It's going on in Minnesota, it's going on nationally: the politicization of Christianity. In particular, evangelical and Protestant Christianity.
A piece published by the Associated Press yesterday shows the assumptions about the American political dynamic have changed in our lifetime. Political players used to debate about whether unelected sectarian religious leaders should play a major role in the dirty business of US elections.
As a practical matter, that debate is effectively over. Influential religious leaders do play a role in election outcomes; there is now a "priestly class" that does election politics in the US.
So these days instead of challenging people who gather voters together along sectarian lines to grab political power: the press is questioning the judgment of politicians who fail to do so.
Here's a report about people who deplore President Obama's "failure" to round up enough sectarian religious support to win re-election:
...some religious leaders and scholars who backed Obama in 2008 ... say the Democrats have, through neglect and lack of focus, squandered the substantial gains they made with religious moderates and worry it will hurt Obama in a tight race against Republican Mitt Romney.
According to this line of thinking, the Obama administration has "blown it" by not catering specifically to Christian interests--as articulated by unelected Christian leaders. The question about whether any public official should cater to any sectarian religious interest in order to get elected: is now moot.
The Christian right (not the Christian left) is responsible for that change in the nature of election dynamics. The Christian right politicized Christianity, making it into a kind of fiefdom within the Republican Party. They've been so successful in associating the faith with partisan politics that it's not uncommon for adherents to ask fellow Christians the following question: "How can you be a Christian and be a Democrat?" (See an example below.)
I guess that liberal or progressive evangelicals can win a measure of self-satisfaction by turning the question around ("How can you be a Christian and be Republican?") Christians of the right and left go at each other with scriptural proofs of which partisan interpretation has the better claim to Christianity.
What about the rest of us? The rest of us belong to neither group. We are by far the numerical majority; most voters don't identify with the Christian right or the Christian left. But we find ourselves living in a time when election results and political leadership can depend on conservative Christian turn-out. Conservative evangelical turnout--like a swing vote on the Supreme Court--can determine which way the nation goes...even though conservative evangelicals are a political minority, even though the leaders who instruct them on how to vote are unelected by any of us.
So the only people who get real satisfaction out of the politicization of Christianity are those unelected leaders. A political split among American Christians is in their interest. Because the election-time influence of the Christian left is minimal...but the Christian right is by far the best organized and most politically influential sectarian religious party in America.
It's gotten so that when news media refer to influence of the Christian right in elections, they use the word "evangelical" to describe those politically conservative interests. Not "conservative evangelical," not "right wing evangelical"--just "evangelical." The right wing forces in American evangelical politics are so much more powerful and influential than their left-wing evangelical opposition, that political commentators are comfortable allowing their readers to believe that "evangelical" means "conservative evangelical, a de fact wing of the Republican Party."
In such a political dynamic, President Obama's failure to "corral" enough center and left evangelical support to counter the Christian right must indeed strike some people as an egregious electioneering failure.
David Kim, a Connecticut College religious studies professor, helped advise the 2008 (Obama campaign) ... Kim ... described the administration's faith-based work as "ad hoc" and "with no long-term strategy."
"Faith-based work?" How did US politics devolve to the point where a presidential administration has to strategize "faith-based work" in order to maximize chances for re-election? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that if the White House is supposed to be developing "long term strategies for faith-based work" in order to be re-elected--Democrats in less high-profile elections will also be straining to prove their commitment to "faith" (And as practical matter, that "faith" they're referring to there is not Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or "faith in general": it's politicized Christianity.)
Finally, the AP piece quotes Obama supporter Valerie Cooper, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia:
"I get frustrated when I talk to evangelical friends or students and they ask, 'How can you be a Christian and a Democrat?'" Cooper said.
That question is the effective result of decades of conservative evangelical political propaganda. That propaganda--political propaganda disguised as "witnessing for Christ"--was aimed at convincing American Christians that it was impossible to be a sincere Christian and a Democrat.
That propaganda worked. The proof that it worked: the media is now criticizing Obama and Democrats for not exploiting sectarian Christianity in order to win elections.