Donald Andrew Henson II

Who Is America’s Only Protestant Leader?

In American Society, Religion and Government, Religion and Society on September 22, 2012 at 3:05 am

I’m feeling a little mischievous today, so I thought I might beat a horse / bang a drum / stir up a race in which I have no dog entered – or whatever colloquialism you might have for one of my favorite pastimes – getting people all fired up about something that I don’t really care about one way or another.

There’s been a lot of talk about the 47% Americans this week – here are a few other percentages that might interest you.

I’m guessing that the vast majority of American readers who stumble upon this blog are Christians; maybe that’s why my subscriptions inch up at a rate of only a couple a month. Statistics would predict that this is the case. Out of all adult Americans (I don’t like to count children as religious adherents), a little more than 75% claim a belief in the Christian faith. This makes us a ‘Christian nation’ in the eyes of many, especially conservatives, Republicans, tea-partiers, and others on the right of the political spectrum.

I’m also guessing – from what I see on the news, and from what I am unfortunately subjected to from Facebook friends – that many Christians feel that their religious beliefs should play a key role in their political decisions. This is something that I am adamantly against, as the title of this blog should intimate; I think folks should believe whatever they want to believe in their personal lives, but concerning those areas that affect society as a whole, they should rely on empirical evidence and fact, not feeling.

However, in this conservative way of thinking, it would follow that 75% of our leaders should be Christian too, if they are to accurately reflect our beliefs. I mean, if I spend several hours a week at the local Methodist church, I’d really like the guys and gals who are making the rules of the country to be Methodists too, wouldn’t I?

Of the 75-80% of American adults who claim to be Christians, about a third are Catholic, and two-thirds are Protestant – with the remaining quarter being everything else, from Jewish (5%) to Mormon (2%) to Muslim (.5%). So, about half of our leaders should be Protestant, a quarter Catholic, and a quarter drawn from all other beliefs.

While just over half of Americans today claim beliefs born of the Reformation, our American heritage is undoubtedly Protestant – one might say extremely so. If you look at the religious affiliation of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, you’ll find 55 Protestants and 1 Catholic – although perhaps 4 of these Protestants were not what you might call ‘traditional’ Protestants; 2 publicly espoused Unitarianism, and Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, despite being affiliated with the Episcopalian or American Anglican church were thought to be Deists. Nonetheless, according to adherents.com, 203 of the 204 men who could be considered Founding Fathers were Protestant. Half were Anglican, a third were Presbyterian or Congregationalist.

Do you believe that our country should be run according to the religious ideas of the Founding Fathers? Then I’m guessing you’d want most of our leaders to come from those three Protestant groups; unfortunately, followers of those faiths account for a very small percentage of the population today. So when you hear someone like Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, or Charles Stanley talk about the beliefs of creators of our American democracy, keep in mind that they would all have pretty serious theological differences with those men were they alive today.

What is the religious affiliation of the leaders of our country today? It might surprise you. Now, remember, I’m a secularist – I think religion should play less of a role in our politics, not more. I don’t really think of a candidate’s religious beliefs when I go to the polls, unless he believes in something so ridiculous, so fantastical that I think it warps his sense of reality. I’d like to think that a leader, even if he went to church on Sunday, would spend the other six days trying to improve the welfare of the country. But if you want the government to reflect your Protestant religious beliefs, you may be disappointed in the following facts.

The Supreme Court consists of nine justices: 6 Catholic, 3 Jewish. (The last Protestant, John Paul Stephens, retired in 2010).

Vice President of the US, Joe Biden – the person who breaks ties in the Senate: Catholic

Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid – the person who sets the Senate’s agenda: Mormon

Speaker of the House, John Boehner – responsible for deciding what the House votes on: Catholic

Now I’m thinking, if you’re an evangelical Christian, you can’t be too happy with those statistics – 8 Roman Catholics, 3 Jews, and a Mormon have a pretty good lock on the positions of real power in the US. Who’s representing your interests if you are a Protestant?

