Signs we’re taking ‘no religious test’ seriously–or not seriously enough
J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, strikes a hopeful note in a column this week.
The upcoming election will be an important one and certainly historic in at least one sense. In the 223 years of our republic, this will be the first time that no white Anglo-Saxon Protestant will appear on either ticket of the two major parties for president or vice president. The only professed Protestant on either ticket is President Barack Obama. The other candidates all belong to non-Protestant churches: Gov. Mitt Romney is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan both are Roman Catholic.
We have never had an American president who claimed to be atheist or agnostic, but there have been several whose religious affiliation was not entirely clear and at best professed a generic, civil religiosity.
Walker goes on to list the range of types of Christian who have been President, and the types of Christians and the token unofficial “Jewish seat” on the Supreme Court.
I’ll agree that there is no exercised “religious test” in the sense that one must be a member of a particular denomination–or at least a Protestant. However, there is not a decreasing but an increasing effort by the Religious Right, and an eager response from candidates and both parties, to increase references to religion. Where 30 or 40 years ago a Presidential candidate would rarely mention religious belief at all, even less the farther back we go (candidate Benjamin Franklin was derided as a “damned atheist”), today it’s de riguer for a candidate to sit down with Cokie Roberts for a heart-to-heart about his or her “faith experience”.
That faith experience, I must point out, is almost invariably Christian. In the case of Mitt Romney, it’s taken the form of an effort to redefine Mormonism as being Christian, despite its glaring contradictions of established Christian dogma.
Maybe Walker missed the brouhaha at the Democratic National Convention over “God” not having mention in the platform. It got inserted, even though viewers of the video of the voice vote largely seem to think the “Nays” had it.
Walker does present what I consider to be some positive statistics:
Adding to this texture of pluralism is the recently reported rise in atheism, agnosticism and others who claim to be “spiritual” but do not affiliate with any faith tradition. While the number of Americans who say they are atheists has risen from one percent to five percent over the years, the total number of these so-called “nones” now stands at 19 percent. And, overall in the United States, the percentage of those polled who self-identify as “religious” stands at 60, dropping from 73 percent seven years ago.
A wonderful step in the right direction in my estimation, because those who self-identify as “religious” (as opposed to “spiritual”) seem in my experience most inclined to not just exercise their religion, but force others to do so as well.
Read the rest of Walker’s column HERE.