As the contest in the US for the Republican and Democratic nominations begins to shape up many of the presidential wannabes will simply not be able to resist playing the ‘faith card’ at some stage during the campaign.
Candidates so far look as though they will fall into one of three categories:
1. I am a Christian so please give me your vote. I am a good guy/girl, I go to Church regularly and I am a person of simple faith just like you. You are a Christian and I am Christian – that’s all you need worry about.
2. I am Christian and I have a strong moral compass (particularly when it comes to ‘family’ values) so please give me your vote. Not only am I a Christian I am also a married Christian with a family. I think family life is the backbone of America; it is what makes our nation a great nation and we need to protect and promote the traditional family unit at all costs.
3. I am Christian and I have a strong moral compass (particularly when it comes to ‘family values) and I will keep religion out of politics so please give me your vote. I am a Christian but I will not let my Christian values get in the way of US policy in Iraq or Iran, or how, as a nation we deal with asylum seekers or with third world debt. I am a person of deep faith but it will never ‘get in the way’ of me doing a good job for my country.
Let’s be honest here. Category 1 is just silly – you might as well be saying ‘I voted for Leona on the X Factor and so did you, please vote for me.’ Category 2 is slightly more sinister – ‘I am normal, just like you are’ so vote for me. But for me category 3 is the most disappointing and, probably, the most prevalent. No candidate is going to stand on a platform opposing the death penalty or in favour of a fairer distribution of wealth on grounds of religious conviction. One or two of the more progressive candidates (Obama, Edwards, Clinton) may well talk about the primacy of the values of liberty, security and prosperity and even stress the need for policies that promote greater equity, stronger communities and environmental sustainability. However, if and when they do raise such issues you can almost guarantee that they will do so in the most vague and general of ways.
Does it matter? Modern Christianity – particularly in the US – is in danger of becoming a privatised, pietised and politically compliant servant of the status-quo. As we get closer to the ‘official’ start of the presidential primaries there is a real danger that Christianity will again become the handmaiden of the conservative and increasingly reactionary movement that has for so long dominated right of centre thinking in US politics. Such a prospect should worry us all.