Tag Archives: elections

Buddhists shout to be heard

By Contributor Pearce Fujiura

Pearce Fujiura

As the election year chatter begins the deafening crescendo towards November, the tone and tenor of the dialogue approaches a familiar chord: Christianity versus atheism.

I realized as I typed this was a gross over-simplification of the complex debate that occurs within our diverse society, yet it accurately describes how I perceive the discussion as a whole.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008 close to 76 percent of American adults defined themselves as some form of Christian and just below 16 percent defined themselves as atheist or Agnostics, making these two groups the majority of the voting population. So it makes perfect sense that the debate would involve these two seemingly opposite yet, very influential ideals.  However it is often during this time of year I can’t help but feel a tiny twinge of something akin to neglect or disenfranchisement. I am part of a minority, the non-Christian religious (8 percent of the adult population), moreover Buddhist represent one of the smallest subsets of that group representing only 13 percent of non-Christians religious adults (0.5 percent of American adults).

So why should my political opinions matter?  What impact does my interest have on the political landscape? I would guess next to zero.  No politician stays up nights fretting about the Buddhist vote or alienating Buddhist voters.  So when election season comes into full swing I often find myself as a Persona non grata in the political conversation.

Sometimes it can be a relief and sometimes it can be really annoying. It’s like sitting at the kiddy table at a wedding reception, there’s no stress, drama, or arguments that really involve you but no one is offering you champagne for  the toast either. Maybe that is not my best simile, but I hope you get my meaning.

Everyone is talking about religion but they are only really discussing one religion.  Politicians must somehow reassure the country of his or her Christian faith and either ambiguously or flamboyantly cater to the needs and desires of his significantly Christian constituency. I realize it is unrealistic to expect people to segregate and compartmentalize such an important part of their identity away from complex issues, but I do sometimes long for that mythical separation of church and state.  That being said, I understand that the world would likely be a scarier place if we were truly able to completely separate religion from matters of the state.  We can’t have law without ideals, and we can’t have ideals without cultural and social contracts, which are ultimately rooted in some sort of religious foundation.  Yet it would be nice if some issues could remain religiously neutral so that everyone else could get involved without feeling at odds with the clear majority of the population. I would also like to add religiously neutral does not mean godless.

There is an interesting phenomenon in politics where opinions counter to Christian opinions are often assumed to be anti-religion.  Which statistically speaking would be a safe assumption, but practically speaking is demeaning to non-Christian religions. Upon deeper evaluation I find that I don’t really want separation of church and state, I want inclusion of churches into state.  If there is room for Christianity, which there obviously is, why can’t there be room for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists?  Why can’t Wiccans matter the way Christians do? If there isn’t room enough for everyone, how do we choose who to leave out? It is such a fine line we tread, bringing religion into the political arena, it is a wonder the whole thing doesn’t fall apart constantly.

Usually I offer up some insight or knowledge my religion has given me about a controversial topic, but this time I wanted to ask for input.  What can be done about this feeling of un-involvement I get from my demographic non-presence?  Is this just a natural and unavoidable byproduct of a democratic society?  Should I just shut-up and let the adults speak, or does the relatively tiny voice of the Buddhist community have as much to offer to the political conversation as everyone else? Unlike other demographics a person’s religious affiliation is (for the most part) a choice, so am I choosing to be left out?  This little post of mine is filled to the gills with questions, perhaps I am in an inquisitive mood; I hope that everyone else can help me find some of the answers.

Should a presidential candidate’s religion matter to voters? Why or why not?

Mitt Romney/RNS Photo

Mitt Romney’s commitment to the Mormon faith is making headlines. Newt Gingrich has been a Baptist, Lutheran and now a Roman Catholic. Muslims are rooting for Ron Paul. Rick Santorum is in hot water after saying equality comes from Christianity only, not from Islam or eastern religions.

Religion has become a hot topic when it comes to the presidential elections. SpokaneFAVS asked our contributors what they thought.

Should a presidential candidate’s religion matter to voters? Why or why not? 

