Religion & Politics: USF Fall 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Pluralism

Religion and Politics

Pluralism is the concept that differing ethnic, religious, and political persuasions may co-exist within one society. Two cases from this semester’s studies come to mind. The first is Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to serve in the United States Congress.
Mr. Ellison is quoted as saying, “People draw strength and moral courage from a variety of religious traditions." This statement reflects his tolerance of other religious faiths within our political system, and for Keith Ellison to have been elected to the United States Congress, it reveals this country’s growing acceptance of political figures of all faiths. Mr. Ellison, in describing his philosophy, has also said, "Mine [religious beliefs] have come from both Catholicism and Islam. I was raised Catholic and later became a Muslim while attending Wayne State University. I am inspired by the Quran's message of an encompassing divine love, and a deep faith guides my life every day.”
Mr. Ellison was endorsed in his candidacy by the Twin Cities newspaper, the American Jewish World, which said, "In Ellison, we have a moderate Muslim who extends his hand in friendship to the Jewish community and supports the security of the State of Israel.” Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to a seat in Congress shows Americans are open to the idea of varying religious influences in public life.
Similarly, a devout Mormon and politician is gaining attention the public eye. Massachusetts Governor (Willard) Mitt Romney, 59, is among the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) elite. The controversy over his impending Republican presidential campaign has been more prevalent as the 2008 presidential election nears.
Although Mormons are known for family centeredness, hard work and clean living, many Americans remain suspicious of them, maybe because so many aspects of their faith remain mysterious. A poll conducted in June by the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg found that 35% of registered voters said they would not consider voting for a Mormon for President. Only Islam would be a more damaging faith for a candidate, the poll found (Time Magazine).
Michael Otterson, a Mormon convert who is now the church's director of media relations, called on political reporters when he visited Washington from Utah in October. He wanted them to know that in its 176-year history, the church has never endorsed a presidential candidate, and that much of the lore surrounding its beliefs just isn't true. "The message in a nutshell is, Remember that we're politically neutral as an institution," he says. "The church is about preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anything else is a distraction."
Romney advisers are debating whether he will need to give a neutralizing speech in the tradition of John F. Kennedy, who told Protestant church leaders in Houston 46 years ago that he was "not the Catholic candidate for President" but instead was "the Democratic Party's candidate for President, who happens also to be Catholic” (Time Magazine).
Both cases reflect that a pluralistic society can thrive. It is important that, in these times of great upheaval in the Middle East, a devout Muslim, such as Keith Ellison, can win a seat in our own national legislative body. And, it is interesting to note how Governor Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president reminds us of the concern over electing a Catholic president nearly a half century ago.
Pluralism is, for me, one of the most interesting and challenging concepts for any society, and I have been inspired by my Society and Religion class to make the study of it the topic for my Final Research Project.

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