A new religious reformation
By Paul Moomjean 08/30/2012
For the first time in recent memory, the president of the United States will be decided without a “traditional” protestant Christian on either major political party on the ticket. It wasn’t always like this, of course. While our country was started by Bible-reading deists and Christians, though nontraditional within the mainstream of protestant Christianity by today’s standards, the founding fathers were a mixed group of Protestants, mostly coming out of the Church of England, but also a smattering of Congregationalists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed as well as Deists and a couple of Roman Catholics.
Though there were definitely “Christian” presidents like Abraham Lincoln, who attended the Presbyterian Church as president but never joined the church, the founding fathers truly wanted Americans to feel free to be president without passing some religious test. But something funny happened on the way to the White House. Somewhere around the early 1900s one aspect important to the American people has been the faith of any and all presidential candidates. While many have mocked the American people for caring about religious affiliation (Bill Maher — cough, cough), we’ve appeared to reach a new age of progressiveness within American politics, as none of the four major players fall into recent historical norms. This development is good for our country and good for religion in general.
In the 1960s, America elected John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, despite fear that he would be controlled by the Pope. Kennedy, in 1960, said the following words: “I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish — where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” I agree.
Today, America has a chance to vote for a Mormon/Catholic ticket or a United Church of Christ/Catholic ticket. For those illiterate in religious differences, this is actually a big deal. To have a moderate Mormon like Mitt Romney teamed with a conservative Catholic like Paul Ryan is the definition of irony. Mormons are traditionally the GOP’s most conservative base. They were responsible for Prop. 8 in California, and Utah is almost a conservative theocracy with its stance on vices (drinking, gambling, etc). Catholics have traditionally been more liberal economically, with a greater desire to promote “social justice” through their presence. For the Catholic to be the more conservative member of the ticket shows how even Mormonism can have its own internal reformation.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are running a president with a very liberal theology based in black liberation, if you take the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons at Chicago Trinity United Church of Christ seriously. Obama has sometimes mocked the Old Testament when asked if the Bible should be used for laying out and deciding legislation, and his flip-flop on gay marriage has sparked newfound hostility toward the man by black ministers across the country. Joe Biden, meanwhile, might be the most liberal Catholic to be in the White House. He’s the one responsible for Obama’s gay marriage flip-flop, and he’s a paradoxical oxymoron by being a pro-choice Catholic. Back in 2008, I remember reading commentaries wondering if he could even take Holy Communion, holding his liberal views.
Despite the controversy, these varied men from varied faiths are showcasing the power of American idealism. Name another country in the world where such varied degrees of the same faith, all claiming to worship the same God, could all be standing together asking to lead without fear of a riot or bomb going off immediately before or after. This is 21st century America’s gift to the world, a new religious reformation.
With that said, Ventura County will be having a treat on Sept. 11 in the Conejo Valley, as my hero Dennis Prager, a conservative Jew and popular radio talk-show host, will be speaking on religious freedom at St. Paschal Baylon Church in Thousand Oaks at 7:30 p.m.
Let’s keep this religious freedom train going and make it our goal this election season to have a civil conversation on what we believe, both politically and spiritually.