A lot of Americans would like to have a president who more closely reflects their own values, those of the evangelical Christian church. If you’d like to make that change right away – sorry, but the Republicans have given you a Mormon / Catholic ticket, Romney and Ryan. Personally, there’s no way I could vote for a guy who believes in Joseph Smith’s hogwash – not now, not back when I was a fundamentalist. See the above about a warped sense of reality.

Are you unhappy yet, Mr. Evangelical? You wouldn’t go to the same church with most of the people in charge of the country – perhaps someone in your pulpit has even openly criticized Judaism, Catholicism or Mormonism. But there they are, deciding what’s best for you, me and the rest of the country. And if you thought you might get to get someone in the next election that believes like you do – wrong again.

Oh, wait a minute. I just remembered. There is one Protestant choice. There is one man who belongs to the long, proud line of Protestant leaders our country has produced. One man who believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God, but doesn’t believe that the Virgin will help get you in to heaven. One man whose faith was nurtured by the King James Version of the Bible – not the Torah, the Book of Mormon, or the Catholic Bible.

Yes, Mr. Evangelical, if you want to vote according to your faith, the choice is clear:

Official photographic portrait of US President...

While he grew up in a home that was decidedly un-Christian, he decided, as an adult, to join the Trinity United Church of Christ. Want to vote for someone who’s beliefs are most similar to yours? Barack Obama’s church is similar to the Southern Baptist denomination when it comes to theology. Want someone who espouses the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers? Both John Adams and John Quincy Adams were members of the United Church of Christ.

Maybe your pastor is telling you to vote for Romney / Ryan – but if you told him that, after much prayer and thought, that you were going to join the Roman Catholic Church, or the Church of Latter Day Saints – he’d have a cow.

Tell him instead that you’re voting for the only Protestant / Evangelical choice available this election year, Barack Obama. He doesn’t believe in magic underwear or that only 144,000 people are going to heaven. He isn’t part of a religion that’s spent hundreds of years stealing from the poor to give to the rich, and he isn’t interested in seeing that system become the basis for American fiscal policy.

He isn’t a Muslim, a Socialist, or the Anti-Christ. He’s more like the guy sitting in the pew next to you than any other candidate or current leader.

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  1. Hey, great statistics, very interesting. But your conclusion is silly, whatever he is, Barack Obama is not a Christian. You obviously put a lot of effort into this, I commend you on the depth of your post. 🙂

  2. When I was growing up in church, I can’t count the number of times a teacher or preacher reiterated the idea that being a Christian was a matter of choice. You’re not a Christian because your parents are. You’re not a Christian because you go to Sunday school or to a Christian school. The only way to become a Christian is to make a personal affirmation of faith.

    The President may have had a father who was a Muslim. It sounds like his mother was agnostic at best. His grandparents were ‘non-active Christians’, whatever that means. His mother sent him to a Muslim elementary school in Indonesia – where there really isn’t a public school option and most schools are run by religious institutions. According to the pastors of my youth, none of these would have made him anything.

    As an adult, he joined a Protestant, Evangelical, Christian church, which I imagine required him to make some kind of affirmation of faith. It’s true that a lot of people do this because it’s good for business or whatever – but I don’t see that it’s anyone’s place to say that he isn’t a Christian. He’s as good a Christian as pretty much any president we’ve had in my lifetime, except perhaps Jimmy Carter, who seemed to really take his religion seriously.

    You write off my conclusion as ‘silly’ – yet you offer no evidence of why you think so. President Obama is the only one of the leaders I mentioned who even claims to be a Protestant – like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, travel and education may broadened his worldview. But my conclusion isn’t silly – it’s valid: if you feel that God wants you to vote for someone with a similar Christian affiliation, someone who share that ‘old time religion’ with the Founding Fathers – the evidence points to Obama.

  3. much the way christians want to pick and choose which parts of the bible to believe/ignore, they also want to pick and choose who the ‘real’ christians are….if he doesn’t look, sound and smell just like them…must be a fake!

  4. I’m a Christian, yet I don’t believe that our leaders should be chosen because they are or aren’t Christians. I also rather enjoyed your post.

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