Judd Birdsall is a PhD candidate at Cambridge and an editorial fellow with The Review on Faith & International Affairs in Washington, DC.
Prior to coming to Cambridge, he worked at the State Department, where he served in the Office of International Religious Freedom and the Secretary of State's Policy Planning Staff. He also chaired of the Department’s Forum on Religion & Global Affairs. MORE.
How Obama Appeals to Christians without Alienating Other Americans
Originally published April 8, 2015 in the Washington Post.
As another religiously-charged presidential campaign gets underway, candidates must find compelling ways to appeal to voters without Americanizing Christianity or Christianizing America.
President Obama offers one workable model. At this week’s White House Easter Prayer Breakfast the president articulated an approach to relating Christian commitment to American politics that appeals to Christians without alienating other Americans.
Vice President Biden, on the other hand, unintentionally demonstrated how hard it is to get this balance right.
Biden’s prayer breakfast remarks blended the Easter story and American story into one civil religious narrative. He even went so far as to speak of “the ongoing miracle that is the United States of America.”
The vice president centered his brief reflection on a quote from Pope Francis’s Easter vigil homily: “We cannot live Easter without entering into mystery. To enter into mystery means the ability to wonder, to contemplate, the ability to listen to the silence and hear the tiny whisper amid the great silence by which God speaks to us.”
Biden took an expansive view of this “mystery,” applying it to all Americans in some mysterious way. “I think that’s who we are as Christians, and quite frankly, I think that’s who we are as Americans,” Biden said. “We’re constantly renewed as a people and as individuals by our ability to enter into the mystery.”
As he continued, Biden left it unclear whether he was addressing Christians or Americans or both. “We live our faith when we instill in our children the ability to wonder… We live our faith when we nurture the hope and possibilities that have always defined us as a country.”
Like many politicians, Biden’s use of the word “faith” has a certain strategic ambiguity about it. In American political parlance, “faith” can be a synonym for “religion” or even a code word for a particular brand of Christianity. But it can also express a vague spiritual sentiment, an abiding confidence, or just a general sense of optimism.
Continue reading at the Washington Post.