“It was a trashing not just of our sense of freedom and our sense of right, but also, in some way, a trashing of religion.” So said presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in response to a question about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
It came in an interview with Roman Catholic priest Edward Beck, who also serves as a New York-based religion commentator for CNN.
They talked about his upbringing in a Roman Catholic family and his transition to the Episcopal Church while a student at Oxford University in England; and about abortion, and homosexuality, and prayer, and worship. It was a remarkably frank conversation for a person on the campaign trail.
I hope there are more conversations like this over the next 18 months, and I intend to help make it happen.
So far, 18 persons have announced plans to run for the Democratic nomination for president (or formed exploratory committees). Some of these are well know, like senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and some are unknown, like Tulsi Gabbard, U. S. Representative from Hawaii. But all claim some kind of religious heritage or affiliation.
Sanders’ web site describes him as a secular Jew. Another Jew is on the list, Marianne Williamson, teacher of the popular new age book “A Course in Miracles.”
Five Catholics, two Baptists, and two Episcopalians are on the list of 18, plus a Quaker, a Hindu, and five from some version of what we know as mainline Protestant Christianity. One long shot, Wayne Messam of the metro Miami region, is very active in a Pentecostal congregation.
Cory Booker (Baptist), Elizabeth Warren (Methodist) and Buttigieg have led the way is bringing religion to the fore during these first days of the campaign. For some, this is a switch for Democrats.
Republicans have been known for their religiosity since the founding of the Moral Majority by Rev. Jerry Falwell. Representing white Evangelical Christians, they have constituted the most reliable voting bloc in the Republican network, even supporting the religiously-neutral and morally-compromised Donald Trump.
It is a foregone conclusion that these voters and their fervid support of Trump will continue to be big news as the presidential campaign gathers steam. This will be one half of the story of religion and politics over the next year or so.
But the other half is the religious experiences and values of these 18 or more Democrats as they tussle with one another for first place on the Democratic ticket.
What of their personal religious journey? What person or book or experience or tradition has shaped their spirituality, their values, and their practices? How do they perceive the role that religion needs to play in national life and public policy?
These are my questions and this is my interest. So, for the next year or two, I will turn my Meetinghouse initiative in this direction. I will orient my weekly news summary, my commentaries, and my podcast interviews in this direction.
I hope to interview all of the candidates, asking the questions listed above. I want to interview voters and explore their religious motivations for voting this way or that. I intend to bring scholars into the conversation, asking specialists in religion, culture, and politics to gather and interpret the data for us.
I am looking for partners in this enterprise: media types that can help me with radio, cable, and television; scholarly types that can keep me abreast of the research and its interpretation; religious types that share my curiosity for the political side of this focus on religion and American life; even donor types, that can provide resources to make this happen.
This is the journey before me. I hope you will travel with me, guiding me here and there with tips, introductions, questions, suggestions, and contributions.
It starts here, with this word: Buttigieg. I know what he said, but I have no idea how to pronounce his name! I need help already!!