As part of its big picture approach to this election, the question Patheos has asked many of us bloggers to noodle this week is, “What’s wrong — and what’s right — with the role of faith in American politics today?” I am, unfortunately, a bearer of bad news on this front.
After writing my new e-book Mitt Romney’s Mormon-Christian Coalition (download that for free here, folks; I did my damndest to make it a brief and entertaining read), I am struck by a divide in American politics that isn’t likely to go away any time soon. A chasm that became noticeable during the George W. Bush years has grown much wider during Barack Obama’s administration. American politics is coming to resemble old-style continental European politics, with both pro- and anti-clerical parties.
The big difference is that the United States has never had nor wanted an established church. And so our political parties are slowly re-sorting themselves along broader lines of the party that’s for a serious and robust role for religion in American life and one that is coming to oppose such a role.
The two greatest examples of this great re-sorting are 1) the fact that God was taken out of and then forced back into the Democratic platform this year over the loud objections of at least a plurality of the delegates; and 2) the fact that the GOP, a party with a Southern evangelical base, nominated a former Mormon bishop and stake president to run for president of the United States.
You can applaud Barack Obama for insisting his party’s platform take some notice of the historically God-fearing character of America. You can applaud Mitt Romney for betting that anti-Mormon prejudice would not be so virulent as to deny him his party’s nomination, and his party’s primary voters for proving him right. But if you are a sober-headed observer of American politics, you dare not lose sight of the darker reality these things signal as well.
Obama had to insist on the shout out to God because his party has become hostile to the Almighty and to religion unless it is a narrowly defined, neutered thing that agrees with the Democratic Party platform on all particulars. In the passage and implementation of Obamacare, the Democrats and the Obama administration have stridently refused to concede any real ground to religious sensibilities or freedom of conscience.
It was in this context that Romney’s win in the primaries happened. Anti-Mormon prejudice has probably lessened among evangelicals over the last few decades, but the relative tolerance of primary voters is not the real issue going into November. The real issue is that many believers and many religious institutions have come to view the whole Obama program as a threat and the Romney-Ryan ticket as the only realistic-though-imperfect weapon they have left to ward it off.
Even if they win, this new politics is a loss for America. Our constitution and bill of rights, our divided legislature, our conflicting branches of government, our broad two-party system — all were meant to keep the stakes of one election from ever getting this high.
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