Sr. Teresa Jackson

I suppose like most people, if I am really honest, I think, “yes, as long as their faith is similar to mine!”  But, like most people, I also try to resist that thought and take a more high-minded approach to the question.  But the underlying issue is still there.  We want our political leaders to be people of integrity, courage and values and of course we want to elect the people whose integrity, courage and values reflects our own!

In our society and political discourse we seem to be increasingly unable to compromise for a larger common good, to see that other people’s point of view may have some validity, to discuss political issues with resorting to personal insults.  Perhaps as the level of vitriol in the political discourse rises we increasingly reflect the adage, “we get the government we deserve.”

We claim we don’t want politicians who use their faith to pander to voters but do we mean it?  If someone running for office represents a party or point of view that I don’t agree with and he or she makes strong statements of faith it is easy to dismiss that person.  If, on the other hand, they espouse a set of faith values that I agree with then they are clearly someone of integrity!

For many of us, including many sincere people who run for office, faith is at the core of who we are, it defines our sense of values and identity.  But hopefully for all of us faith of whatever sort also includes compassion, the ability to listen with love, to forgive, to be open, to leave whatever judgment is necessary to God.  To embrace these aspects of our faith, and to tell our elected leaders that we expect the same, in no way compromises our faith.  To say that we expect that everyone in the public arena to treat others with respect is to call all of us to a higher practice of our faith no matter what that might be.

Sr. Teresa Jackson

M.C. Paul

A candidate’s religion certainly does matter to voters. 

Religion is, above all, a personal choice and may be indicative of a person’s worldview. In that way, religious affiliation may offer insights regarding a person’s character. I say “may” because who am I to say what convictions are deeply held and will be acted upon?

Having said that, there are many reasons for choosing to be part of a particular religion. A person may be following the religion of their family, e.g. the ‘Cradle Catholic.’ On the other hand, he or she may have chosen their religious affiliation based on perceived benefits of ‘belonging to’ a particular group.  Either way, voters do well to consider the religious affiliation of a potential president, or any elected official, as a way of gauging how that person will address the pressing issues of our day.

–        M. C. Paul 

Pastor Eric Blauer


I want to know the philosophical and theological underpinnings of a potential leader’s character, way of thinking and value system.

Worldviews are always at work in the formation of leaders; just as education, economics, gender and family background shape a person’s life.

All of this contributes to the person I am being asked to potentially vote for and who will assume one of the most powerful positions in the world.

One’s view of God most often translates into how that person treats humanity. Your source of morality, its teaching and your commitment to exercising that system of belief will be at work in the decisions a president makes.

What you think and believe matters to me.

–       Eric Blauer

Thomas J. Brown

A presidential candidate’s religion should not matter to voters, nor should it matter to the candidate. When making any decision the president will undoubtedly seek guidance from his or her religious beliefs (if he or she has any). As long as the president acts in the best interest of the citizens of this nation it doesn’t matter what he or she believes. Acting in the best interests of the citizens may go against the president’s personal beliefs, and a good president will put aside his or her own preferences and heed the vox populi. Indeed, this should be true of every elected official, as they are elected into office to represent their constituents (a quality sadly lacking in most politicians these days).

Thomas J. Brown

Rev. Bill Ellis

The notion that the electorate should be concerned about the fact that a candidate is Mormon — which, let’s face it, is where this question comes from — or Muslim, or Jew, or Hindu, or Christian or atheist, is silly, as silly as it was when the electorate was concerned about the fact that John F. Kennedy was a Catholic.  The electorate’s job is to judge the merits of the candidates on what we can perceive of their leadership style, philosophy of government, and their stands on the various important issues that are apt to come before the country during their terms in office.     There is however a sense in which a candidate’s religion is relevant.  If a Christian candidate clearly and obviously believed on religious grounds that Muslims and Jews do not deserve the full protection of the law, then that person’s religion matters and I would under no circumstances support such a candidate regardless of other considerations. If a candidate believed on religious grounds that women should not be educated to the same degree as men, and should be barred from certain professions, then I would say that candidate’s religion matters and I would not support such a candidate under any circumstances.  The point is, I have no interest in a candidate’s particular religion, but I do have some interest in that candidate’s interpretation of her religion, where it takes her, what conclusions she draws about people and life from her religion.  I was quite worried, as a matter of fact, during the Reagan administration when our secretary of the interior opined that we needn’t be worried about environmental laws because Jesus was coming back soon and then it wouldn’t matter.  “Whoa, Nelly,” I said, or words to that effect.  This isn’t just bad eschatology — an arguable point, by the way — this is bad eschatology leading to horrible public policy, a case of religious views interfering with the execution of a public trust.  To that extent, and to that extent only, I am interested in a candidate’s religious views, even though I have no interest in any candidate’s actual religion.

