Christianity and Politics in the US – what was really going on during the presidential election?

I can barely believe that it’s already three weeks since we found out that Barack Obama had won the US presidential election.  Following the race from a distance I frequently struggled to get my head round the way that some Christians were endorsing one candidate over the other and also making sense of what many Christians considered to be the most important issues during the campaign.  I was therefore pleased when Jessica McMann who lives in the US offered to give her perspective as an American Christian on the relationship between Christianity and politics during the election.  It’s an enlightening read:

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Before I say anything on this subject, I want to emphasize that I’m merely one American citizen giving my opinion on a matter that’s vastly more complex and nuanced than can be articulated in a single blog post. Religion—and particularly the role of Christianity in US politics and governance—is often the point of sensitive and heated debates. This perspective on the topic is solely my own, though I will add that I have lived in a part of the US with a demographic made up primarily of fundamentalist Christian (and socially/politically conservative) citizens, and I’m a Christian myself, so I speak with a great deal of experience in the matter.

I’d like to sidestep some of the political issues that dominated the 2012 election, such as those pertaining to unemployment and the state of US economy. Most reports indicated that Americans were most concerned about the state of the economy in the months leading up to the election, but I feel like there are other topics worth talking about regarding religion and politics. Specifically I’d like to talk about social issues, healthcare, and smaller government, as these tend to be the hot-button issues among American Christians, and particularly the more conservative among them.

The Key Social Issues at Stake

The key social issues among the religious Right in America tend to be abortion, contraception, gay marriage, “the war on drugs,” and evolution. In recent years prominent religious figures and conservative Republican politicians have been nearly unilateral in their opposition to all of these issues. Many of the opposition against these issues stems from Biblical teachings or traditional Judeo-Christian values that religious conservatives feel are threatened.

For example, some Catholics oppose openness to social issues like contraception, abortion, and gay marriage because they’re opposed by the Vatican. In my experience, it seems like Christian fundamentalists are more likely to cite the Bible in opposition to such social issues like gay marriage and evolution; claiming that the teachings of the book are enough to extinguish any debate on the topics.

Radical Right Conservatism and “Family Values”

Many religious conservatives will view these issues as an “attack on traditional family values.” That’s because the traditional family values of this demographic are those of a nuclear family— the model of ideal living in America starting after World War II and still prominent in many aspects of American life today. Religious conservatives oppose things like gay marriage, teachings about evolution, increasing the role of the federal government, precisely because they call into question a way of living that has become so enshrined in American culture.

In other words, it’s unnerving for many religious conservatives to imagine any way of life other than that promoted since the Baby Boomer generation. The idea of two men living together, raising a family is simply beyond their understanding. What’s more, they see it as a threat to the very social fabric of the country. What if women are allowed unlimited access to birth control; if a same-sex couple is allowed to marry; if healthcare becomes available to all people who need it? These are questions whose answers the radical right considers in the most extreme sense. The changing demographic and sociological landscape of America has forever shifted away from the predominantly white and male culture that had so long defined the country. The despair over that reality is what fuels much of the conservative rhetoric that Americans must “take back” or “save” the country.

Vilification of Democrats and Liberals

In such a politically sensitive social climate, a blame game is inevitable. Conservative Republicans and radical religious figures are quick to blame Democrats and/or the despised “liberals” for all the perceived faults that plague the country. Conservative Republicans and conservative Christians often blame Democrats as the entitlement party, one that gives free money and benefits to demographics who don’t really need them. This might partially explain the reason for Mitt Romney’s infamous 47% remarks, or the more recent remarks he made about Obama’s “gifts” to the electorate.

