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When the religious right made religious supremacism and Christian nationalism articles of political faith -- our constitutional doctrines (and the broader culture) supportive of religious pluralism became subject of increasingly aggressive attacks, and society has become deeply divided.  Inevitably in such an environment, faith has become a political football, and the way that has played out reflects deeper trends. We will be surfacing and trying to understand and come to grips with these deeper trends for awhile.

For for now as we all know, the former Baptist minister Mike Huckabee has made his particular faith a centerpiece of his campaign. Mormon Mitt Romney has tried to make faith in general a centerpiece of his campaign -- seeking the support of the religious right -- while avoiding talking about his own Mormon faith. In his big attempted-Kennedyesque speech at the George H.W. Bush Library in Texas, he mentioned the word "Mormon" only once.

The CBS Evening News recently devoted a whole segment to Mitt and Huck's religious war. Huck stooped to direct Mormon-baiting, when he pretended that he didn't know much about it, but coyly asked a reporter whether Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers? (They don't). Romney declared "attacking someone's religion is really going too far."  Huck apologized. Whether he meant it or not, the damage had already been done.

Well, this is what happens when faith becomes a political football.  And for this, we can mostly thank the religious right, whose chickens on the point seem to be coming home to roost as the Huckabee vs. Romney contest has reopened old sores of open religious hostility that may make the uneasy coalition of conservative religious groupings, even less comfortable in the GOP big tent -- which is looking more like the Big Top these days.  

Slate has a good article on the history of  the battle between the Southern Baptist Convention and the Mormons that serves as a backdrop to the broader narrative of the campaign.

The two faiths have struggled with each other for years. Most Americans know little about Mormonism, aside from rumors about the sacred undergarments some Mormons wear. But for the millions who attend Southern Baptist churches, this is hardly a new discussion. For nearly the past 40 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has devoted considerable effort to teaching its members about the dangers of Mormonism. In fact, probably no other organization in the nation has played a bigger role in perpetuating the idea that Mormonism is a cult than the Southern Baptist Convention.

In retrospect, it now seems obvious that a wider clash between the Baptists and the Mormons was inevitable.

When the time comes for Republican Southern Baptists to choose a candidate to back in the primary, they will be thinking as much of Sunday school lessons and church educational programs about Mormonism as they will of competing policy proposals.

Shifting gears now, let's take a look at the interesting -- and I think significant second thoughts of one self-described former member of the religious right. I think this piece by Arkansas political columnist David Sanders is a much more interesting window on some of the transition going on on the religious right right than, for example, the media discovery of comparatively moderate evangelicals who have mostly been there all along.

Coming of age politically in the late 1980s and early 1990s and having been one who identified himself both as conservative and Christian, I easily made the leap and became a self-identified Christian conservative, a political term.

Enamored with the take-America-back-for-Jesus crowd, I forsook the timeless words of more complete conservatives: Edmund Burke, who asserted the importance of the rule of law, tradition and social order, and Russell Kirk, who affirmed divine revelation and the links between property and freedom. Instead, I opted for what was then the modern-day political philosophy offered by Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

The downside wasn't that I became any less conservative, but that I became less Christian. Perhaps it was a personal weakness or a lack of grounding in my faith, but my Christianity during that time became more of an outward expression of political involvement and less about the inner transformation of a life that comes only through self-reflection, prayer and the work of the Almighty.

In my mind God had no use for Democrats, because he was Republican.

In listening to the words of many well-meaning religious-right types, it's hard to distinguish a religious conviction from a policy position or vice versa. Reducing Christianity to an accepted political orthodoxy, which is paraded around during election time, used to whip the faithful into a frenzy. Perpetuated by "leaders" who bargain with candidates and their operatives, promising votes in exchange for access and influence, it cheapens the faith and borders on sacrilege.

I think Sanders puts his finger on the principal problem for anyone who conflates their particular religious or non-religious views with the fortunes of any one candidate or  party. It's an illusion at best. No candidate or party ever perfectly represents one's views. Religio-political partisanship forged in that crucible becomes easily distorted and confused in both directions.

[Crossposted from Talk to Action]

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Wed Dec 26, 2007 at 02:37 PM PST.

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