Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The US a Christian Nation?

The strengthening of the relationship between faith and politics, particularly this election season, begs the question, is the US a Christian nation?

The United States of America was built upon a Christian foundation (specifically, a Protestant foundation), serving as a haven for those facing religious persecution in Europe. While religiously intolerant for many years, our founding fathers did not intend to establish this nation as a Christian nation, but rather as a nation for Christians (comparative to other faith traditions, such as the difference between an Islamic State and a nation for Muslims, or a Jewish State and a homeland for the Jewish). While there has historically been great tension in the creation and application of laws and societal discrimination as related to the Christian tradition and its relationship to the multicultural nature of the nation, the accomodationist momentum is great, especially as articulated by the first amendment of our constitution. Moreover, invocations of God in our political structure reflect our founders' individual spiritual natures, and are generally universal and unifying themes that do not inhibit belief or practice of any other faith.

Recent reports of hijab-donning women being denied a seat behind Presidential Democratic nominee Barack Obama at a campaign rally is an example of the strategic demarcation of a community of people, an action that has long played a role in shaping our nation, thanks to our historical amnesia. Recognizing our nation's values and political equalities, Obama apologized to these women: “’The actions of these volunteers were unacceptable and in no way reflect the policy of my campaign,’ he said. ‘I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background.’” Whether this statement reflects a genuine commitment or is an empty campaign promise has yet to be seen, but it is certainly a step in the right direction that aligns our nation's interests and values. The next step would be for the public to respect Obama's background, without, for example, following the fear-mongers who seek to defame him and Muslims around the nation.

As we become a nation that increasingly appreciates multiculturalism and religious pluralism, we must keep in mind that our similarities and universal values allow us to remain united, while respecting and learning from our differences. This requires the recognition, from the parts of the individual and collective, of the importance of political engagement from diverse communities.


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