Posted on December 28th, 2011 | Filed under Featured, Interfaith, Leadership, Popular Culture, Social Issues, Topic of the Week
Tagged with Faith, Language, Obama, Religion, religion and language, rhetoric, Rick Perry, Strong, U.S.A., War on Religion
There is a lot to be said about Rick Perry’s “Strong” video, a fairly impressive feat for a thirty-second political advertisement. While Perry is clear about his stance on the recently repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the video, he uses generalized language in referring to the promise he makes: that he will end Obama’s so-called “war on religion.” Although the full ad can be found here if you have not already seen it, I wish to bring this particular quote forward:
“As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion, and I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage. Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”
What I do wish to question is whom exactly this war on religion is targeting, based on his rhetoric. Although Perry claims that Obama is targeting religion in general, the context of the “Strong” video suggests that a better phrasing would be the “war on Christianity.” Again, although Perry is clear that there is a war against religion in general, his answers in a recent CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer suggest that this is not a war on all religions, but a war specifically on Christianity. He continually refers to Christmas, as if the prevention of Christmas celebrations is a very clear attack against “religion,” which should again be read as Christianity in this context. Prayer and Christmas are identified as “solid” and “traditional” American values. In identifying examples of the Obama administration’s attacks on religion, Perry repeatedly points to Christian examples.
A Fox News opinion article featured on Rick Perry’s campaign website restates what Perry is implying: there is plenty of evidence that Obama’s administration is attacking Christianity specifically, and there is no shortage of examples named. The article does not mention, however, any specific attacks against any other religious tradition, nor does Perry in the two aforementioned videos.
Would Perry have made such a statement if it were Jewish or Muslim children, for example, who were unable to pray or celebrate their holidays in public schools? For instance, USA Today in this article highlights the debate regarding Muslim prayer accommodations in U.S. schools and universities. It is questionable, based on Perry’s rhetoric, whether he would extend the same support to non-Christian students as he does for Christian students in his “Strong” video. Given the language he uses and the support he utilizes for his position, I am inclined to think otherwise.
Perry also implies in the beginning of his “Strong” video that there is something shameful about being Christian and running for President. Looking at the history of presidents in the United States, however, it seems that being Christian is almost an unspoken prerequisite for being president. There are no recorded Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, or Atheist presidents in the United States, and it is likely that individuals of these and other non-Christian faiths would have a harder time running for office. Another Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, is a prime example of this, as he has been encountering problems as he runs for the presidential nominee because of his Mormon faith, despite Mormonism’s ties to the Christian faith.
Additionally, some recent fact-checking has shown that there really is no basis for Perry’s claim regarding the celebration of Christmas. This article, looking at the nature of schools in both Texas and Iowa, found that children are in fact able to pray and celebrate their holidays if they wish to do so. School officials, on the other hand, are not able to do so, in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights. Anderson Cooper, in his own fact-checking report, highlighted the Christian-centered remark Obama gave at the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony this December. This does not seem to be something that a president who is trying to wage war on a religion would be very likely to do, especially if it is specifically the Christian faith.
So, what exactly is Perry claiming in his ambiguous remark? It seems he is insinuating that Obama is attacking the Christian tradition specifically, although there does not seem to be much support for his remarks. Additionally, he offers his claim in broader terminology that he does not actually support. His choice of language and rhetoric, especially when it concerns religion, needs to be called into question.
Despite America’s multireligious composition and the struggles other adherents of religious and non-religious traditions may face when they try to honor their beliefs, the support of Perry’s claim regarding Obama’s war on religion is woefully inadequate, as is the claim itself. While Perry may genuinely believe that Christianity and his religious tradition are under attack by the current administration, it seems to me that if he is going to claim this as an attack on religion in general, he should support his belief with examples of attacks on other religious traditions as well. To do otherwise is a misrepresentation of the diversity of American religious traditions and the struggles all adherents, whether religious or not, face in the current day and age, as well as a misuse use of a word that can carry many different connotations to different people.
As future leaders, both religious and political, who are concerned with interreligious matters, what aspects of rhetoric and language need to be treated with more care and caution? Especially in light of Perry’s remarks, when is it okay to generalize, and when is it important to back up one’s words with a broad range of facts?
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and can be found at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Governor_Rick_Perry.jpg
Christina Yost is a first year M.Div. student at Methodist Theological School in Ohio and received her B.A. in Pre-Theology and Psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University. She is pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church and is currently a certified candidate in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.