Evangelicals crack me up. They really do. I have friends and family who are Evangelical and they say the darnedest things. There may be no two more distant points on the religious spectrum than a Pagan and an Evangelical, particularly when it comes to politics. Right now Evangelicals seem to be in a tizzy over whether or not they can support a *gasp* Mormon for president.
I know this is a big deal to them, because they see Mormons as so theologically different from themselves, even though Mormon values fit right into the Religious Right’s framework. Personally the only thing Romney’s religion has me concerned about more than any other candidate is he might be more likely to place taxes on soda, coffee, tea and alcohol.
Some of the arguments against Romney are similar to those used against JFK, and we found having a Roman Catholic president did not turn the US into a papal state. The whole religious litmus test seems to be based on some vague assumption that past presidents were all of a similar stripe of religious affiliation. Not true at all.
12 of our presidents were Episcopalians, which has always been a denominational minority in the US and seemingly tinged with intellectualism. Among such “American Anglicans” as Washington, Madison, Monroe and both Roosevelt’s do we find some of the most influential presidents in all history. There is nothing similar about a Baptist and Episcopal service, as I learned as a young Baptist girl suddenly confronted with the “strange rituals” of Episcopal worship. Yet, despite religious differences, my staunchly Baptist grandmother adored FDR and didn’t have much use for those Quakers: Hoover and Nixon.
The Presbyterians can boast of Jackson, who was responsible for the Trail of Tears. Ulysses S. Grant was raised Presbyterian, which may or may not account for his role in the Indian Wars, although he became Methodist as an adult, like George W. Bush. Former five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower was raised Jehovah’s Witness, yet converted to the Presbyterian church, which seems to have a tradition of military-minded presidents. Oh wait, but Woodrow Wilson resisted becoming involved in WWI with all his might, and yet was a Presbyterian…
Garfield, LBJ and Reagan were Disciples of Christ, rejecting man-made creeds and offering communion to anyone of any denomination who felt called by Jesus to it.
Andrew Johnson, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln claimed no religious affiliation. Although Jefferson had some interaction with the Episcopal church and flirted with Unitarianism and Deism, Lincoln never attended church services. Like, ever. Yeah, and he’s hardly considered a slacker president.
Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed, Baptists but no Pagans among the presidents. Or, well, we do have a few we could claim by a stretch of logic.
Unitarians joined with the Universalists in 1961 to create the Unitarian Universalist Church we today affectionately call the UU’s. Tucked safely in the inclusive branches of this freethinking denomination lay CUUPS: Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. Formed originally in 1778, it’s one of the oldest denominations founded in the US and ordained women all the way back in 1868. The denomination was founded partly on the teachings of Origen, who was greatly influenced by Plato, Plotinus, Pythagoras, and other Pagan philosophers. He saw scripture as allegory and believed in the end, even demons get to Heaven. Which Presidents were crazy, Pagan-influenced, freethinking and theologically inclusive Unitarians? Just Taft, Fillmore, John Quincy Adams and his dad: John Adams.
Yup, one the most influential Founding Fathers, chief instigator of the Revolution, the guy who helped Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence, nominated Washington to be commander-in-chief, nominated John Marshall to the Supreme Court, helped draft the Massachusetts state constitution, actively engaged in crafting a strong government in those early precarious days under Federalist principals and was known for being a conservative champion of republicanism. When we talk about building a nation, this was the guy with a trowel carefully laying the bricks of our country’s foundation.
If Adams attended service today he’d be surrounded by values very familiar to him, and might be sharing the pew with a Pagan or two.
Does religion matter when it comes to electing a president? I think values matter more, and in Adams case values were key. He wasn’t a perfect president but he did pretty darn good when you consider what he was up against. He was a shining example of what America should be, and he wouldn’t get elected today. In a country founded on the separation of church and state, John Adams is too theologically liberal for the Oval Office.