towards creating “alternatives” to the modern rigid constructions of this social contract envisioned by conservative Christians, but I part ways with candidate Gingrich on the idea that this is a “violation” of Western civilization. Perhaps he should remember that is was the “pagans” he seems to have no trouble vilifying that invented Western civilization.

My second response has to do with Florida. While it may seem like good politics to construct religious straw men that Christians can alternatively fear and revile, the state is far more diverse than many give it credit for. Florida has thriving Pagan, Hindu, Haitian Vodou, Santeria/Lukumi, and other non-Christian/non-Abrahamic faith communities. What could be beneficial in a primary might come back to harm you in a general election. I doubt that Gingrich much cares about this, but future politicians should. As I said not too long ago at The Washington Post:

America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage.  Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”

Declaring yourself in de facto opposition to America’s religious diversity and secular government should automatically disqualify you from running our executive branch. Our president is the duly elected representative of all its citizens, not just its Christian citizens. Assembling campaign faith coalitions that speak to one very narrow idea of religion alienates instead of unifies, and when that coalition claims that electing anyone outside their boundaries will bring about the end of civilization, it sends a dangerous signal. Americans shouldn’t be worrying about “Pagan behaviors.” Instead, they should worry about the “Christian behaviors” of Newt Gingrich and those like him.