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Sunday, 7 September 2008

Creating an impression

Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this summer (. . . summer? but that’s another story!), you’d be forgiven for thinking that the UK is America’s 51st state. It irritates the hell out of me every time journalists refer to the US president as simply “the President”, as if he’s somehow our president.

I’m also irritated that Today has been co-broadcast from the US Democratic and Republican conventions. By all means, cover these events, but broadcast the programme from them? Whether or not you believe in the American ideal, and irrespective of how much the “last remaining superpower” influences British and global life, this type of coverage helps only to reinforce the view that the US rules the world, as was demonstrated on 14 April this year, when a Downing Street spokesman said, “We were the fastest-growing country in the US last year.” This notwithstanding that he did then correct himself: “Sorry, the G7.”

What’s really frightening is that the US is so religious.

In the UK, secularists (and some religionists) have argued for decades that church and state should be separate. For a while, it seemed that we were on our way to achieving just that, but now, after eleven years of the Blair/Brown Labour government pandering to religion, we’re further away than ever.

In the US, of course, church and state are separate – though you’d be forgiven for forgetting that at the moment. It depresses the hell out of me how bound up the US is with organised religion, and I’m really disheartened by how their presidential election has become so God-soaked so quickly.

Both the Republican and Democratic conventions exuded Christianity. As we blogged here last month, the Democratic Party organised its first-ever interfaith gathering, at which non-religionist Democrats were specifically excluded, and its 2008 presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has often spoken politically of his deep Christian faith. Then, last week, the Republican Party’s vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, wowed its convention with her Bible-soaked, “hockey mom” speech.

Over at the God’s Politics blog, Jim Wallis in this entry, suggests “Five Rules of Christian Civility” to be followed during the US presidential election campaign:

1. We Christians should be in the pocket of no political party, but should evaluate both candidates and parties by our biblically-based moral compass.

2. We don't vote on only one issue, but see biblical foundations for our concerns over many issues.

3. We advocate for a consistent ethic of life from womb to tomb, and one that challenges the selective moralities of both the left and the right.

4. We will respect the integrity of our Christian brothers and sisters in their sincere efforts to apply Christian commitments to the important decisions of this election, knowing that people of faith and conscience will be voting both ways in this election year.

5. We will not attack our fellow Christians as Democratic or Republican partisans, but rather will expect and respect the practice of putting our faith first in this election year, even if we reach different conclusions.

What strikes me from these “Five Rules” is that, apparently, Christian civility doesn’t extend to non-Christians!

Palin, of course, is a Christian.

She was baptised as a Roman Catholic when just an infant with no say in the matter, then spent nearly 30 years as a member of America’s largest Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God. Today, she refers to herself as a “generic Christian”, attending independent churches in Alaska. However, she remains connected to the Assemblies of God, regularly addressing pastors’ conferences and ministry students, whom, in June this year, she told:

I can do my job there in developing our natural resources and doing things like getting the roads paved and making sure our troopers have their cop cars and their uniforms and their guns, and making sure our public schools are funded. But, really, all of that stuff doesn’t do any good if the people of Alaska’s heart isn’t right with God.

Palin is against a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and supports the teaching of creationism as fact in schools. She claims that she has “gay friends” but, considering that she showed no support for equal rights to gay employees in her home state (she vetoed a bill that denied spousal benefits to gay state employees only after the state attorney general pointed out it was unconstitusional), doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage and has ties to conservative anti-gay groups such as the US Family Research Council, she can’t be very close to them. Either that or she’s lying. If it turns out that she does have some gay friends, I can’t bring myself to think what they’re like, the very thought conjuring up the spectacle of those knitting-homo friends Mary Whitehouse once claimed to have!

I sincerely hope people don’t conclude that I’m anti-American. I’m not. But I am depressed. In writing this piece, I’ve read a lot from America that’s upset me. It’s all a far cry from the letter written by Sharon Underwood, which we covered last week. And it’s that letter, which I’ve just reread, that fills me with hope that all is not lost.

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