If there are silver linings to Donald Trump being in the White House, a couple of them have to be that Democrats are seeing a resurgence in excitement, with top-tier candidates, and a true reshaping of what the party stands for. Those things have already received plenty of attention. But another factor may have an equally dramatic impact on our democracy: People are realizing that the most overtly religious candidate isn’t necessarily the best one.
Trump made a spectacle out of his adoration of and from the Religious Right. He claimed the Bible was his favorite book on the campaign trail, receiving fawning coverage from Christian media outlets, pretended to rescue Christmas from the clutches of… literally nobody, and continues to receive outsized support from conservative Christians. All of this is happening while he pursues an agenda that is about as far from “Christ-like” as one could get. Meanwhile Mike Pence, the actual evangelical who lives and breathes his faith, is complicit in everything Trump does. Not only does he defend Trump at every turn, if he ever took Trump’s place, it would arguably be worse for the country since he would pursue a theocratic agenda without all the scandals getting in his way.
Keep in mind that Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine were actually religious — a former Sunday School teacher and missionary — but it didn’t matter to voters who claimed to take religion seriously when it came to their vote.
So back to the silver lining: A new poll from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that fewer Americans than ever before give a damn if a candidate is religious or shares their faith.
Just 25 percent of Americans say it’s very or extremely important that a candidate has strong religious beliefs, according to the poll. Only 19 percent consider it very or extremely important that a candidate shares their own beliefs, and nearly half say that’s not very important or not important at all.
Jack Kane, an accountant from Key West, Florida, was among the Republican-leaning poll participants who said it wasn’t important to him whether a candidate was deeply religious.
“I’d much rather have a guy run the government and not spend all our money, instead of sounding off on what’s going on in the church or on things like abortion,” said Kane, 65, who describes himself as nonreligious. “Who is Catholic, Jewish, Southern Baptist — I could care less, as long as they’re going to carry the torch of freedom.”
There are two big takeaways for me from these results. The first is that candidates for office don’t have to pander when it comes to religion. If they’re not all that devout, fine. Talk about the issues, don’t give a sermon. Hell, fewer Americans want to sit through church services these days, too. Don’t preach in politics.
The other is that there’s never been a better time for candidates who aren’t religious to admit it, especially if they’re in relatively safe districts. They don’t have to make a big show of it. They just need to update their bios to say they don’t attend a church, don’t adhere to any particular faith label, or aren’t personally religious. If the other side tries using that as fodder for an attack ad, it would inevitably backfire as the media wonders what the problem is, exactly, with someone treating religion the same way more and more Americans do.
The Religious Right may have more power than they ever dreamed of right now, but if sensible people vote this November and in 2018, it’s the only political power they’re going to have for generations. We’re seeing in real time what kind of damage a Christian-controlled Congress and White House can cause. Let’s hope it convinces people that we should never mix the two ever again.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)