Steven Waldman

Look carefully and you’ll notice that Republicans lately have not only been saying that Red Staters are more “pro-America” than others but also that they’re more pro-God.
John McCain said recently that Western Pennsylvania is the “most God-loving” part of the country. A Republican congressman Robin Hayes declared, “There’s a real America, and liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said last month that Democrats “find Governor Palin quite horrifying because she actually believes in God.”
Here’s the sad thing: I think many on the right actually believe that Democrats, by definition, don’t believe in God — and that those who claim they do are phonies.
Former Senator Rick Santorum recently explained that Obama and liberal Protestants in general couldn’t really claim to be real Christians because of their theology. “When you take a salvation story and turn it into a liberation story you’ve abandoned Christiandom and I don’t think you have a right to claim it,” he said. “You’re a liberal something, but you’re not a Christian.”

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas had earlier made a similar point after reading that Obama left open the possibility that non-Christians might be able to get into heaven:

“Obama can call himself anything he likes, but there is a clear requirement for one to qualify as a Christian and Obama doesn’t meet that requirement,” Thomas said. “One cannot deny central tenets of the Christian faith, including the deity and uniqueness of Christ as the sole mediator between God and Man and be a Christian. Such people do have a label applied to them in Scripture. They are called ‘false prophets.'”

I can recall vividly the moment when I realized most clearly that the religious gulf among Americans has become not about differences in worship but about the legitimacy of other people’s worship. I had been spending a lot of time talking with conservative evangelicals about the religious landscape and then happened to find myself at a liberal protestant church for worship services. I was struck by how, well, religious it was – like they actually seemed to deeply love Jesus Christ, his word, his life and his meaning.
It probably shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d find religious people in a church service but I’d absorbed the notion from my conservative evangelical friends that liberals who do attend church do so for political reasons, not because they love God.
This view helps explain the disdain some conservatives have for Obama’s religiosity. As one person posted as a comment on my blog, “”Obama as an adult joined the a Black Liberation UCC church. There is decidedly nothing Christian about this religion.”
If Beliefnet has stood for anything, it’s that to worship God deeply does not require demonizing other faiths. This is not the same as saying all religions are true but rather that citizens of a pluralistic nation should aspire to a basic respect of each other’s faith and the sincerity of their spiritual journey.
Democrats are not blameless. I’ve seen some mock Sarah Palin’s membership in a Pentecostal church as proof of her unfitness for office. Conservative evangelicals are often cast, privately, as wacky or stupid. It offends me when Obama supporters send around the video of Palin being prayed for by a Pentecostal minister decrying witchcraft. What’s she supposed to do? Interrupt the prayer and say, “sorry – can’t sign on to that part. Please resume”? As regular readers of this space know, I’ve defended Sarah Palin’s faith repeatedly.
But I don’t want to engage in false equivalence on this point. I’ve seen and read many bigoted rank-and-file Democrats but I’ve yet to see a major Democratic Party leader suggest that the faith of Republicans or conservatives is illegitimate. (If I’m missing an example, please point me to it). Indeed, Obama ruffled feathers on the left by declaring a few years ago. “There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word “Christian” describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.” He has challenged Democrats to embrace religious ideas and impulses as a legitimate part of political discourse.
One of the most stunning things about the latest raft of polls is how well Obama is currently doing among the very religious. He’s now beating McCain among mainline Protestants who attend church weekly and tying him among Catholics who attend mass every week. If Obama wins, it may well be because millions of devout Americans support him. Conservatives who continue to push the idea that a vote for McCain is a vote for God, will only end up losing more and more religious voters who resent being told their faith is inauthentic.

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