Breaking news from CNN that Barack Obama has officially resigned his membership at Trinity United. This is unsurprising, as the church has caused nothing but trouble for Obama for the last several months.
But the underlying story here is the extent to which faith shapes our political opinions. There was, for example, widespread speculation that Romney's faith would hurt him in his presidential campaign. And indeed, many polls indicated that it was costing him Republican support at least to some extent. Obama, on the Democratic side, first had to fend off rumors that he was a closet Muslim. Subsequently he's been taken to task for his long-term involvement with a Christian church whose rhetoric is at times questionable at best. And this has in turn led to counteraccusations regarding the religious leadership associated with the Clintons and the McCains.
Ostensibly, most Americans agree that there is and should be a separation of church and state...that there should be no official American religion, and that a candidate should not be disqualified from seeking office on the basis of his faith (or, in some cases, his lack thereof). Yet faith is at the very core of who we are as a people -- Harris reported in 2003 that 90% of Americans believe in God and 36% attend church at least monthly. For many Americans, our values stem from our churches and our faith. So we can't help but assume that our candidates identify with the values espoused by their own churches. And thus we judge a candidate's moral and character fitness for office in part by the church s/he attends and its teaching.
Is this fair? I don't know. And I don't know if it matters whether it's fair. It just is. It's ingrained in who we are as a people, in how we think about our nation, and in how we think about ourselves as individuals. If we look back at the campaigns of Lieberman and Kennedy, it's clear religion has been an aspect of presidential politics for a long time. And yet I can't help but feel that in this election religion has played a larger role than it has in decades and decades. The question is whether the increased focus this year is merely an aberration, or rather a new precedent and indicator for the future of American politics.