Divided by God

{josquote}But there are costs to being a nation in which we’re all heretics to one another, and no religious orthodoxy commands wide support.{/josquote}

IN American religious history, Nov. 8, 1960, is generally regarded as the date when the presidency ceased to be the exclusive property of Protestants. But for decades afterward, the election of the Catholic John F. Kennedy looked more like a temporary aberration.

Post-J.F.K., many of America’s established churches went into an unexpected decline, struggling to make their message resonate in a more diverse, affluent and sexually permissive America. The country as a whole became more religiously fluid, with more church-switching, more start-up sects, more do-it-yourself forms of faith. Yet a nation that was increasingly nondenominational and postdenominational kept electing Protestants from established denominations to the White House.

The six presidents elected before Kennedy’s famous breakthrough included two Baptists, an Episcopalian, a Congregationalist, a Presbyterian and a Quaker. The six presidents elected prior to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory included two Baptists, two Episcopalians, a Methodist and a Presbyterian. Jimmy Carter’s and George W. Bush’s self-identification as “born again” added a touch of theological diversity to the mix, as did losing candidates like the Greek Orthodox Michael S. Dukakis. But over all, presidential religious affiliation has been a throwback to the Eisenhower era — or even the McKinley era.

That is, until now. In 2012, we finally have a presidential field whose diversity mirrors the diversity of American Christianity as a whole.

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