Not long ago, Religious Right leaders insisted that it was un-American and borderline unconstitutional to mention a public figure’s religious beliefs, especially if those were Christian beliefs. Actually, they went well beyond that, regularly manufacturing phony controversies and insisting that any criticism of a judicial nominee’s views on issues such as abortion or mention of the “deeply-held personal beliefs” that often colored such views was itself a sign of rabid anti-Catholic and anti-Christian bigotry. They routinely pulled out religious persecution claims that had nothing to do with religion, claiming that opposition to a nominee’s views on the Constitution or civil rights record was an effort by liberals to force Christians to choose between their faith and their public service. Any questioning of, or reference to, religion was off limits!
What a difference an election year makes—especially an election year with progressive politicians speaking openly about their own faith. Incidentally, back in January, Richard Land, defending Huckabee against critics of his stated religious positions on the role of women, stated:
How his faith has molded his character, life, and vision is fair game in political debate. The precise theological affirmations of his personal faith, however, are not proper subjects for debate, analysis, or scrutiny as a candidate in a presidential campaign.
Now Religious Right leaders insist it’s not only legitimate, but necessary, to question the legitimacy of Senator Barack Obama’s Christian beliefs and interrogate the fine points of his theology and interpretation of biblical passages. As Right Wing Watch has noted, that kind of attack on the faith of Democrats and liberals has been waged throughout the campaign by more fringe elements of the Right, but James Dobson’s tirade against Obama this week has opened the floodgates. Even Mitt Romney, whose campaign was derailed in part by Mike Huckabee’s campaigning as the “right” kind of Christian, didn’t face the overt attacks on his faith that are now being launched on Barack Obama.
Some activists began attacking Obama’s faith a few months ago after he told an interviewer that he believes Christian faith is not the only path to heaven.
What excellent timing, then, that Pew released this week the latest findings of its US Religious Landscape project, indicating that most Americans, including 57 percent of evangelical Christians believe that “Many religions can lead to eternal life.” For Catholics, the figure was 79 percent, for mainline Protestants, 83 percent, and for Americans as a whole 70 percent.
The frantic and blustery attacks on Obama’s faith by Dobson, Tony Perkins, and other Religious Right leaders comes across as an increasingly desperate effort to prevent the ongoing shift of evangelical Christians away from the narrow abortion-and-gays focus that Religious Right leaders have demanded be the dominant priority for Christian engagement in the public arena. There has been plenty of evidence for the past couple of years that most Christians, including most evangelicals, don’t share Dobson and Perkins’ political priorities. And now, as those leaders rant and rave about the supposed deficiencies in Barack Obama’s orthodoxy, Pew has made clear that they can’t even stake a claim to faithfully representing the Christianity of most American evangelicals.