June 21, 2019

Vote For Me, I'm Christian

vote yes or no

I have to start this post by pointing out that I am aware that I live in the most religious state in the U.S., and that means I do not expect what I am writing about here to be something that everyone will be able to relate to. Still, I expect that most of you living in the U.S. probably live near many Christians. Even if you don't, you will have observed at least some of what I'll describe at the level of national politics.

With local and state elections nearing, I have been getting flooded with campaign material for local candidates for all sorts of positions (e.g., school board, state treasurer, secretary of state, lieutenant governor, various judgeships). One thing these materials have in common is that almost all of them flaunt the Christian credentials of the person running for office. That is, the fact that the candidate is Christian is presented as if it was a qualification for office. I suppose that is because it is, at least that seems to be the case here in Mississippi.

In most presidential elections, candidates seem to have some awareness that they need to appeal to more than just evangelical fundamentalist Christian voters. Even if those voters are their base, most will reach out beyond them to some degree. This is usually still true but to a lesser degree for Congressional elections. Not surprisingly, we see much more variability here. Some candidates for Congress in some states do focus on Christian voters almost exclusively. At least in Mississippi, much of this breaks down when it comes to local and state-level elections. Here it seems like focusing only on evangelical fundamentalist Christian voters is the norm.

From reading these materials, I learned that one candidate for school board has an MBA from a local Baptist college, is "conservative on discipline issues," and is a member of the largest Southern Baptist church in town. That last part is extremely important around here. Being a Christian does matter, but not nearly as much as attending the right Southern Baptist church. A candidate for circuit court judge attended this same Baptist college and is a member of another Baptist church in the community. Boy, I'm not sure that is going to be good enough for my neighbors.

I know what you are thinking. This is a transparent strategy to convince voters that they should vote for someone because he or she is one of them, a believer. I agree. While I'm much more interested to learn where candidates stand on relevant issues and the scope of their education and professional experience, I admit that this requires me to invest some time and effort in the process. It would be much easier if I could just use professions of Christianity or which church someone attends as a proxy for whether they are a good person.

Since the school board candidates do not provide any information about their stance on evolution or prayer in school, it is hard to know who deserves my vote. I have little choice but to conclude that their need to flaunt their religious beliefs all over their campaign materials is a bad sign. If I can find any candidates who do not do this, I usually reward them with my support. But sadly, this rarely happens.

Elections are important. All of them are important. While I am generally convinced that the Democrats are the lesser of the two large evils and usually vote for Democratic candidates as a result, it becomes difficult at the local and state level. Most of Mississippi's Democrats (when the state Democratic Party even bothers to run candidates) are far more conservative than other states' Republicans. They are every bit as likely to drape themselves with evangelical fundamentalist Christianity in their campaign materials. Many even go out of their way to hide the fact that they are running as Democrats. This often makes it hard for me to feel motivated to vote, but I manage to drag myself to the local precinct anyway.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2006. It was revised and expanded in 2019 ahead of Mississippi's upcoming elections.