What the Nightly News Ignores

"I pray virtually every day... and I read the Bible every week." That was Bill Clinton speaking, in an interview with US News and World Report. He went on to say, "I really believe in ... the constancy of sin, the possibility of forgiveness, the reality of redemption." Not to be outdone, President Bush announced that his party was "proud to celebrate our country's Judeo-Christian heritage, unrivalled in the world." He boasted that his party's platform is the only one that contains direct references to God. What is going on here? Both parties are appealing to religion to a degree unprecedented in recent years. Their political handlers obviously feel that a religious appeal will work with today's voters. And they're right. If we look at the polls, they tell us there has been a widespread return to religion among Americans. Last year Newsweek ran a cover article on the return of the baby boomers to church. Some 80 percent of boomers consider themselves religious. A GOP poll found that when voters are asked to describe their greatest objective in life, a full 56 percent say a closer relationship to God. Even marketing researchers are recognizing the trend. In an article in Fortune magazine, tucked in among descriptions of new home products, is a prediction that religion will continue to rise. Futurist Arnold Brown says, "people are searching for absolute values and a sure grasp of right and wrong." He predicts "a return to the eternal verities," a "groundswell of longing for some permanent, transcendent set of values." Those are strong words. And if he's right, it's no wonder politicians are giving a higher profile to religion these days. The politician who claims to speak for the people has to show respect for the people's concerns. And religion is undeniably one of their major concerns. But not just any religion. The most vibrant religious force in America today is evangelicalism. Dean Kelley of the National Council of Churches says in an age of sex and drugs, people see evangelicalism as "the base center for the nation's morality." Even people who themselves are not evangelicals are attracted to it, Kelley says, as a bulwark against further moral decline. The only people who seem puzzled by all this are in the media. Media figures have jumped all over the candidates for using religious language in their campaign speeches. They see it as nothing but a cynical political ploy--or worse, as a play on religious prejudice. But historian Garry Wills says that's because media folks have so little to do with religion in their own personal lives. A mere 4 percent of the media leaders attend church. And yet, says Wills, religion has always had and continues to have a pervasive influence on America's culture and politics. Religion is inescapable because we are all made in the image of God. No one can completely escape the religious dimension of life. No one is ever completely irreligious. So despite what you may hear the media say, it's not necessarily either cynicism or demagoguery when politicians use religious language. It's a recognition that religion is at the core of American life.


Chuck Colson


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