The 2012 election challenged the religious conscience of America, and America won. Americans nearly elected Mitt Romney, a Mormon, for President and did it without senseless pleading to preserve “our Christian nation”. Somehow, fortunately, the religious fanatics who flooded the airwaves during Obama’s campaign in ‘08 were mute during Romney’s bid for the White House. Although the religious Right was the culprit four years ago and are unlikely to be brash when a Republican is on deck, just the nomination of the Romney/Ryan ticket illustrates the strides made by conservatives. For example, not since 1952, when Ike Eisenhower (Jehovah Witness) and Richard Nixon (Quaker) ran, has the GOP ticket not featured a Protestant. Before that, you would have to go back to 1860, with Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, neither of whom openly belonged to a particular church. The party and faction of America who superciliously prides itself on preserving American Christian Values may finally be evolving.
During the 1960 Presidential election, religious Southerners continually questioned whether John F. Kennedy would be divided by two loyalties, the Catholic Church and the United States of America. He had to constantly remind conservatives that he was the Democratic nominee and not the Catholic nominee. Thankfully, Paul Ryan never needed to make such clarifications. But how much attention should be given to a candidate’s faith? Ideally, none, but it does depends in large on the candidate. For instance, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry both openly stated that their Christian faith steered their governing views. Perry claimed that the voice of God directed his policy decisions and advised him to run for President.
Mitt Romney rarely, if ever, professed Mormonism had such an impact. Rather he simply acknowledged that he was a man of faith. Rarely did his campaign rallies become religious sermons, the way Santorum and Perry’s did. So with little religious skepticism from either side, the Republican ticket was without a Protestant Christian. As demanded in the constitution, America is a proudly secular country. As such, it seems remarkably American to not consider a candidate’s faith.
Unlike the infamous dinner party video, a religious probing of Mitt Romney would not have taught us much about his character or about how he views the American people. Obama, more than anyone, knew better than to use America’s fear of the “other” for political expediency. He never applied the fear-laced Christian rhetoric used against him just four years prior to stir up uncertainty amongst evangelicals. According to the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, Mitt Romney received as much backing from evangelical voters as George W. Bush did in 2004 (79%) and even more support than given to McCain in 2008 (73%).
So, on election night, after the polls had closed and after Karl Rove’s attempt to re-write the laws of addition, the results were clear: Americans chose not to elect Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, but their decision was not skewed by religious fear, hate, or intentional misdirection. America was not afraid to elect a Mormon President or a Catholic Vice-President, instead their decision was based on what it always should be: they preferred the policies supported by President Obama over those held by Mitt Romney. But only time will tell if religious conservatives have finally learned the importance of American secularism.
The 2012 election proved that America can respect the religion of a wealthy, white, male, Republican nominee; but hopefully, the next time a Democrat, or minority, or even a candidate with an unfamiliar name runs for political office, he/she will receive the same respect and dignity with regard to their religious identity that was granted to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. If religion can be taken out of the political equation- as prescribed in our constitution- the American public could focus on real the issue: public policy; not private identity.