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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Exit polling from Tuesday’s presidential election is offering new hope to activists advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. The Latino community was instrumental in reelecting President Barack Obama, as record numbers turned out to vote and supported the president by over 70 percent. These numbers send a clear message to opponents of immigration reform that demonizing immigrants and blocking progress makes for a poor political strategy.
Pundits are opining that Congress may be more willing to discuss comprehensive reform, a promise President Obama made but has been slow in fulfilling due to congressional opposition. Indeed, republican leaders in Congress have already been altering their positions.
One of the big questions before Tuesday’s election was whether Barack Obama could replicate the diverse coalition of voters responsible for his 2008 victory. The news? He did. As Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, put it: “In 2012, communities of color, young people and women are not merely interest groups, they’re the ‘new normal’ demographic of the American electorate.”
Here’s a snapshot of the numbers taken from initial CNN exit polls.
The day after the 2012 election brought a great feeling of relief. Most of us, whether our candidates won or lost, were so weary of what elections have become that we were just glad the process was over. Many were disappointed that dysfunctional and bitterly partisan politics in Washington, D.C., had undermined their deep desires for “hope” and “change.” Politics has severely constrained those possibilities by focusing on blame instead of solutions, and winning instead of governing. And, as the most expensive election in American history just showed, the checks have replaced all the balances.
But the election results produced neither the salvation nor the damnation of the country, as some of the pundits on both sides seemed to suggest.
The results of the presidential election showed how dramatically a very diverse America is changing; people are longing for a vision of the common good that includes everyone. As one commentator put it “the demographic time bomb” has now been set off in American politics — and getting mostly white, male, and older voters is no longer enough to win elections, as the Romney campaign learned on Tuesday.
Mitt Romney failed in his bid to win the White House back for Republicans, but the biggest losers in Tuesday’s voting may be Christian conservatives who put everything they had into denying President Barack Obama a second term and battling other threats to their agenda.
Instead of the promised victories, the religious right encountered defeat at almost every turn. Not only did Obama win convincingly, but Democrats held onto the Senate – and the power to confirm judges – and Wisconsin elected the nation’s first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin.
Meanwhile, Republican senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock went down to unanticipated defeat in large part because of their strongly anti-abortion views, and an effort in Florida to restrict abortion failed. For the first time ever, same-sex marriage proponents won on ballots in four out of four states, while marijuana for recreational use was legalized in two out of three states where the question was on the ballot.
Even Michele Bachmann, an icon among Christian conservatives, barely held onto her House seat in Minnesota while Tea Party favorite Allen West lost his congressional district in Florida.
“Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns,” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a sobering post-mortem.
“The hand is quicker than the eye” is a traditional proverb and organizing principle of every practicing magician. There is no actual “magic” involved in a magician’s act – it is pure deception and distraction.
A high degree of finesse and showmanship combine to make appealing, mysterious and captivating.
Learning how a trick is done ruins the act by deflating the anticipation and element of surprise.
As much as we’d rather not think so, politics is very much the same.
CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby offers 10 reasons he’s hearing from Republicans:
1. Losing among young people, African-Americans and Hispanics.
2. Hardline immigration rhetoric during the primaries.
3. Superstorm Sandy hitting the East Coast and consuming news coverage the last week of the campaign.
4. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s praise for Obama in the wake of the storm.
5.The selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate, when a Republican from a more winnable battleground state might have made a difference.
6. Some social conservatives claim that Romney's soft positions on abortion and same-sex marriage left grassroots Republicans uninspired.
7. The Romney team and his super PAC allies allowing their candidate to be defined early by Obama.
8. The decision to air a misleading ad in Toledo media market about Chrysler moving Jeep production to China during the closing days of the race.
9. The Romney campaign's "poor media buying."
10. The Democrats ground game – finding, persuading and turning out voters – was devastatingly better than anything the GOP had.
Whether your guy won or whether your guy lost, do any of us believe that politicians or the political process can unite us or solve our nation's deepest troubles (the most serious of which are not economic)?
If you feel great or you feel lost, is your honest hope in a political messiah? Can our political leaders give us a vision of human flourishing that comes close to the personal and societal transformation available to us right now in the New Creation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?
These idols we fashion, these men and women we are tempted to worship or in which we place our ultimate confidence, cannot heal us or bind up the wounds of America.
What does it feel like to have your vote stolen?
It sucks. It feels like someone literally let all the air out of my balloon animal.
Late in September, I happily filled out my absentee ballot request form to the DuPage Election Commission. Illinois had a new measure that allows for anyone to request an absentee ballot. I expected for there to be a delay.
So I waited.
And I waited some more.
Jesus for President. Amish for Homeland Security. We had some good ideas for serious change in America.
As Christians, we became convinced that the issues –things like immigration and health care, and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor – these things matter to God. We see more than 2,000 verses in Scripture that talk about how we care for the poor and marginalized. And too much of the Christianity we grew up with was so heavenly minded that it was no earthly good. So the issues matter to us.
But, we were, and still are, political refugees in post-religious-right America. No party feels like home. No candidate seems to value the things we see Jesus talking about in the Sermon on the Mount. Federal budget cuts have begun to look like the antithesis of the Beatitudes, where Jesus blesses the poor and hungry rather than the rich and wealthy. You get the sense that if Mary proclaimed her famous “Magnificat” in Luke’s Gospel today — where “God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty” — she’d be accused of promoting class warfare. As one theologian said, “Our money says in God we trust … but our economy looks like the seven deadly sins.”
What would America look like if Jesus were in charge?
My early voting ballot is almost complete. I have done my reading, finished my research, and ignored a sufficient amount of robo-calls and attack ads. I have made my choices for county school superintendent, state representatives, and even U.S. Senator. But there is a gaping hole at the top of my ballot ...
It is November 6, 2012, and after more than a year of carefully following the presidential campaigns I still do not know which candidate I am going to vote for. I am an independent voter but registered as a democrat. On my Facebook page I identify my political position as "a morally-conservative Democrat or a fiscally-irresponsible Republican."