Devil’s Advocate: It’s fine if politicians declare their faith

In Devil's Advocate, Opinion
Courtesy of MCT

Religion and politics. Two words that are almost taboo in the way Americans treat them in public conversation. One of the first things we learn as critically thinking adults is that religion and politics should never be discussed at the dinner table, and certainly not together. Religion and politics should never mix, at least in theory.

But let’s be real for a moment: In practice, religion and politics dance a fine waltz together. By and large, America is a religious, mainly Christian, nation. According to a 2009 survey by Harris Interactive, 82 percent of American adults believe in God. The percentage of American adults who identify specifically as Christian is equally as high: According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s report for 2012, more than 173 million people describe themselves as Christian.

That said, it is not surprising that religious views often creep their way into public policy or opinion. There are certain topics—such as abortion or gay marriage—that may be a little gray for some people trying to keep religion and politics separate.

Religion is evident in American politics. U.S. currency is inscribed with the words “In God we trust.” God is referenced in trial courts and the Bible is still used to swear in witnesses.

Now in a recent controversial move, the Democratic Party has reinstated “God” and Jerusalem into the party language. In an article by CBS News, the party is reported to have recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and put in “God-given” in their wording of a passage about employment.

In the past, the Democratic Party had removed such wording. The U.S., among other nations, keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem because, according to the same article, “East Jerusalem is contested by the Palestinians, who see it as a potential capital for their state.” Jerusalem is a city that holds weight in several religions—hence the fight over it. Therefore, it is a bold political move for the Democrats—and the president—to declare Jerusalem the true capital of Israel.

As for including “God” in party language, is it really that much of a stretch? As stated above, attribution to God is not uncommon in American political language. In fact, many Americans embrace it.

Furthermore, this move comes directly from the president, according to Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in a statement referenced by CBS.

“The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” said Wasserman.

Again, this is not much of a surprise. All 44 presidents have been religious in some form; there has never been and, at least in this climate, will likely never be an atheist or agnostic president. Whether consciously or not, many Americans look for a religious following in their president.

The Democratic Party’s inclusion of religiously-rooted phrases like these may seem surprising at first glance, but in actuality may be more in line with many American viewpoints. Where Republicans have always leaned toward this end of the religious spectrum, Democrats are beginning to catch up.

In any case, this doesn’t present as huge a change as one might originally think: Policies and ideals are still the same in both camps, at least right now. It is simply a formal statement of an informal practice. Since the vast majority of Americans are religious in some sense, these minor statements should not make huge waves.

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