I haven’t been paying much attention lately to any news other than what’s going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf of Mexico. So I’ve missed the fun taking place down in South Carolina. The GOP candidate for Governor, Nikki Haley, has had a tough time getting to where she is right now, which is the front runner in this race.
Two men came forward claiming they had each had affairs with her. Jake Knott, a local redneck senator, referred to her and the President as “rag heads” (Ms. Haley is first-generation Indian American who was raised in the Sikh tradition) and lately there has been a grass roots ‘whispering’ campaign suggesting that she is – gasp! – not a “real” Christian.
Haley says she converted to Methodism at age 24. She, her husband, Michael, and their two children attend a Methodist church in Lexington, S.C.
But in speeches and e-mail campaigns, the detractors, who include a state lawmaker, a local Republican official and at least two local pastors who support Haley’s opponent, are spreading the view that she is concealing her true faith.
They recall that six years ago, she was recognized in an Indian newspaper as the first Sikh elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. They note that when she ran for the legislature in 2004, she described her marriage in a Methodist church but did not mention that she and her husband also participated in a Sikh wedding ceremony, and that she continues to attend Sikh services with her family a few times a year.
They also point to changes on her campaign Web site, which they assert is evidence that she is trying to reposition herself as a strong Christian. Earlier this year, before she became well known as a candidate, the site made reference to “God Almighty.” That has been changed to “Christ.”
“Haley can’t seem to make up her mind about her faith,” said Phillip Bowers, chairman of the Pickens County GOP, in an e-mail to local Republicans last week. Reached by telephone Friday, Bowers said: “It finally got to the point where I ought to let the party know about the inconsistencies in the story.”
Pastor Ray Popham of Oasis Church International in Aiken told CNN: “I think she needs to be straight up with people, if she is both. If she believes that you can be both, then she should say that up front.”
And Tony Beam, an interim pastor at Mount Creek Baptist Church in Greenville, asked listeners on his radio program recently: “Is Nikki Haley being honest about her faith?
This is serious stuff in the deep South. The same type of party sponsored, grassroots, church-centered gossip mongering may have been what cost John McCain the state in the last presidential primary:
In 2000, local strategists for George W. Bush’s campaign in the GOP presidential primary were widely accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against John McCain, including false rumors that he had fathered a black daughter out of wedlock and that he supported a tax on charitable contributions to churches.
“In 2000 against McCain, they had this e-mail chain and telephone chain going through the churches,” said Richard Quinn, who worked for the McCain campaigns in 2000 and 2008 and for a gubernatorial candidate this year. “They went through the churches, recruited ministers and scared some of the fundamentalist ministers by demonizing McCain. It created quite a buzz in the faith community, and it was just incredible how well it worked. We just fell real hard and real fast.”
Did everyone pick up on how this all went down in churches? And not in bar rooms or the Elks or VFW. Shameful.
I would like to say, like so many do, that faith should not be important when it comes to deciding on whom to vote for. But I don’t believe that. Back when I was a Conservative Neo-Evangelical I voted for George Bush because he was a conservative Born-Again Christian. Now I would use the same criteria to NOT vote for him. The last person I want to see with access to the nuclear football (or shaping our foreign policy) is someone who believes in the Rapture and the Tribulation.
But I think the type of religious concern being displayed in South Carolina has less to do with theology than it has to do with racism and bigotry. Fortunately, the majority of voting Republicans in that state (and maybe the majority of Democrats as well) have been able to step up their game a bit and see beyond the fear mongering and stereo typing. I hope so. It can’t be easy when you hale from a place where many still misses the good old days of the Confederacy.
What does trouble me, though, is that it seems that Ms. Haley might very well still have ties to her old faith. She is protesting just a bit too much here, what with all the new JESUS! emphasis and hyping the Palin endorsement etc. And that’s sad. It’s sad that she has to do that in order to win an election in America, that she can’t be upfront about holding to any unorthodox religious views. There is no reason that Sikhism and Jesus should have to be incompatible.
Unless you happen to vote for openly Christian politicians like Jake Knott (the senator who called her a “rag head”). Recently he asked: “Have you ever asked her if she believes in Jesus Christ as her lord and savior, and that he died on the cross for her sins? Have you ever asked her that?”
Why is that a viable question? Because apparently an answer in the affirmative in no way suggests that the respondent is in any way more intelligent, sophisticated, educated, open-minded or well mannered than the lowest common denominator southern cracker. And perhaps even less competent.
Besides, when it comes to Christianity, it’s the wrong question anyway.