2012 election

Top 10 Stories of 2012

Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

The Nuns on the Bus come home to Washington, D.C. Photo by Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

WASHINGTON — From the nuns to the “nones,” religion dominated the headlines throughout 2012. Faith was a persistent theme in the presidential race, and moral and ethical questions surrounded budget debates, mass killings, and an unexpected focus on “religious freedom.”

Here are 10 ways religion made news in 2012:

Suffer the children: Gun violence as a new “pro-life” issue

A shooting rampage that killed 12 and injured more than 50 others inside a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., couldn’t do it. Neither could a gunman who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. But a hail of bullets inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – which took the lives of 20 first-graders, and six adults – was finally able to mobilize religious activists on gun control after years of failing to gain traction.

“Those who consider themselves religious or pro-life must be invited to see that the desire to prevent gun-related deaths is part of the religious defense of the dignity of all life,” wrote the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and contributing editor at America magazine.

New Congress More Religiously Diverse, Less Protestant

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign

Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, RNS photo courtesy Tulsi Gabbard's campaign

Three Buddhists, a Hindu, and a “none” will walk into the 113th Congress, and it’s no joke. Rather, it’s a series of “firsts” that reflect the growing religious diversity of the country.

When the new Congress is sworn in next January, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, will represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District and will become the first Hindu in either chamber on Capitol Hill.

The 31-year-old Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and a Hindu mother, and moved to Hawaii as a child. She follows the Vaishnava branch of Hinduism, which venerates the deity Lord Vishnu and his primary incarnations.

Gabbard takes over the seat held by Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, who won a Senate race on Nov. 6 and will become the first Buddhist to sit in the upper chamber. There were already two other Buddhists in the House of Representatives, both of whom won re-election: Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a fellow Hawaii Democrat.

White Christian Voters No Longer Hold Keys to the White House

The road to the White House is no longer white and Christian.

President Obama won last week with a voter coalition that was far more racially and religiously diverse than Mitt Romney’s – a phenomenon both predicted in the days before the election and confirmed in the days after.

What the Public Religion Research Institute has concluded since, however, has farther-reaching implications: that relying on white Christian voters will never again spell national electoral success — especially for the GOP.

“The changing religious landscape is presenting a real challenge to the strategy that relied on motivated white Christians, particularly white evangelical Christians,” said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox, referring to a PRRI study released Thursday.

The New Evangelical Agenda

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

People pray during the Democratic National Convention. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, “I think this was an evangelical disaster.” 

Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party — which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right’s leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term “evangelical.” 

During this election, much of the media continued to use the word as a political term — as a key constituency of the Republican conservative base. But what the media really means when they use term “evangelical” is “conservative white evangelical.” All other kinds of evangelicals are just never counted.

Just as the 2012 electoral results finally revealed the demographic transformation of America — which has been occurring for quite some time — it also dramatically demonstrated how the meaning of the word “evangelical” is being transformed. 

Evangelical can no longer be accurately used to mean “white evangelical.” 

Election 2012 Marks the End of Evangelical Dominance in Politics

The Atlantic reports:

Ever since Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, evangelicals have been a powerful political force. Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority organization were credited in part with Reagan's election, having registered millions of evangelicals to vote. Their influence would only grow over the next 25 years: Evangelicals were instrumental in Reagan's reelection, the Republican Revolution of 1994, and both of George W. Bush's victories. But on November 6, 2012, their reign came to an end.

"I think this [election] was an evangelical disaster," Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told NPR. He's right, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

The late Falwell's Liberty University gave former governor Mitt Romney its keynote spot at its 2012 commencement and backed off previous language calling Mormonism a "cult." Billy Graham uncharacteristically threw his support behind the Republican candidate, and his evangelistic association bought full-page newspaper ads all but endorsing Romney. Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition spent tens of millions in battleground states to get out the religious vote.

Read more here.

 

New Congress to Welcome First Buddhist Senator, Hindu Representative

Christian Post reports:

When the new members of Congress are sworn in on Jan. 3, the institution that once mirrored the nation's Protestant Christian dominance will look slightly more like the religiously diverse nation it represents. The new Senate will seat a Buddhist member for the first time and the House of Representatives will have its first Hindu member.

Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), who currently serves in the House of Representatives, won her Senate race last week and will be sworn in as the Senate's first Buddhist. Hirono's House seat will be filled by Tulsi Gabbard, who will become the first Hindu in Congress. Hirono will also be the first Asian-American female and the first person born in Japan to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Read more here.

Politicians Ignore the Working Poor at Their Peril

Eric Sapp writes for The Huffington Post:

In recent years, there has been a trend in politics away from any mention of the poor. Republicans never really paid them any mind, but Democrats have been convinced they should not make any mention of the poor, and instead, focus exclusively on the middle class. The decision to stop talking about the poor was, for Democrats, based on polling data. Pollsters have tested traditional progressive language about the "poor, vulnerable, and needy" and seen that voters don't have a very high opinion of those groups. Furthermore, polling shows that most voters want to self-identify as "middle class."

Because of all of this, many Democrats have reached the conclusion that mentioning the poor or openly championing policies that explicitly benefit them is a political loser. This conclusion has very dangerous policy and strategic implications (especially with the looming sequestration debate) and will ultimately box Democratic leaders into a corner where they have no choice but to sacrifice programs that struggling American families depend on the most. Thankfully, in this case, we don't have to choose between doing what is right and what works politically.

Read more here.

7 Ways Religious Diversity Played in the Election

Stephen Prothero writes for the CNN Belief Blog:

It’s demography, stupid!” is the new mantra for analyzing the 2012 election, in which African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos cast their votes in overwhelming numbers for President Obama.

But religious diversity was another key theme. How so? Let me count the ways.


1. The first Hindu in the House
Thanks to Hawaii’s 2d congressional district, a Hindu has been elected for the first time to the House of Representatives. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat who was born in American Samoa, served in the Hawaii National Guard and was deployed to Baghdad and Kuwait, crushed Republican Kawaki Crowley with over three-quarters of the votes. Gabbard is a Vaishnava Hindu, which means she worships Vishnu. The key scripture in her Hindu tradition is the Bhagavad Gita, a meditation on duty in the face of war.

...

Read more here.

Chastened Catholic Bishops Told They Have to Reform Themselves

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.

“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.

“The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.

How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put out numbers this week about religious voters in the 2012 elections. Here's a snippit: 

"In his re-election victory, Democrat Barack Obama narrowly defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the national popular vote (50% to 48%)1. Obama’s margin of victory was much smaller than in 2008 when he defeated John McCain by a 53% to 46% margin, and he lost ground among white evangelical Protestants and white Catholics. But the basic religious contours of the 2012 electorate resemble recent elections – traditionally Republican groups such as white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers strongly backed Romney, while traditionally Democratic groups such as black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated backed Obama by large margins."

Read more here.

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