But the Right’s criticism and vilification of Democrats and liberals has many facets. If Conservative Republicans can be caricatured as white religious conservative men who fear societal change, then Liberal Democrats—in the eyes of many conservatives—are the listless, godless, entitlement party that condones sinful premarital sex, homosexual deviancy, and kowtows to other nations in a direct acquiescence of American superiority. In the eyes of many conservatives, liberals have no morals and even fewer reasons to care about good, Christian values. I cautiously encourage readers to check out any of the wildly popular conservative sites like World Net Daily or Town Hall to get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

The Growing Progressive Stance among Younger Christians

The near universal resistance to these social issues among the most vocal conservative critics belies the diversity among American Christians. It’s tragically underreported truth that American Christians are not monolithic in their political leanings, not by a long shot. There are many Christians in American who are willing to have dynamic conversations about key social issues, and many of them are more progressive than people give them credit for being. It’s just that the most ardent Christian conservatives tend to attract the most attention in the US, and sometimes these demagogues able to leverage that attention into political theatre.

It’s important to note that while Mitt Romney won the majority of the vote among Christian conservatives in the 2012 election, not all Christians voted for the Republican candidate. The vision promulgated by the Religious Right that was so successful throughout the late 1980’s and well into the 2000’s seems to be losing support now. Fewer Americans subscribe to the radical ideologies put forth by the Religious Right, and the Republican Party is struggling to come to grips with that reality as they continue to lose elections.

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Jessica McMann is a freelance writer trying to change the world one step at a time through blogging.  Find some of her work over at christiancolleges.com.  Jessica welcomes any and all comments!

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Categories: Elections, Faith in society, President Obama

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15 replies

  1. Disappointing article. The author gives absolutely no biblical evidence for why conservative American Christians are wrong to oppose gay marriage, abortion etc. Surely when the bible is so abundantly clear on these social issues, the burden of proof is on the liberal to prove that the bible is ok with gay marriage, abortion etc. The article just has a distasteful undertone of criticism towards biblically consistent, theologocially sound conservatives and lacks substantive content for what i assume is her view that the Democrats are more in tune with Christian social values.

    • I don’t think Jessica is saying that American Christians are wrong to oppose gay marriage and abortion, rather it’s how you deal with the proportion of the population who think these are a good thing. Telling a non-Christian that gay marriage is wrong because the Bible says so is going to have limited impact if they don’t think the Bible has any value. From the tone of the article, I get the impression Jessica has tried to paint a picture of the state of play in the US without trying to make too many judgmental remarks. If you read it in this way it makes more sense.

  2. I find it fascinating that she was able to write so much and yet say absolutely nothing. She takes no stance, she barely even reports facts. She just talks in circles about how the “radical religious Right” is afraid of liberals. I find the term radical to be extremely biased since it is only applied to one side of the equation. I don’t know what the point of this blog post is other than to casually paint a poor image of Republicans while not directly confronting her problems with them as a party. Unfortunate and disappointing.

  3. The only thing “enlightening” about it (and perhaps it is different for you since you are a member of a different country and political system) is that it is another example of the lowering standards in American Christianity. There is nothing wrong with open dialogue with those who oppose your views–in fact it is vital to maintaining relevance and intelligence–but one cannot say that it is okay to support anti-Biblical principles and policies just because the majority now does, certainly not because the youth now does so. People today are so consumed with what youth and young adults are doing. They are forgetting the wisdom that comes with age and experience. The young are easy to fool with utopian ideas because they have not lived long enough to see that they don’t work in actuality. The only way to have a productive society is to remain solid on the absolutes laid out by the God Who created them. You cannot bend truth without breaking yourself.

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree that a country loses out when it strays from biblical truths and that Christians should be looking to uphold these. You have to bare in mind that those of us in the UK have to rely on our media to paint a picture of what is going on in the US that often doesn’t tell us the whole story, so it’s helpful when we hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

      My question is whether it’s possible to be anti-abortion or gay marriage and vote for the Democrats or is this just not compatible in many peoples’ eyes? Whilst the Democrats certainly have their faults, over here in ther UK we don’t tend to hear Christian figures addressing failings in the Republican party and were quite surprised to see the issue of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism being apparently swept under the carpet by some.

