Jesus as a Third Candidate in the US elections

In the last 30 or so years the importance of Jesus in US elections has increased substantially. This is in a situation where Christianity– in the church going /family values sense– has seen a decline. The number of births out of wedlock have increased to more than 50 percent of total births, and that itself shows the weakening of traditional Church influence on American citizens.

But the campaigners, particularly on the Republican side, want to project themselves as “true believers” and “Born again Christians”. Even the Democrats can’t project themselves as agnostics and Obama visited his Church and showed that he is a “believer”. The majority of births in the last year were that of non-whites and many are children of first and second generation migrants. For Information Technology and University oriented migrants from Bharat, USA implies California and Boston –West Coast and North–East, respectively.

But there are vast areas in US populated by aging Whites in the Bible belt as well as what is called “home land”. Many of us may not have heard about South and North Dakota or even Kansas and South Carolina or Louisiana. The number of what are called red-necks in these areas are as much in abundance as Parthenium in Bengaluru parks. Many of them are illiterate and do not possess any passports, and would not know the difference between Iraq and Bharat, and also between Muslims and Hindus, leave alone Sikhs.

This segment has several groupings like Gun lobby/tea party lobby/ Evangelical/pro-life etc. Some of them are intersecting groups and most of them are angry. They feel “their” United States founded on the principles of Christianity –which is contested by many – is lost, and the reason for that is the liberals and homosexuals and pro-abortion and “ghetto-blacks” groups. Now Islam is added as a new threat thanks to Trump.

This white ageing America cannot win elections for POTUS (President Of The United States) but can create enough local level damage. Jesus is now more like being “secular” in Bharat — everybody says they are secular but nobody believes them. The same way every candidate in US claims he is a “Church going /believer in values of Bible” – no one believes them. Ted Cruz, who has retired from the race on the Republican side, belongs to the Bible thumpers group, more for financing needs. It is important to remember that US elections require millions of dollars of money and other than business groups, the Church groups have become a major source of election financing.

Getting funds requires genuflection before these “born again” groups. These groups may not support a single candidate since each group has its own agenda and predilections. One thing which unites them all is the perception that US is not what it used to be. Most “Jesus groups” are aging ones. The younger lot is not so enthusiastic. Women are less enthusiastic than men. Of course colored people like Latinos may be God fearing and Church going, but may not share the views of the “Born agains”.

These “new age” Evangelical groups like Pentecostal/Assembly of God are more fiercely pro-Christianity compared to traditional Episcopalians and Presbyterians; the latter two groups had the maximum number of Presidents in the last two centuries. It is interesting to know that Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the republic, and the well-known Abraham Lincoln do not seem to be ardent church goers. See Table-1.

Table-1 Church affiliations of US Presidents till date (no non-Christians have been elected as President)

Church Affiliation Number
Anglican (Later Deist) – Thomas Jefferson 1
Baptist 4
Congregationalist 3
Dutch Reformed 2
Episcopalian 11
Methodist 3
Presbyterian 7
Roman Catholic 1
Quaker 2
Unitarian 4
Congregationalist (United Church of Christ) 1
None specified (including Abraham Lincoln) 4
Total 43

These new age groups believe that US was founded on the principles of the Bible and at present it is moving away from those ideals. But others are for more “secular” interpretation of the Constitution where Church and State are separated. But even this group needs to exhibit its abiding faith in any one of the Churches. Very few are agnostics and exhibit it openly.

Jesus holding US Constitution
‘One Nation Under God’, a painting by a Christian artist that depicts Jesus Christ holding the United States constitution

Europe has become much more agnostic, and Church going as an activity is on the decline. In US, in what is called the ‘bible belt’ – a region in the southeastern and south-central United States where socially conservative evangelical Protestantism plays a strong role in society and politics – going to Church is still popular. Interestingly, there are black Churches catering to blacks with black priests etc. Even though Jesus would not be a white man –given his place of origin—he is always depicted as a white man on the cross, even in black churches.

At least in the foreseeable future one cannot imagine a “non-believer” becoming POTUS in the USA. You can be conservative or liberal or even progressive, but not agnostic or atheist. That is an interesting position of the most advanced and hi-tech country in the world. The debate about homosexuality/abortion/pre-marital sex etc. are also about interpretation of bible and what were/would be “Jesus’ solutions” to such problems.

The reason is simple. Corporate USA located at Bay area and Boston cluster may be “agnostic” or even “irreligious” but they do not constitute US society. US society is still represented by the old white lady from “Peoria” in Illinois who is the old world representative of all that is “rich” or “dumb” in US society, depending on how you look at it. This will only increase the frustrations of these groups at their inability to control the White House, and can give rise to individuals of these groups indulging in violence and mayhem. The future of US belong to settlers of another dimension –not that of Irish and Italians, but that of Latinos /Chinese/Bharatiyas and even Vietnamese.

The bible belt knows it and it is angry about it – but demography is destiny and it cannot do much about it.


About the Author

Professor R Vaidyanathan
Professor of Finance, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bengaluru, Bharat