Religion, Politics, What’s the Difference?

After having spent way too much time in his first term fighting off accusations that he isn’t an American, recent comments by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leave President Obama on the defensive over his Christianity. Is it even a fight worth having?

According to the Washington Post, in an interview at the JW Marriot Hotel in Washington, Governor Walker said, “I don’t know,” when asked whether he believes President Obama is a Christian. Walker couldn’t answer because, as he put it, “I’ve never asked him that.” Walker’s comments came shortly after his attendance at a now infamous dinner, where former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said he was not sure whether or not President Obama loves America.

While personal attacks on political figures are nothing new, what kind of religious decisions has the President made recently for his faith to come under scrutiny? If Governor Walker fundamentally disagrees with President Obama’s policy decisions or leadership styles, why can he not at least concede that Obama is a Christian who loves America?

Religious grandstanding in politics is continuously showing itself as an ugly tool – tying religion to political ideology and ideology to religion – and it’s coming from both sides of the aisle. According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 57percent of Republicans support establishing Christianity as the national religion of the United States, 13 percent are not sure and only 30 percent oppose it (perhaps those thirty were the ones to remember the first amendment).

Meanwhile, according to a June 2014 interview with the New York Times, former Secretary of State and all-but-confirmed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told interviewers the one book that made her who she is today would have to be the Bible.

“At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking,” Clinton said. “I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.”

In the same interview, Clinton discusses her most valued authors, books on political systems and the financial crisis, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to a political plug for Christianity. Unfortunately for Clinton, it appears predictable, and plays into the religious whitewashing that enables speculators to bad-talk the president for not marching down to church every Sunday or refusing to condemn the entirety of Islam.

Is Clinton really going to find progressive stances on ground breaking political issues such as critical race and trans policy, sexual violence and women’s rights in America through the Bible? This is the same book that still seems to keep Republican politicians, such as Governor Walker, lagging on modern acceptances of evolution and equal rights for same-sex couples.

So the question begs to be asked: why all the fanfare over religion? Isn’t it about time for America to collectively tell politicians they’re allowed to worship whatever they want, and to start focusing on policy discussion that doesn’t divide groups of people and political ideologies along religious guidelines?

 

In the case of President Obama, gratuitous biblical references and hundreds of “God Bless America” salutations should be enough to confirm his Christianity to the public. Nevertheless, President Obama has faced extreme religious speculation, whether it’s over how often he attends Christian mass or whether or not he chooses to refer to ISIS as an “Islamic terrorist group.”

 

What matters most when it comes to religion and politics is really that religion shouldn’t matter at all. Questioning or insisting on whether or not America’s first black president abides by the white patriarchal religious requirements of the forty-two who came before him simply isn’t necessary, nor is it appropriate speculation for the Office of the President.

 

America, one day, may very well have a Muslim, Scientologist, Jewish, Hindu, Shinto or atheist president. There are bigger things to worry about than religion, and we will be a better nation when religion stops being part of the political equation of leadership.

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