Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Our Family Religion, Our Grown Up Faith

I've been fascinated by South Carolina politics this season. Well, to be honest, I'm often fascinated by South Carolina politics, since I lived in the state from 1983-1998, and I know many of the players. I don't know any of them very well, except for the local politician here and there across the state, but I'm familiar with the types.

Nikki Haley doesn't fit any of the traditional types. She's the daughter of Indian immigrants; I can't remember seeing many Indian immigrants when I lived in the state. Maybe if I had gone to graduate school to study something other than English I might have met a few, but most of the Asians I met were from Korea or Japan. The state has changed.

Now people across the state must decide if they believe that Nikki Haley is a Christian, and that's an element which is more important to South Carolinians than it would be to residents of some other states. There have been various preachers who seem indignant that she still has some ties to the Sikh religion.

Well of course she still has those ties. That's the religion of her childhood. You'd think that South Carolinians, and the rest of us, for that matter, would understand. Unless you've cut off your family rituals completely, you're likely as a grown up to find yourself in certain settings that more accurately reflect your upbringing, rather than your current beliefs.

I went to church regularly in my 20s, not weekly, but regularly, whenever I was back home visiting my parents or going with my spouse to visit his family. Both of our families happen to be Lutheran, and we've remained Lutherans as grown ups, so there hasn't been much disconnect.

But I can imagine that if I had gone in a different spiritual direction as an adult, I still might want to go back to revisit my roots. And if I had children, that pull might be even stronger.

Of course, my spiritual beliefs are much more ecumenical than those of many South Carolinians. I believe that my respect for other religions doesn't threaten God. I'm not afraid for my mortal soul, should I attend a non-Lutheran service. I have read widely about other faiths and experimented a bit. Christianity, while not a perfect fit, is the best fit for me. Lutheranism is one of the better fitting expressions of Christianity for me.

If I had parents of a different faith, I wouldn't want to reject that faith completely. That would seem disrespectful. I've read enough to know that every religious expression offers much to admire, while at the same time having much in terms of history and/or theology that could trouble a thinking person. My own Lutheran tradition is a far ways away from perfection.

I'll be interested to see how this election turns out. Many South Carolinians, some of the most conservative people in the nation, could find many reasons not to vote for Nikki Haley: she's female, she's Indian-American, she's the first generation of her family to be born in the U.S., she's young, she's attractive, she's tough on some topics like transparency. If she wins, now and again in November, I'll see it as the kind of similar sign as Obama's progress.

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