Pray, Do Tell? What Would the Founding Fathers Say?

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

On April 29th I was happily making dinner after studying French for an upcoming trip abroad.  I was happy, ignoring the next ordeal: booking a hotel room in a place I have never been to before.  I was relaxed, naming things in French in my kitchen and there was no wine, I forgot to buy it earlier.  Then – between le serviette and l’acete – I heard CNN in the other room.  Yes.  Wolf Blitzer is still on – even though I thought I would impeach it from my cable subscription after Pennsylvania’s Primary.  Well, guess what Obama did?  He finally denounced his ex-pastor.  No, totally not kidding!  He finally denounced him!  Weeks after he should have cut ties with his ex-pastor.  The term itself I have ridiculed and laughed at – since it sounds as if they were dating.  To summarize his words – words that he appeared to stumble over – he claimed that the Rev. Wright’s viewpoints were not the viewpoints of Senator Obama and his campaign.

            Really?  Shouldn’t he have taken this action after we began to hear Rev. Wright’s rather radical or (to use his adjective from a recent CNN broadcast of him in Washington DC) bombastic messages delivered from the pulpit?  I won’t go into them point per point but for whatever reason they came into the public forum.  Many of Wright’s statements have been rather…disconcerting. Why has Senator Obama decided to denounce the Reverend now?  Could it be that it is because he is accused of insulting small-town America, trailing Hillary by only ten points in North Carolina and failing to connect with working-class America? 

When I messaged a pro-Hillary friend about it I opened up that box marked with Pandora’s monogram.  (Way to revamp a cliché, huh?)  He said: “What’s it matter?  Why should a candidate be associated with his minister and church?”

            I agreed, despite being in the Hillary camp.  Let this not be misinterpreted as a pro-Obama statement as much as a desire to mingle politics and religion.  No, instead I wish to un-mingle politics and religion.  I have a very clear idea that Religion – with perhaps the exception of the Ten Commandments as being an excepted, common Western Ethical Code – must be totally absent from political thought.  Understand me: I do not mean we should have a copy of what Moses brought down from that Mountain in courtrooms and the like.  A total separation between Church and State just makes sense to me.  Then again I was dragged away from a conversation on this subject with an eighty-year-old Nun at a family party this year. 

I am not letting Obama off the hook about his late-denouncement of his ex-pastor but I started to think about my friend’s words a bit.  “Why SHOULD a candidate be associated with his RELIGION?”  Why should this even be an issue?  Aren’t we a country founded by people that subscribed to Deist Philosophies?  Didn’t Benjamin Franklin prescribe religion as a general Ethical Code yet still something that should be separate from government?  Shouldn’t I have just ignored the minister and his statements?  Shouldn’t the country have ignored them too?  Then I thought back to the times I have rolled my eyes over these candidates talking about religion and faith on television and in the press. 
Why do we care?  It’s simple really: Americans believe in the separation of Church and State in that we do not and will not have a state religion imposed on us.  No Church of the United States.  No Baptist Church of Georgia, Catholic Church of Maryland, nor Society of Friends of Pennsylvania.  Yet, Americans still love to hear her leaders talk about religion and faith when they are on the campaign trail.  In contrast to the current president that talks about faith but is most likely sleeping in on Sunday.  Americans love to see their politicians visit injured soldiers, sick children and low-income housing developments to represent their commitment to social concerns.  However, despite this Sacred Separation, Americans love to see our leaders exiting Church after Easter Services and lighting Christmas Trees.  The country supposedly loves to hear how their faith is a ‘backbone,’ a ‘reality’ that helps them.  Clearly there are parts of the country that feel this so-called commitment to faith will allow them to pontificate, not only govern.

            Well, I find this all to be complete crap and you should too!  There…I said it.  There are many ways I could go with this topic in terms of reaching a conclusion.  However as I do not want to offend anyone’s religious or non-religious beliefs I will be very careful in my words.  Candidates talk about their faith as a means of appealing to the Religious Right, a demographic that has repeatedly mounted campaigns to reinstate a societal morality that has really never existed.  These are the same people that may have feared Romney and his five sons because they are Mormon, assume that Barack Obama is a Muslim-in-Christain’s-Clothing and fear Hillary because she is an independent pro-choice woman.  Of course they love pro-war McCain, just don’t remind the GOP Catholic voters he has garnered about his divorce and nearly instantaneous marriage to his current spouse, Cindy Hensely McCain.  (Hush, don’t tell Sister Marie Augusta!)

            I just assume as I have spent my life as a Northeasterner that everyone I meet is a liberal Democrat.  A Democrat raised in Philadelphia where we went so far against the idea of an official religion that William Penn did not institute one and allowed everyone to worship here.  Where on the Eve of the Revolution The Anglican Church officially became The Episcopalian Church, not to be dictated by the King of England.  Pray do tell?  What would the Founding Fathers say about bringing a man’s religion so clearly into the public eye that he has to denounce his minister?  His ex-pastor at that! 

Although I do see a whole line of ex-pastor greeting cards!  “Happy Birthday Reverend! Sorry I became a [enter religion/congregation of choice].”  What do you think?  Regardless, what I hope to express here is that someday we will be a nation mature enough, pluralistic enough and free enough to not let religion interfere with politics.  Except of course the White House Easter Egg Hunt because it’s always fun to see what God-awful pastel suit the First Lady, or Madame President, will endure for Christendom’s watching eyes.

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