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Lloyd Omdahl, Published July 22 2012

Omdahl: Morals, politics, religion

Surveying the 2012 political terrain, analysts at Gallup pontificated that “religion will continue to be a major determinate of how Americans vote for president.”

With more than 80 percent of the electorate identifying themselves as Christians, it should be no surprise that religion would be a factor in the political choices of some people.

But just because you say you are a Christian doesn’t make you one. Only 60 percent of alleged Christians belong to a church. Then we have reluctant Christians who are members of churches under duress. Then we have the non-practicing Christians. So there’s a lot of shrinkage.

Furthermore, Gallup reports that confidence in religion is at its lowest point in 30 years. Only 44 percent have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in religion, down 22 percent since 1973. So 80 percent is not a statistic with real strength, spiritually or politically.

Nevertheless, Gallup also reports that “73 percent of Americans say moral values in the country as a whole are getting worse.” That is enough to encourage some political rhetoric.

Unfortunately, when we ask for specifics we encounter all sorts of definitions for “moral values.” The top moral failure mentioned was “lack of respect and tolerance for other people.”

“Lack of family structure/

divorce/kids upbringing” ran a distant second. Apparently, some think that incivility is pretty immoral, suggesting that Congress needs an altar call.

I would have expected that drugs, alcohol, materialism, pornography, media smut, abortion, shacking up, exploitation and greed would be high on the list, but they were near the bottom. My immoral list has become outdated.

At any rate, a significant chunk of the public is unhappy with the moral values of the nation and would like to see a stronger Christian influence on public policy.

In response to this environment, the candidates have been courting the religious vote. This is creating real problems for “born agains” because they have always regarded Mormons as a “cult,” giving them a reason not to vote for Mitt Romney. However, most of them are also staunch Republicans who wouldn’t vote for St. Peter if he appeared on the Democratic ticket.

But what would a Mormon do as president that would destroy the country?

The last election in which religion was a major issue was in 1960, when a Roman Catholic won the Democratic endorsement. The two major Christian publications – Christianity Today and Christian Century – warned that the election of a Roman Catholic president “sooner or later would be a threat to our freedoms.”

John Kennedy was elected, the magazine prognosticators were sent off in sackcloth and ashes, and we are still free.

On the basis of this experience, we shouldn’t expect Romney, if elected, to turn to the elders at Salt Lake City for answers to public questions.

When President Barack Obama appealed to the religious vote on such issues as immigration, jobs and poverty, American Values president Gary Bauer accused the president of mixing politics and religion. A dastardly move! He alleged that Obama was part of a 40-year plot “to expel God from America.” (That would not be a very good immigration policy.) Anyway, it was all immoral because Bauer said it disrespectfully.

After going through all of this campaign rhetoric about which candidate would be the best for Christians, Gallup shows up with the latest poll reporting that 55 percent of the voters say they would vote for an atheist. I’ll bet that most of them are “born agains” who can’t choose between a Democrat and a Mormon.

So much for religion being a major determinate in the 2012 election.


Omdahl is former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com