An interesting op-ed piece by Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times appeared in today’s newspaper. McManus notes that twenty-eight of the forty-four Presidents of the United States have come from just four mainstream Protestant denominations. This year’s Republican front-runner list contains no mainstream Protestant denominational candidates at all. This McManus takes to reflect a growing tolerance among the American populace, but also shows how deeply rooted religion is in what has become, in a covert way, a theocratic state. Religious sentiment rules politics and savvy politicians know how to play the religion card to achieve the power they crave. As McManus’ column makes clear, when campaign season rolls around candidates begin attending church again. Of course, the average American accepts their sincere proclamations of religious faith at face value.
McManus also points out that the front-runner for the GOP, Mitt Romney, will face some difficulty as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Most evangelical Protestants reject Mormonism from their fold, claiming that they follow a different shepherd or just see everything through rose-colored glasses. Mormonism, however, is among the fastest growing denominations in the country (the claim for fastest is staked by far too many to get an accurate count; it is a safe bet, however, that it is evangelical). Mormons tend to come down on the right side of conservative social issues, but without the seal of mainstream approval, the bid for presidency remains a difficult goal.
The other corollary that McManus points out is that mainstream denominations are losing their place of social prominence. Today it is far more likely that a person refers to a Pentecostal or non-denominational believer (or even a Catholic!) as a “Christian” than they would refer to a Methodist, Presbyterian, or a Lutheran as such. Both the political and religious rules have changed. Americans want a Christian President, but they have lost sight of what that actually means. In the mud-slinging that accompanies any campaign season, suspicions cast on a candidate’s political orthodoxy will be sure to score big points. It is an open question whether a democracy and a theocracy can truly coexist.