Michael Ray

Politics and religion in Wisconsin

By - Oct 30th, 2010 04:00 am

Stained glass window from the U.S. Congressional prayer room, courtesy the Office of the U. S. House of Representatives Chaplain

A recent poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly half of those who identify themselves with the Tea Party movement hold similar views to Americans who identify with the Christian Conservative movement.

What that can mean for voters is that some of the campaign literature that ends up on their doorstep is saturated with overtly Christian themes designed to bring faith to the forefront in politics.

Rebecca Kleefisch’s campaign, for example, distributed a flyer that asks voters to pray for her, quotes scripture directly and states that she will make decisions by “relying on the wisdom and faith she has in Jesus.” No mention is made of relying on the law or faith she has in the state constitution, though she does believe in showing love to those “who don’t share our views.”

This kind of rhetoric seems designed to attract one very specific bloc of voters at the risk of alienating others. One wonders what voters would think of a candidate who sent out flyers saying that decisions would be made by “the will of Allah.”

Kleefisch furthered the problem by stating that her priority qualification for a governor is “a Christian man.” Being Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist would apparently disqualify someone from the job, a belief that has been widely criticized by members of other faiths.

So why all the religion? A Trinity College survey found that 76 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christian.  Politicians have been running on religious platforms for years, but in a post 9/11 world, the country has seen a rapid uptick in the political faith machine. The Tea Party movement is only the latest installment.

What makes things different this time around is how bold politicians are able to be. Many Tea Partiers, in fact, consider themselves part of a religious movement. Instead of simply being passionate about politics, voters consider this election a matter of faith. Sarah Palin even told crowds that one of Congress’s top priorities should be praying for divine intervention.

Such a strong adherence to faith, while rallying the base and playing the odds in terms of religious affiliation, though, can present moral quandaries when dealing with hard line issues in a secular, democratic society. For example, many members of the Tea Party and some Republican candidates have taken a strong moral stance against such issues as gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research. And some are bringing it right to the legislative floor.

Earlier this month, State Senate candidate Leah Vukmir drew heat for repeatedly voting against an anti-bullying bill after being contacted by Julaine Appling, an anti-gay leader of the Wisconsin Family Council, about  there being “dangerous” language in the legislation, which Appling also “guaranteed” was “promoted by the pro-gay group GLSEN.”

Talk about religion and politics mixing! Flickr Creative Commons photo by Thomas Guest

More recently, Rebecca Kleefisch drew outrage from the LGBT community and others for saying that gay marriage is like marrying a table or a dog, comments she later apologized for through her running mate, Scott Walker’s, office. She has also drawn criticism for being too pro-life, believing the abortion procedure should never be allowed, even in the case of incest and rape.

In this political environment, however, being too anything doesn’t seem to be hurting the Republican chances at making major gains in the House and the Senate. Tea Party candidates are likely to pick up a number of seats for Republicans and the movement itself appears to be gaining momentum rather than losing steam.

So while the in-your-face with religion campaign might offend some, it’s not going away, because it’s working for candidates.  What direction it will take in the future isn’t written, but in the 2010 election one thing is clear.  Just like George Michael, “You gotta have faith.

Categories: Commentary, Politics

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