Event on evangelical Christianity and U.S. politics broadcast on NPR
The discussion featuring historian Mark Noll about the role of religion in American politics, held on September 23 at GMF's Berlin office, was broadcast on NPR Worldwide's stations the weekend of October 24, 2008.
More information is available on the NPR Worldwide website.
God's own country? Evangelikales Christentum und Politik in den USA
On September 23rd, GMF's Berlin office, in cooperation with the Protestant Academy (Evangelische Akademie zu Berlin) and its director Rüdiger Sachau, hosted a panel discussion on the role of religion in the U.S. presidential elections. The event took place at the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche, one of the two churches built in 1785 by the Prussian king Friedrich II on Gendarmenmarkt for the use of Huguenot religious refugees from France.
Tod Lindberg (Policy Review, and recent author of The Political Teachings of Jesus), Professor Mark Noll (University of Notre Dame, and recent author of Race, Religion, and Politics in the U.S.), Hermann Gröhe (Member of the Bundestag) and Dietmar Nietan (former Member of the Bundestag) all were panelists in the discussion shedding light on a number of nuances about religion and politics in the U.S. and Germany. The audience was a mixture of people from think tanks, policy makers and the acamademic and religious community. Overall, the panel discussion sought to provide a more complex picture of religion — and the relationship of religion and politics — both in the United States and in Germany.
The event began with a keynote speech by Professor Mark Noll, a "progressive" evangelical historian and theologian from the University of Notre Dame (Indiana) on "Race, Religion and Politics, 1830-2008." Noll outlined the closely intertwined relationship between different faiths, race and political life throughout American history, touching on slavery, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and the "culture wars" of the 1960s. "Europeans who want perspective on American religion and politics should, of course, pay attention to debates over the Iraq War, over economic issues, over the crisis of health care, and over other matters as well. But Europeans also need to see that the present grows out of the deep past. It is a long history, but it is a history crucial for understanding what is taking place in the United States today," said Noll.
The discussion revolved around the role that faith and religious orientations will play in the upcoming elections in the U.S., and how it differs compared to previous elections. Noll and Lindberg explained that the Evangelical movement has become less predictable in its political affiliations because it has moved from a very narrow issue base to a much broader one (e.g. climate change and stewardship) and in some cases is reconsidering earlier dogmatic positions (e.g. on the death penalty). Lindberg pointed out that "atheist" voices have become much more prominent than in previous elections; he attributed much of the criticism of Sarah Palin to a "new strident anti-religious sentiment."
In response to a question about why it had been so difficult to include a reference to God in the draft for a European Treaty, Gröhe and Nietan said that this had been opposed mainly by France, with its strong laicist tradition, but they agreed that faith also remains a private issue in German politics. Nietan went on to suggest that this may be because religion was instrumental in earlier German "culture wars." Gröhe said that Germany had long taken a condescending attitude towards societies where religion plays a central role in politics, such as the United States, Russia, India or the Muslim world.
The discussion showcased that on both sides of the Atlantic the issue is much more complex than is commonly allowed for in the media and public debates. The evening helped the audience in particular to understand the historical complexities of the relationship between religion and politics in the United States.