Whether or not you believe it’s a good or a bad thing, politics and religion is inescapably intertwined. Just this week Bernie Sanders announced that he was invited to a religious conference hosted by the Vatican which has drawn controversy due to his liberal views on abortion and the appropriateness of the invite during an election year. And Pope Francis, never one to be silent about the politics of climate change or poverty for example, released his Joy of Love document about the church’s position on sexuality and divorced and remarried Catholics, which may impact on marriage rights in the future. And North Carolina and Mississippi are just the latest in a handful of states to invite protests and heavy backlash over their divisive ‘religious freedom’ and ‘bathroom’ laws which raise questions about equal rights for LGBTI people. In a country where freedom of religion is enshrined alongside a separation of church and state and both religion and politics is a part of everyday life, it seems to be getting harder to see the line between the two.
Looking at who has said too much, and who hasn’t said enough on the campaign trail, it’s easy to see why many are losing their religion over the antics of the 2016 candidates. On the Democratic side questions have been raised at rallies over Sanders’ Jewish background and how much influence it has on his socialist and foreign policies, with many in the Jewish community citing his views on Palestine as a compelling reason not to vote for him. On the Republican side, conservative Evangelicals are divided over Cruz and Trump’s candidacies, especially since Trump has voiced many opinions which are not overly conservative or religious. In fact the rise of Trump could indicate a general declining influence of religion within politics as a lot of angry, white working-class voters are drawn to his brand of secular capitalist nationalism. Thus it appears that despite a general trend over the last few decades that shows the American population is becoming more secular, religion still plays a defining role in politics.
Regardless of their religion, the presidential candidates know that they have to attract certain groups on Election Day if they want to win, although they differ in how they go about it. Republicans traditionally appeal to conservative Christians, whereas Democrats have to appeal to liberal Christians as well as religious minorities like Muslims and Buddhists, while also appealing to those (usually younger) voters who are not affiliated with any religion. This means that Sanders and Clinton have to walk a much finer tightrope than Trump or Cruz. But it is certainly possible as long as they promote their religious beliefs as a positive influence and filter their politics through a lens of morality, justice and compassion. And then hopefully the example they set will encourage others to follow.
Think that faith works in mysterious ways? Movie for your mood: The Da Vinci Code