"God Help Us: Religion's Role in America," a Commentary by Dave Brown and Glen Hiemstra

January 28, 2007

Author: Dave Brown and Glen Hiemstra

Source: The Seattle Times


The airwaves, the blogosphere and the print media are awash with stories about conflict around the role of religion, now and in the future. As we turned the calendar page to a new year, the conflict showed no sign of cooling down. It is time to change the conversation in 2007.

In January, Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, took the oath of office on the Quran. His decision led Rep. Virgil Goode, a Virginia Republican, to call for immigration restrictions, "so that we don't have a majority of Muslims elected to the United States House of Representatives." Apparently Goode did not notice that the first two Buddhists ever elected were sworn in at the same time.

As the field of presidential candidates becomes established in the first half of 2007, we can anticipate that religion will play a significant part in the campaign. Each candidate will be expected to explain the role of religion in his or her life while making targeted appeals to particular faith-based constituencies.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., has already hired Burns Strider, who has been the head of religious outreach for the House Democratic Caucus since 2005, as a consultant for her 2008 presidential campaign. These appeals will comfort some while antagonizing others who feel that religion has become far too intertwined with politics and public policy.

We live in a time of debate over the role of religion in our society. The religious diversity that has taken root in this nation ensures that the debate will not simply go away. The diversity itself will continue to grow.