The presidential candidates’ religious affiliations


Religion is playing a major role in this year’s Republican primary race, as it generally does in almost every recent election. Nancy T. Ammerman studies the role of religion in politics and has catalogued the religious affiliations of the various candidates and their degrees of dedication to taking past in formal religious observances.

Like 15% of Americans, Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump and Rand Paul are affiliated with “mainline” Protestant denominations – just like most US presidents have been.

Fiorina is Episcopal, Trump Presbyterian, and Paul was raised Episcopal but now attends a Presbyterian church. All reports indicate that Trump and Fiorina seldom attend church services. Paul’s wife is active in their congregation, but there is little mention of his participation.

Chris Christie and George Pataki were raised Catholic. Christie has lots of Catholic connections, but can’t always attend Mass.

My research on religion in everyday life suggests that for these candidates, their churches and their beliefs are likely not the overarching framework for their lives.

We might also put Bernie Sanders in this camp, but the Jewish experience is a bit different.

Sanders is rather typical of American Jews whose identification is more ethnic than religious.

Protestants like Hillary Clinton and Catholics like Martin O’Malley participate actively in communities where the social justice message of Christianity shapes how they see the world.

The roughly 13% of Americans who are both religiously and politically conservative tend to get more attention in the press.

These are represented in the presidential field by Southern Baptists Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, and Seventh Day Adventist Ben Carson.

This group is joined in their conservative religious and political commitments by Protestants like John Kasich and Catholic Rick Santorum.

Kasich belongs to a church affiliated with the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), a new dissident conservative wing of Episcopalianism.

Santorum’s influences include the Opus Dei movement.

And then there are Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, who embody the growing tendency of Americans to put together their own patchwork of affiliations.

Bush left his Episcopal upbringing to join his wife’s Catholic faith.

Rubio started out Catholic, detoured into the Latter Day Saints, joined a Southern Baptist church and then returned to Catholicism. A generation ago, few people would have expected to see a practicing Catholic who also still attends a Southern Baptist church, but the political affinities of conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants have created new conversations where doctrinal disagreements take a back seat to social concerns.

As we have seen, Rubio is going flat out in wearing his religion on his sleeve, competing with Cruz whose rallies can often seem like revival meetings.

So where are the candidates who represent other religious traditions or no religion at all? Ammerman suggests that the strong preference for voters that their elected representatives be religious means that no one is likely to come right out and say so.

We certainly might notice that there are no Muslim candidates, but like Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and other non-Christian traditions, they constitute a very small minority of the population. More striking are the missing nonaffiliates. Fully 23% of Americans tell researchers that they have no religious affiliation, but a lingering distrust of atheists seems to make “none of the above” an unacceptable option for politicians. That’s true even though most unaffiliated people aren’t atheists.

What we do see in this field, however, are several candidates whose active participation is quite minimal.

Of this crop, of candidates, I suspect that Sanders is the closest to being non-religious.

Comments

  1. raven says

    Of this crop, of candidates, I suspect that Sanders is the closest to being non-religious.

    It might be way higher than that internally at least.

    Fundie xianity, which most of the GOP candidates pretend to be, is just right wingnut extremist politics with a few crosses stuck on for show. The crosses aren’t important any more. Which makes sense. Gods and heavens might exist but probably don’t. Politics and power definitely exist, are highly sought after, and quite useful.

    We don’t have direct access to people’s minds. As to how many fundies really believe their kooky religion as opposed to pandering to it, it’s an uncertain estimate. They certainly don’t walk their religion talk though. Polls show that a lot of “xians” are just census xians, box checkers.

  2. says

    “Protestants like Hillary Clinton and Catholics like Martin O’Malley participate actively in communities where the social justice message of Christianity shapes how they see the world.”

    Except that Clinton’s active participation in a group in Washington DC known as The Fellowship is very well documented. The Fellowship is the group that runs the National Prayer Breakfast, and is a key player in lobbying Congress and the White House to maintain a set of Dominionist, Talibangelical policies.

    Clinton identifies as a member of the United Methodist denomination, and while they do have a well-deserved reputation for pushing social justice issues, they are also pretty conservative with regards to homosexuality and a number of other issues. Clinton has stated several times that she wants to change the Democratic Party’s reputation for being “hostile” towards Christianity. In terms of being a theocrat who would govern according to the Bible rather than the law, I trust her almost as little as I would trust Carson, Cruz or Rubio.

  3. says

    It’s so crazy. If a candidate said “I believe in Santa Claus” it’d probably be a campaign killer. But here these dipshits are basically trumpeting that they believe the entire universe was made for them personally… And nobody’s giggling.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Of this crop, of candidates, I suspect that Sanders is the closest to being non-religious.

    I disagree — I think that the most non-religious among them is probably Trump. Of course, he says he’s a Christian, but there’s a subtle tell that gives away whenever he’s lying: his mouth is moving. Also, most branches of the Presbyterian church that I’m aware of have a fundamental teaching that God is greater than humans, which violates the central tenet of Trumpism that Trump is the Greatest Thing There Is.

  5. John Morales says

    That’s America for you; here in Oz, only the loony fringe of politics claim religiosity — such as Family First. They’re always on the conservative and authoritarian side, and tend to publicly deny their theocratic basis, because that’s a vote-loser overall.

    (Not that politicians don’t pander to the religious, but they do so much more subtly)

  6. StevoR says

    The presidential candidates’ religious affiliations ..

    ..Really should NOT mean the slightest jot, tad or tittle or piece of fly-shit and be worth measuring less than a femtogram of mass politics~wise metaphorically speaking.

    Pity its otherwise or too many in 2016 of all years and centuries.

    What are we in The Dark Ages or sumthin’?

    (FWIW I suspect Obama and Clinton we/are probably atheist or non -religious really although can’t prove it for political expediency showing reasons. Because, y’know I think those dudes were actually kinda smart enough to know better even if they had to say otherwise.)

  7. david says

    “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” – US Constitution, article 6.

  8. moarscienceplz says

    Rubio started out Catholic, detoured into the Latter Day Saints, joined a Southern Baptist church and then returned to Catholicism.

    Can I have “Ugliest Christian Sects” for $200 please, Alex?

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