I’ve said this before, but I must say it again: We’ve got something good going on here in the East Valley. And I wish the rest of the country had it.
I’ll offer some more details about “it,” in a moment. But first, here’s why I think the rest of the country is missing something. I’ve been following the presidential campaigns quite closely, as we are a little more than two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. In both the Republican and Democratic parties, the issue of religion is front and center, and some of the candidates are using religion to smear their opponents in ways that I haven’t seen in a long time.
On the Republican side of the aisle, concerns about Mitt Romney’s affiliation with the Mormon church are well known. Try as he did earlier this year to talk about being president and not about his church, some of his opponents have continually played upon the fears of some conservative Christians who apparently think that a Mormon president would interject his religion into the affairs of the country.
Ironically, Romney hasn’t lived up to this horrible expectation, at least not on the campaign trail — yet one of his most vocal opponents has. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has stooped to interjecting his evangelical Christianity into the presidential campaign cycle at nearly every point possible.
Much of this has involved Huckabee reciting his theological objections to Mormonism, and implicitly conveying that he’s a “real Christian,” while Romney is not. But on a more explicit level, Huckabee has actually commented that his background as an ordained Baptist pastor helps to make him qualified to be president, and one of his latest television commercials features the image of the Christian cross in the background. So for all the hand-wringing and fear mongering about a Mormon candidate imposing his religion on others, Huckabee is the one who is “imposing,” and essentially saying “vote for me — I’m an evangelical!”
As if that isn’t adequately distasteful, things don’t seem to be any better on the left side of the aisle. The “religious smear tactics” among the Democrats are emanating from the Hillary Clinton campaign right now, as she is making a concerted effort to damage her opponent Barack Obama by perpetuating the myth that he is a Muslim.
Obama, by the way, is a member of the United Church of Christ, a small yet longstanding denomination among the broader ranks of Protestant Christianity. Yet some relatives from Obama’s father’s side of the family have been Muslims, and surrogate representatives of Clinton continually bring this up.
Former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey is the latest example of this sleazy campaigning. Kerrey has publicly declared his support for Clinton, yet while being interviewed on CNN earlier this week, he stated that Obama’s “connection to a billion Muslims on this Earth” will be very helpful should Obama be elected president. While Kerrey offered this remark as a compliment to Obama, it was in reality a backhanded, cynical, passive-aggressive attempt to further label Obama as a Muslim in the minds of voters, and to damage his prospects for winning.
So in our national politics, we have Republican Mike Huckabee essentially saying “vote for me because I’m a ‘real’ Christian,” and Democrat Hillary Clinton essentially saying “vote for me because my opponent who has pulled out ahead of me in Iowa is a Muslim.” It’s gratuitous, and it’s pathetic. But it is what it is.
And this leads me back to the East Valley, and my wish that the rest of the country could have what we have. What is “it” that we have? Well, I guess it’s the ability to discern where and when theological debates should end, and where political debates can begin, and how political consensus can be built among people from divergent religious backgrounds.
Let’s face it, the East Valley is an incredibly religious region of the country. For starters, it is very Mormon, very Catholic, and very evangelical. Yet when it comes to building consensus among religious groups that are often at odds with one another on theological matters, we do a pretty good job. I just don’t see these religious smear tactics being deployed here in the East Valley — at least not nearly to the level that they are being deployed right now on the national scene.
We seem to have arrived at a place where we understand that while our theological beliefs may differ from one person to another, or one group to another, our values and our politics can be universal.
I’m grateful for where we are at here in the East Valley. I just hope that the rest of the country can “arrive” — before it’s too late.