3rd place: Grad student essay contest — Sydni Ham Myers

Sydni Ham Myers

The political ideology of God

FFRF awarded Syndi $2,500.

By Sydni Ham Myers

On June 23, 2017, Mike Pence delivered keynote remarks to an energetic crowd in Colorado Springs at the 40th anniversary celebration of Focus On The Family, an organization that openly invests in public education campaigns against LGBTQ individuals: “In a very real sense, you’re the hands and feet, and the voice in so many ways of the truths found in the scriptures,” said Pence. “You’ve strengthened marriages. . . . You’ve advocated for the timeless values our society needs to hear now more than ever.”

Meanwhile around the living room of my parents’ home in Hampton, Va., heads shook in confusion and disgust at CNN’s live coverage of the mystifying words of our nation’s vice president.

Yet one family member remained fixed on the zealous speaker. In the middle of the room, my uncle watched on, eyes wide with awe, nodding his head fervently to every word. 

Then Pence doubled down with the promise: “Protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration. . . . Many believers around the world are under assault, and nowhere is this more evident than the Middle East, in the very land where our faith was given life, that’s why under President Trump, America stands with Israel.”

In response, my uncle slowly stood up from his seat, clapping his hands together and said, “Amen.”

The room fell silent and the tension that followed was palpable. I remember my father and grandfather scoffing loudly in reaction to the daring act of praise. For it was certainly a bold act, especially for a Black man, to openly praise a conservative leader in a room of unwavering Democrats. Yet, to my uncle, the deeply religious references that enveloped Pence’s speech were the only thing that mattered. 

With a nod to God, my evangelical uncle could look past even the most divisive of messages.

When religion is referenced throughout political debate, it helps politicians gain automatic support from a large demographic of the American populace: devout Christians. This blind devotion is antithetical to the legal framework intended by our country’s Founding Fathers. 

In the 18th century, when Christianity was the de facto religion of the country, Thomas Jefferson introduced the Bill Concerning Religious Freedom to the Virginia Legislature. In it, he urged an amendment to end state support of religion out of fear that combining faith and politics would encourage citizens to conform to a common denomination. He believed conflating religion and politics would also have more severe rippling effects — it would lead to the persecution of individuals outside of the common faith. 

For years, Israel and Palestine have been in conflict over border rights and control of Jerusalem (as well as Israeli settlements, Palestinian freedom of movement, water rights and many more matters). Furthermore, according to its 1997 Status of Jerusalem plan, the United Nations aims to one day recognize Jerusalem as a capital of both states, Israel and Palestine.

Yet, in his Focus On The Family address, Mike Pence likened Palestinians struggling on the border to radical terrorists: “Nearly 2,000 years ago the disciples of Jesus Christ fanned out from Israel in every direction, but today, these Christian communities face unspeakable atrocities at the hands of radical Islamic terrorism.”

As a leader of a nation that was founded on the Jeffersonian principles of the separation of church and state, Pence used religion to cushion his extremist point of view. In doing this, he invoked a foreign policy that isolated an entire group of people based on faith.    

When Pence or any other politician claims that God is on their side, they not only confuse Christians and encourage blind piety, they also use religion to justify enacting policies that are ethically corrupt.   

During the 2016 vice presidential debate, Sen. Tim Kaine recounted a moment, during his time as governor of Virginia, when he struggled between upholding the state’s death penalty laws and his Catholic faith. Yet, despite his personal religious views, he upheld the law. 

“It was a real struggle for me,” Kaine said, “but I think that it’s important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel like we can just substitute in our own views.”

When politicians take the oath of office, ideally, they should sacrifice their personal beliefs to do what is legally and ethically just for the sake of their constituents. Unfortunately, the politicians of today still remain to weave Jesus into their ideologies at any opportune chance.   

Sydni, 29, attends Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I’m a young woman passionate about advertising and writing and a proud Hampton, Va., native.”