      • Honestly, this was one of the most disheartening races for evangelicals. It was very much a case of choosing between the “lesser of two evils” in many people’s eyes, including my own. I do not personally agree with Mormonism as a Christian denomination, although I am friends with several and we discuss our differences and similarities peacefully. I do not necessarily agree with sweeping Romney’s Mormonism under the rug, but at least his moral base is closer to that of evangelical Christianity than President Obama’s is.
        As to whether or not one can be anti-abortion or anti-gay marriage and vote Democrat, I don’t see how one can. It is a complete contradiction. Ever since the Vietnam War/Civil Rights era, the Democratic platform has been based almost entirely on social reform in one way or another. Usually these reforms are bringing minorities to the fore and granting them “equal” rights; however, it is usually more about granting them extra or superceding rights in the name political correctness or restitution, much as has been done for the Native Americans (another subject altogether that is too deep to broach here).
        The real basis of the Democratic platform is actually the philosophical construct of postmodernism: everything is relative. Democrats argue against Republicans for being too rigid, too absolute, too “close-minded”. When one examines their ideology, it falls apart. By arguing that “what’s right for you is not right for me” in the realm of morality, they undermine not only the underpinnings of our political process and prinicples of law and labor, they undermine common sense itself and self-destruct their own argument. If there are no absolutes, then the statement that says so must also be relative and therefore there must be some absolute, rendering the original statement untrue.
        Democrats are often seen as more compassionate to the “little guy” and “avergae Joe,” which has been their strength over the years. They argue for freedom, choice, and change without realizing that what they are systematically building is a construct in which by trying to give everyone everything that they want, they will eventually take from us the very things that they claim to bring to us.
        What won Obama’s second term, in large part, was the Hispanic vote. They are the fastest-growing demographic in the country. Most nationalities of Hispanics voted for Obama, excepting the Cuban population. Cubans come from a socialistic country and know the damage it does to a nation, so they tend to vote Republican to maintain capitalism. What happens over the next 4-8 years will likely determine the political future of America permanently.
        While I am displeased with the election results, I trust in God’s perfect will and timing, and I personally believe this is really just a stepping stone towards the end times. I will not go so far as to claim that Obama is the anti-Christ or buy into any other sensationalism. But the rate at which society is wholeheartedly consuming deception and tasting it as hope is alarming to say the least.

  4. It is my belief that presidents, liberal and conservatives, are handed an agenda. The both work for the same people. The only difference in conservatives and liberals is “who can get the bosses agenda done more efficiently.” The sad thing is that most Americans can’t see this fact are lullaby’d by the rhetoric of their political preferences. Liberals seem compationate on the surface but underneath, they are playing a major role in taking away civil liberties, implementing class warfare via Weed and Seed type of programs..etc. Conservatives pretend to be pious and family oriented on the surface. They are the same ones caught in gay relationships, using illegal drugs and infidelity. Amazingly, the same ones caught in the act are able to point the finger as if nothing ever happened.

    This isn’t true for all liberals nor all conservatives. But you have to ask yourself; “who are these people really working for?”

    As some have implied above, Yahuah is the only solution. That’s my vote.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-book-of-enoch/id325246352

  5. Thanks for this informative rather balanced discussion – but at the same time as your email notification came in I had another about a painting that alludes to Obama in simlilar vein to crucified Christ! ( http://www.examiner.com/article/painting-depicts-barack-obama-as-crucified-jesus-christ) YUK! I recall allusions as well as images of him as a saviour after his inauguration.
    All this is not only blasphemous but also indicative of a serious problem in American mindsets.

  6. I enjoyed the article. It seemed like Jessica was trying to explain what’s going on in the US in terms of the intersection of Christianity and politics. I think that this article would be a great primer for those outside the US to understand what’s going on here.

