Obviously, liberals and progressives are anxious to see religion left out of government, The Constitution proscribes state-sponsored religion, a proscription which began to be violated heavily under George W. Bush and which continues under President Barack Obama, who even established a council full of Christians for the Bush era Faith Based Initiatives.
Now Obama, the great hope of liberalism and progressivism, is adding a Faith Vote Director. His choice for the post, according to Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor, is 23-year-old Michael Wear, raised a Catholic, “who currently serves as executive assistant to the executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.” While perhaps the logical choice given his current role, most of us would prefer to see nothing of the sort.
The problem for all of us is fundamentalist hysteria over the granting of equal rights, per the U.S. Constitution, to everyone. Christianity positions itself as a favored, special, and privileged religion over all others and naturally, it wants it views and beliefs to be favored above all others. Anything any of us do that violates their ideas of morality, is presented as an attack on their religious freedoms. The rest of us have no religious freedoms as far as they are concerned.
Leaving Obama, during a critical re-election campaign, walking a tight-rope.
There was some fear that not only is there is opposition to marriage equality from White Evangelicals but from Black Evangelicals who would normally vote for Obama; outreach to potentially friendly Christians has become an important issue for the White House. The Blaze takes great delight in this possibility, for example, trumpeting the claim that “Obama is already getting push-back from many African American faith leaders who previously supported him.”
But things aren’t as bad as they seem, as headlines are now reporting a few days after the fact. Still, Obama needs that 90% of black votes he got in 2008. Not to worry says Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who writes in HuffPo that “The betting odds are that many of the same black ministers that voice concern in May about gay marriage will be the same ministers in the final run-up days to the election that will be reminding or imploring their congregation to get out and vote, and they will not be telling them to vote for Romney.”
Obama may not be banking on such assurances. An ABC News/Washington Post survey finds that, “54% of black adults said they had a favorable reaction to the president’s announcement. Compare that to the 41% of black voters who supported same-sex marriage in an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this year and last year. Thirty-seven percent of black adults say they had an unfavorable reaction.”
Obama took a big risk in coming out in support of marriage equality despite the growing support for that position according to a recent Gallup Poll. It is possible that Obama is not comforted by these statistics, though it is difficult to imagine the ever-careful president from making a spur-of-the-moment emotional announcement without knowing what sort of trouble he might be walking into. You can bet he knew as well as you and I do what those polls were saying.
The Gallop Poll is not the only authority, of course. Some see things differently as CNN reports and naysayers will undoubtedly seize on these numbers instead:
According to an ABC News/Washington Post survey released Tuesday, 46% of Americans say they had a favorable impression of the president’s announcement, with 47% saying they had an unfavorable response. The poll indicates that 28% felt strongly in favor of the decision, with 38% saying they had a strongly unfavorable reaction.
Too there is the growing awareness that liberals can be religious too. Secularism is not identical with atheism. Secularism recognizes a roll for religion – just that that role does not include government. Yes, most atheists like most gays are undoubtedly Democrats but most Democrats are Christians because despite an evolving religious landscape most Americans are still Christians. And as Obama has shown and as Amy Sullivan points out in the Washington Post, “Obama’s case for same-sex marriage shows that invoking faith isn’t just for conservatives anymore.”
So though atheists and secularists are a growing bloc they are not a powerful enough voice to warrant, say, an “Atheist Vote Director” (never mind a Pagan Vote Director, etc) and a fear of how it might be perceived would no doubt preclude an “Islamic Vote Director”. The very need for Obama to give special attention to Christians demonstrates the degree to which conservatives have succeeded in sowing doubt about Obama’s own faith, that he is a secret Muslim, not an American citizen, that he is some sort of anti-American radical socialist ideologue who needs to be slapped down by God.
As you can see from any right wing blog, the view that your vote can send you to hell is all too prevalent. Liberals have to recognize that when we talk about voting your self-interest some of these people are doing just that: they just have an entirely different concept of self-interest. We think job vs unemployed; they think heaven vs. hell.
The rest of us may throw up our hands in despair (and though I believe in all Gods I’m with the atheists on this) the facts are facts and those adhering to a fact-based universe would do well to heed them. Obama does have a religion problem (as well as and even more critically, a race problem) and we have to recognize, however distasteful, that he needs to address it if we want a sane human being running this country. While a black man can’t do much to reassure racist white evengelicals that he is one of them, or convince them he should be their president rather than their janitor, he can do quite a bit to calm fears that he is not the Christian he says he is.
That he should have to do so puts him in a position familiar to that Thomas Jefferson, who for his efforts on behalf of religious freedom was called an infidel by Evangelicals of his time. The Constitution, Article VI, paragraph 3, the No Religious Test Clause, says religion does not matter. Twenty-first century American politics, like eighteenth century politics, says it does. These are the facts on the ground.
Fundamentalist Christianity has spent 2000 years more or less giving religion a bad name. It is not through giving religion a bad name. Our fundamentalists don’t want that long run to end; they don’t want the intolerance parade to end. The Christian Right is doing all in its power to create a divisive and partisan atmosphere, to use fear and anger the way those with an authoritarian mindset always use fear and anger, to attack the constructed other and to cement their own small-minded patriarchal authority.
Americans must recognize what is happening – a reaction against liberalism by the powers that be, threatened in their previously privileged positions of power, be it economic or religious. Obama certainly knows what he is going up against. These people are wealthy and deeply entrenched and have spent decades and vast sums of money to position themselves. They don’t want to lose now. They came so close under Bush that they can taste it. They can yet control the entire government and impose the theocracy they have so long dreamed of.
Distasteful as the reality is to the rest of us, if Obama needs a Faith Vote Director, I say give him a Faith Vote Director. It is certainly a lesser evil than the alternative: even if it takes us further along a road down which we should not as a nation go, it is an incremental step and not a leap directly into the Dark Ages abyss at the end. One way to look at this is that Obama is a set of breaks; Mitt Romney is a brick resting on the gas pedal. You choose which makes you more comfortable.
Gilgoff relates that “Sources close the White House say the timing was not dictated by the controversy over Obama’s support for same-sex marriage” but the timing argues otherwise, as does the fact that “After Obama announced his support for legalized same-sex marriage, he hosted a conference call with 13 pastors on Wednesday to talk about his views.” And according to the New York Times “About two hours after declaring his support for same-sex marriage last week, President Obama gathered eight or so African-American ministers on a conference call to explain himself.”
An obvious thing to note here is that the religious voting bloc is important, just as is any voting bloc and that Democrats have just become more aware of it. Indicative of this evolution is last year’s hiring of Rev. Derrick Harkins to lead the DNC’s faith outreach efforts. Obama is simply following an established trend, and perhaps demonstrating publicly that as Amy Sullivan wrote, the Bible is not just for Republicans anymore. There has always, after all, been more than one explanation and interpretation of every passage in that book, the Republicans have shown already they prefer the Old Testament to the New, dire threats to what Thomas Jefferson called the sublime words of Jesus himself, the very same words our president turned to when it came time to voice support for an oppressed minority.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.