Rev. Bill Ellis

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup: Koshergate, RIP compassionate conservatism; Boykin bounced

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

As Floridians head to the polls today, Newt Gingrich has been subtly playing the religion card.

On Monday, Gingrich accused Mitt Romney of being “extraordinarily insensitive” to religion as governor of Massachusetts because he planned cut to Medicaid funding to Jewish and Catholic health care facilities.

Driving the point home in God’s Waiting Room (aka Florida), Gingrich noted that one program targeted for cuts had served kosher meals to elderly Jews. Buzzfeed illustrates the photo with a hilariously inapt photo of Romney cutting into a pig. Get those editors an Old Testament!

Romney’s response: “It’s really sad. In some respects I think it’s painfully revealing that (Gingrich) is having a really hard time.”

Who says “compassionate conservatism” is dead?

Read full post here.

2011: A year of taking it to the streets


Wikimedia Commons Photo

2011 was supposed to be the year the world ended. Twice.

    But after evangelist Harold Camping’s doomsday predictions failed to materialize, all eyes are now on 2012 when, according to an ancient Mayan calendar, we need to once again prepare for the end of the world as we know it.
    Jesus was pretty clear: the wars and rumors of wars, the earthquakes and uprisings, are just the beginning of the end. Indeed, 2011 had enough tumult, anxiety and unrest to make people think maybe the end is nigh after all.
    For the Arab world, the Arab Spring upended longstanding regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia and could do the same in Syria and Yemen. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake left more than 21,000 dead or injured in Japan and literally tipped the earth off its axis, while a smaller Aug. 23 quake along the East Coast sent finials and angels tumbling from atop Washington National Cathedral.
    Frustrated demonstrators occupied Wall Street, and a damning sexual abuse scandal ricocheted through the Roman Catholic Church and Penn State’s football program. To top it all off, the Crystal Cathedral went belly-up.
    And that’s not even counting the 2012 presidential campaign.
    Here’s a quick tour through the topsy-turvy world of religion in 2011:
    Taking it to the streets
    From Tahrir Square to the Wisconsin Statehouse to Zuccotti Park, 2011 was the year of taking it to the streets as popular anger — against despots, union-busting politicians and Wall Street tycoons — coalesced into (mostly) peaceful protests. Religious leaders voiced concern for religious minorities swept up in the turbulence of the Middle East, as well as support for the Occupiers’ goals of fairness and equity in the global financial system.
    ‘Do not rejoice when your enemies fall…’
    The street celebrations that followed the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, meanwhile, left a bad taste in the mouth of many Americans. “In obedience to Scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall,” said David Gushee, a Christian ethicist at Mercer University. Americans, however, had fewer qualms about bin Laden’s eternal fate: a poll after bin Laden’s death found that two-thirds of Americans think he’s paying for his sins in hell.
    Who’s in hell? Who knows?
    Michigan megachurch pastor Rob Bell can’t say for sure whether bin Laden — or anyone else — is in hell, at least not in the way Christians have traditionally thought of it. Bell’s book, “Love Wins,” rocketed to the top of The New York Times best-seller list by questioning traditional beliefs on hell and sparked a heated public discussion of hell and damnation. Southern Baptists were quick to disagree, passing a resolution affirming the reality of hell as “eternal, conscious punishment” for those who do not accept Jesus Christ.
    Cults and personality
    With the GOP campaign in full swing, crucial blocs of evangelicals fell in and out of love with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, but never really fell for Mitt Romney. One poll found that 53 percent of evangelicals don’t think Mormons are Christians; Dallas pastor (and Perry supporter) Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a “cult.” By year’s end, evangelicals were swooning for Newt Gingrich, a thrice-married Roman Catholic convert who carries some heavy ethical baggage. Said Ron Godwin, the provost of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University: “My conclusion is the devil I know is preferable to the one I don’t really know.” But in a sign that Mormons have arrived, “The Book of Mormon,” a heartfelt (if somewhat obscene) ode to Mormon piety from the creators of “South Park,” swept the Tony awards, including Best Musical.