    I would just add that, as someone who used to identify as a conservative Christian, I really do think that abortion and same-sex marriage are THE two defining issues. The others that Jessica mentions have some importance, but nowhere near the importance of these two issues. On top of that, I was taught, explicitly and implicitly that abortion was the number one issue. For a long time I voted based off of that single issue.

  7. Sorry, Gillan. I agree with ‘becomingellipsismark’. This was a disappointing article that used terms like ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘extreme’ without defining them. It also suggested that Christians vote Republican unthinkingly, whereas Christians who vote democrat are open to dialogue. As ‘becomingellipsismark’ shows, some who vote Republican were weighing up the lesser of evils.

    It sums up for me the disappointment that I felt in Christians across the water. For those who voted Democrat, their attitude seemed to be ‘we’re offended that prominent Christian leaders are saying that you’re not a good Christian if you don’t vote Republican’, ‘we’re embarrassed by the link that’s been forged between Republicanism and Christianity and we think it’s putting people off Christianity’, ‘we’d rather just ignore abortion and gay marriage because there’s much more to the gospel and it makes us look bad’.

    When you questioned them about whether there might be any kind of problem with Christians just ignoring these issues they had some fairly intelligent things to say, like ‘it seems that the Republicans are just using this issue to win elections, we don’t think they’re going to do anything about abortion.’ Fair enough – but then why didn’t you say that in the first place? And what’s you’re plan – to carry on sweeping abortion and its destructive effects on society under the carpet? Where is this dialogue? Where is this alternative positive Christian biblical message? I’m not a huge Republican fan, and I’m not sure I could have brought myself to vote for them, but it seems that Christian Democrats are just reacting against the reactionaries.

    • I’m also concerned that’s it’s based in an idea that if the younger generation of Christians don’t do anything to upset people then people will like us and let us follow our conscience on other issues. I’m afraid this is just willful blindness to the very radical agenda of liberal humanists that is taking over the Western world. It may be couched in the language of compassion and tolerance, but it will take no prisoners. It has no respect for the beliefs or conscience of those who stand in it’s way, which it sees as stubborn, ignorant prejudice. I too was once fooled by the language of tolerance, but it was my atheist brother who pointed this out to me. These people are fanatics. They have complete, unquestioning faith in their own vision of the world. They have complete faith that they can bring about a better world through abortion, contraception and technological ways of producing children. This women talks about dialogue. They are NOT interested in dialogue.

      I should add, Gillan, that I really appreciate your blog and what you do here. I just think this particular post falls below your normal high standards of analysis.

      • Thank you Liz for your honest remarks. I do agree with pretty much everything you’ve said here. One of the things I’ve wanted to do with my blog is offer others the opportunity to give their point of view and so when Jessica asked if she could write an article, I agreed.

        No matter how hard I’ve tried I find it very difficult to get my head round American politics and how American Christians view democracy. I am very much in agreement with the Republican view on abortion, but struggle with their stance on healthcare and gun laws for example. I hear a lot from American Christians on abortion and gay marriage, which is good, but constantly find it troubling that other areas that I would expect Christians to have strong views seemingly being ignored.

        Allowing Jessica to give her first hand experiences an airing gives this more authenticity than I could bring. These are her choices of words, not mine. I probably would not have written this piece using the same wording in places, but I didn’t want to edit her article and censor it. In the process it has given us a chance to argue over these points and thrash them out a bit.

        I hope this clarifies things a bit. I very much appreciate your comments and am glad you felt you were able to challenge me on this. Please continue to do so!

        • It was nice of Jessica to give us an overview. I think she just maybe dumbed it down a bit too much! Never mind. It’s difficult to gauge how much a far away audience is going to understand.

        • Once again I think cultural differences have caused this as you say. I’m not completely sure that over here we interpret words such as ‘fundamentalist’ in exactly the same way as Americans might. It would be a challenge to describe the British system to an American audience, so you have to give her credit for giving it a go.

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