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American Exceptionalism, Political Power and the Holy Spirit, The 2012 Republican Presidential Primary Candidates

August 11, 2011
by Lawrence Gulotta

One of the trends I find “exceptional” about the USA today is the number of religious sects and cults participating directly in the electoral process.  The leading contender for the Republican nomination for President, Gov. Mitt Romney, is a Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), a religion considered heretical by most mainstream Christians like nearly all mainstream Protestant Churches and the Catholic Church. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas began his Presidential campaign by organizing a “Christian only” evangelical, and “dominionist” prayer meeting, “The Response: a call to prayer for a nation in crisis.” “Dominionism” is the belief that holds the Holy Bible as dominant over laws made by man. The relationship between Gov. Perry and the “New Apostolic Reformation” movement, see: http://www.texasobserver.org/cover-story/rick-perrys-army-of-god. “The Response” was a gathering of the different tribes of American fundamentalism – Christian Zionists, prayer warriors, apostolic and prophetic types, etc.  – under the umbrella of political and spiritual revival, see: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908//vp/44098787#44098787

Like Governor Perry, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann espouses a “dominionist” religious perspective and spent her student years in law school studying the “dominionist” approach to society, law and government, see http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/90014/michelle-bachmanns-worldview.

Gov. Sarah Palin is a member of a “The Wasilla Assembly of God.”  The “Wasilla Assembly” is a member of the “Assemblies of God,” a Pentecostal Christian denomination founded in 1914 in the United States. The ‘Four Core Beliefs’ of the Assemblies of God are Salvation, Baptism in the Holy Spirit, Divine Healing and the Second Coming of Christ. A dramatic insight into Pentacosaltlism is found in the 1997 film,”The Apostle” written, directed and starring Robert Duvall, as a charismatic “Pentecostal” preacher. Pentecostals are known to “speak in tongues:” see a clip from Duvall’s movie, The Apostle: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FwMu9WW_bg.

The Apostle’s main character Sonnyis what social scientists once politely referred to as “Other Protestants.” Sonny was actually a preacher in the traditional holiness movement, distinct from the Pentecostal movement, which believes that the baptism in the Holy Spirit involves speaking in tongues. Many of the early Pentecostals were from the holiness movement, and to this day many “classical Pentecostals” maintain much of holiness doctrine and many of its devotional practices, according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holiness_movement.  Frankly, modern “demoninatism” is largely unknown to most Americans. The list of largely unknown individuals, schismatic sects, cults, groups, exotic beliefs and churches, which the contenders for the Republican nomination belong to or are in agreement with, are “exceptional.” The religious fringe, it seems, has become the Protestant mainstream.

Today’s Republicans could be rebranded the “Christian Republican Party.”  The center core of Protestant faith has migrated from “Liberal Protestantism” to an entrepreneurial-style, evangelist and fundamentalist faith, which votes heavily on the Republican Row. The “Christian Republicans” support their fringe-like “Christian” agenda demands. It was once believed that such sects originated mainly among the religiously neglected poor. Clearly, this is now no longer the case. It has been argued by social scientists that insecurity, differential status and anxiety characterize these religious movements. The effects of the Great Recession and the affects of geographic relocation and workplace displacement have contributed to a sense of anxiety and anomie among the American middle-class. Ernst Troeltsch, the major historian of sectarian religion, has characterized the psychological appeal of fundamentalist religious sects in a way that might as appropriately be applied to extremist politics. A direct connection between the social roots of political and religious extremism has been observed in a number of countries. It was observed by the American sociologist S. M. Lipset, as early as the 1960s that “the point here is that rigid fundamentalism and dogmatism are linked to the same underlying characteristics, attitudes, and predispositions which find another outlet in allegiance to extremist political movements.”   Many western democracies have “Christian Democratic Parties,” the US, because it is “exceptional,” has a “Christian Republican Party.” The candidates for the Republican nomination have made their religious views of scripture known, by degrees.  To discover what these candidates deeply and sincerely believe requires the investigative work of a “large metropolitan newspaper.”

The ascendancy of the “nouveau fundamentalist Protestant elite” to high leadership positions in the Republican Party needs to be understood as a serious step toward a profound redefinition of church and state in America. The ascendancy of hard-core chronic “know-nothing-ism” and “anti-intellectualism,” so eloquently written about by Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter, and sectarian belief systems, is undoubtedly “exceptional” for a modern mass political party with governmental responsibilities. While it is argued that Europe is experiencing a “crisis of faith,” the United States is experiencing a revivalism parallel with the Second Great Awakening of the 1800s.  The decline of mainstream Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Episcopalians as forces affecting the direction of the Republican Party, has been statistically significant, and the rise of “Other Protestants,” and sects, has marked a realignment of voting patterns and political commitment.

Is it possible to image Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy organizing a 30,000 person “Catholics only” prayer service as a campaign launch? One of the famous quotes from Kennedy’s address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, during the 1960 national election, was, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me.”

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