A dip into an older book of mine for a Sunday school lesson last week led me to read about anti-Clinton sentiments about a dozen years ago (just short of the 2008 presidential primaries). Here are the first two paragraphs from A Secular Faith:
For many devout American Christians, the thought of the president of the United States pausing during a time of national peril or uncertainty to pray to the god of the universe is a comforting one. This was certainly the impression I took away from a recent summer seminar at an prominent American university where scholars had convened to discuss the American founding and legal barriers to religious involvement in the political process. The idea of a president looking for divine assistance appeared to most of those assembled as at least innocent if not becoming. If God doesn’t exist, prayer certainly couldn’t hurt. But if divine assistance was available to the petitioner, wasn’t it better for the most powerful man in the free world to acknowledge his dependence upon powers mightier than his rather than proudly thinking he could manage on his own? In fact, wasn’t this the sort of activity in which a long line of reverential presidents engaged, from the Father of the country to honest Abe?
Since most of the academics in the room were conservative of some stripe, the thought experiment immediately conjured up images of the current occupant of the Oval Office, George W. Bush, whose invocation of divine blessing and acknowledgment of his own faith has appealed to many American Christians who view secularization as one of the chief threats to the well-being of the nation. But complications ensued when this group of conservatives considered the hypothetical of someone like Hillary Rodham Clinton offering a prayer for help in her conduct as the chief executive of the United States. At this point, the image turned from consoling to annoying, even alarming. Questions about her sincerity, her comprehension of the proper matters for which to pray, her willingness to follow a wise course of action irrespective of any answer to her prayer — all these came to mind. And of course, the second version of this thought experiment posed the inconsistency that so often accompanies the way Americans mix Christianity and politics. Just as the thought of Clinton beseeching divine favor drives conservatives crazy, the thought of Bush doing so is equally infuriating to liberals and Democrats. The problem, as American history shows, is that the party in power rarely sees itself through its opponents’ eyes; it doesn’t consider that its appeal to divinity might not only look self-serving but also make self-delusion more likely.
Notice, this observation came after going to a conference of evangelical academics — PROFESSORS! — where support for Bush was strong and the same for Clinton was unthinkable. These comments were also commonplace when I wrote them in 2005 and posed little difficulty to the secular Jewish-American editor who was publishing this book. In other words, few evangelicals in 2005 were horrified to think that practically all born-again Protestants would vote for the Republican presidential nominee. Nor was a publisher, who has likely voted Democrat his whole life, outraged to read that evangelicals did not trust Clinton.
So why all the fuss about the 81% who didn’t vote for Hillary in 2016?