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.
“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 Cain, Franklin Graham, Rick 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.”