On Religion and Politics, Unbelievably…
October 26, 2011 23 Comments
Here’s an announcement: politicians aren’t actually religious. They pretend to be because they must. And in some cases, they parrot religiosity quite well. But they don’t do that thing that religious people daily and sincerely do and they don’t believe in a personal God. At best, they’re Deists, like Thomas Jefferson, and therefore talk God-talk well enough.
Accept this. And then move on to the truly critical political proposition that religious orientation is not an issue in the 2012 election. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is as irrelevant as Barack Obama’s suspect Muslim faith. Yes, one is manifest and the other is earnest gossip — but they share a profoundly un-American obsession with the religious orientation of public servants.
Over two hundred years ago, the Founding Fathers quashed discussion of religious orientation as legitimate dialogue in political contests. And they did so wisely and resolutely. In the same clause where they required fealty to the Constitution, they declared any religious test off-limits. The juxtaposition of these two isn’t coincidental.
Article VI, Clause 3, United States Constitution:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
In sum, affirmation of the Constitution is an absolute — and by the way, do this, and then your religious orientation is irrelevant. The United States Constitution is large enough to embrace all religions — but trumps all of them as to loyalty. Affirming it subordinates any religious idiosyncrasies for purposes of public office.
That such a profoundly wise mediation of religion and politics could have been accomplished in the 18th century is another testament to the grandeur of the United States Constitution. From two hundred years ago, we hear this, and we best accede: shut up about Mormonism and Islam.
This discussion is necessary, of course, because, Southern Baptist Pastor Jeffress, supporter of Rick Perry, absurdly declared the Mormon faith a non-Christian “cult.” And progressive blogger Jeffrey Goldberg predicts a leftist gush of anti-Mormonism:
If Romney wins the nomination, we will see a rush of anti-Mormon propaganda — generated by secular liberals, not evangelicals. Anti-Romney leftists, the sort of people who would be loath to utter an unfavorable word about Islamic doctrine, will expend a great deal of energy and money bringing to light the most peculiar aspects of Mormon theology and practice, in an effort to convince evangelicals that the man leading the Republican Party is a harebrained heathen.
Yes, sadly, that’s politics. And our obligation, notwithstanding, is to stay sober. We best honor the Constitution by shutting down even the first hints of religious bigotry in this election.
And Pastor Jeffress is an embarrassment to religion and politics.