    Ghosts of scandals past
    Nearly 10 years after the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal erupted in Boston, the bishop of Kansas City, Mo., was indicted for failing to report a priest suspected of possessing child pornography to police, and a grand jury slammed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for allowing 37 known abusers to remain in ministry. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ report on the “causes and contexts” of the scandal faulted — among other factors — the turbulent culture of the 1960s, and victims launched a long-shot bid to make Pope Benedict XVI face charges at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. U.S. bishops offered to share what they’ve learned with Penn State, where an eerily similar abuse cover-up led to the sacking of coaching legend Joe Paterno.
    Do Ask, Do Tell
    After 18 years as one of the touchiest issues in the culture wars, Congress retired the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy that barred gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. For the first time, a majority of Americans (53 percent) voiced support for legalizing same-sex marriage, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) officially welcomed non-celibate gay clergy. New York became the sixth state to allow gay marriage, and Catholics in Illinois pulled out of state contracts for adoption and foster care rather than comply with the state’s new civil unions law.
    Church & State
    In a widely expected but little-loved ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Kansas pastor Fred Phelps’ right to hold “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” protests outside military funerals. The justices also denied a challenge to an Arizona program that gives tax credits for donations to private school scholarship programs, and will rule next year on tough state immigration laws that have angered religious groups. In Oregon, jurors convicted two sets of parents from a faith-healing church of criminal neglect after one child died and one was nearly blinded from lack of medical care.
    A matter of conscience
    The nation’s Catholic bishops, concerned about growing threats to “religious freedom” emanating from the White House, launched a policy offensive over gay marriage and mandated insurance coverage for birth control. At the same time, the bishops said sharply that they, not doctors or administrators, have the final say over what constitutes ethically problematic procedures in Catholic hospitals.
    Enemies, foreign and domestic
    After last year’s heated battles over Muslims’ rights to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, the spotlight shifted to Capitol Hill, where House Republicans convened hearings on the “extent of radicalization in the American Muslim Community.” Barely two weeks later, Florida provocateur Pastor Terry Jones presided over a mock trial of the Quran, sentencing the Muslim holy book to death by fire; subsequent riots swept Afghanistan. By year’s end, major companies pulled sponsorship of a new TLC reality series, “All-American Muslim,” after conservative activists complained of creeping acceptance of Islam.
    End of an Era
    The Crystal Cathedral, the iconic embodiment of suburban Protestant positivity, was sold for $57.5 million to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County — a sample shift within the American religious landscape, as aging mainline Protestants are literally lose ground to growing numbers of Hispanic Catholics.
    Do-it-yourself faith
    Pay, pray and obey? Not so much. A June survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that more than two-thirds of Americans say they can make up their own minds on abortion or homosexuality and still be faithful members of their churches. Meanwhile, 60 percent of Catholics say you can be a good Catholic without aiding the poor, and three in four said the same about not giving money or time to the church, according to a survey conducted by researchers for the National Catholic Reporter.
    Pioneering Jewish folksinger Debbie Friedman died at age 59; Harvard theologian Peter Gomes died at 68; evangelical gang activist David Wilkerson died at 79 and the “evangelical pope” John Stott died at 90; National Catholic Reporter publisher Joe Feuerherd died at 48; Episcopal liberal lion Bishop Walter Righter died at 87 and fiery civil rights icon Fred Shuttlesworth died at 89; atheist activist and writer Christopher Hitchens died at 62.