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Intertwining Religion And Politics In America

This story was written by Lavanya Singh, Iowa State Daily

The United States is called a melting pot or mosaic because of the diversity of cultures and beliefs. The current 110th U.S. Congress has a variety of religious views represented, but most are denominations of Christianity.

Hector Avalos, Iowa State University professor of philosophy and religious studies, said in most cases you have to be Christian to get elected.

Many American Christians believe that people of other religions may not have the same morals, so it is safer to have someone of their own kind in office, Avalos said.

Avalos, who has gone from being a child preacher to becoming a biblical scholar at Harvard and an atheist, said many are also phobic of other religions and fear other religions, even if they, themselves, are not that religious.

A 2006 study at Baylor University found that 22 percent of Protestants and 33 percent of Catholics have never read the Bible, he said.

Father Everett Hemann, priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 2210 Lincoln Way, said Christian values date back to the founding of the country.

The founding fathers of the United States were Christians of various sorts. Hemann said. General Christian values were incorporated into foundational documents. Most citizens were Christians. So, there might be truth ... that even nonreligious [Christian] people feel more comfortable with Christian leadership than those of other religions or atheistic persons.

Keysha Hennings, freshman in mechanical engineering, is a member of The River, a church group affiliated with the First Evangelical Free Church, 2008 24th St. Hennings considers herself an evangelical Protestant.

A candidates religion is a piece of information worth considering just to see morals, but a candidates support, integrity and morals are what counts the most, Hennings said. I have met many Christians and Muslims who are moral and some in both religions who are not.

Trends in the electorates specific religious beliefs have fluctuated over time, although Christianity has always been the major religious belief of the nations citizens.

In the early 19th century, American Christians had a Protestant majority. Avalos said. In those times there was a fear of Catholicism, and the Ku Klux Klan represented those anti-Catholic feelings.

Today Americans are developing a more generic sense of Christianity, Avalos said.

On the other hand, Hemann offers a different view.

I do not see a generic view of Christianity forming, Hemann said. To the contrary, it seems to me that there is more division within the Christian church in the U.S.A. today than probably ever before.

Evangelists provide statistics in which they are made up of 25 million people, Avalos said. They make themselves seem larger to make politicians cater to their views, he said.

Avalos said there are seven million evangelists while the rest are swing voters.

Christine Wickers book, The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church, gives a perspective on how evangelists are losing numbers.

Hennings holds a different opinion on the number of evangelicals

I can see how that is happening, she said. In the past, evangelists werent offering the whole view of God. Today, evangelists have stopped talking about doing things for the fear of God, and have started expressing why we should do things for the love of God. I can also see that there are probably a lot of swing voters.

Regardless, Jim Shirbroun, campus pastor at the Collegiate United Methodist Church, 2622 Lincoln Way, said citizens struggle to find the true essence of other reigions because of misinformation.

I think that what a lot of American Christians have come to know about other religions, has come through radicals and extremists, Shirbroun said.

As people we have a tendency to lump everyone into groups, Shirbroun said. People believe it is us versus them.

He said there is validity in every enduring world religion.

We are good at trying to build walls to protect ourselves, but in reality we are keeping ourselves from knowing the other, Shirbroun said. We need to comfort the conflicted and conflict the comfortable.

Going outside of your religion may be hard but its important to be aware of whats going on in other religions and beliefs, he said.

It is unfortunate that some Christian clergy apparently do not think it important to enter into dialogue with others and do not participate in either of these groups, Hemann said.

Hemann said it is important for Americans to keep an open mind.

When I think I am 100 percent correct, I am furthest wrong, said Chris Hockley, campus ministry associate at the Collegiate United Methodist Church.

Hockley is Christian, but said he is always ready to defend his Muslim brothers and sisters.

Hockley went to Bahrain, a Muslim country, in 2007 to teach English to fifth graders.

Being exposed to other religions had a positive effect on his life.

My religion [Christianity] would not have been the same to me, if I had not studied other religions, Hockley said. It is time to lay down the misconceptions.