GOP Ticket Signals Religious Shift

Article excerpt

By naming devout, conservative Catholic Paul Ryan to be his running mate, former governor Mitt Romney, once a Mormon bishop, did more than ensure that the U.S. will have a Catholic vice president in 2013. He established the first Republican ticket without a Protestant since 1860, when Abraham Lincoln, who belonged to no church, chose Maine senator Hannibal Hamlin, a Unitarian, as his running mate, said Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Yet today's GOP ticket--two Christians who are neither evangelical nor mainline Protestants--isn't a major marker of social change, University of California history professor David Hollinger said.

For a real sign of the decline of American mainline Protestantism, Hollinger looks to the Protestant-free U.S. Supreme Court: six Catholics and three Jews. The Romney-Ryan ticket is well in line with today's wider, less brand-specific Christian culture, he said.

The number of Americans who identify with a Protestant denomination has been steadily slipping from more than 60 percent in the 1970s to 52 percent in 2010, said Duke University sociologist Mark Chaves, who tracks religion statistics in the national General Social Survey, conducted biannually by the National Opinion Research Center.

With this development comes a shift in assumptions about values, said Boston University professor Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible, which examines core civic, political, literary and religious texts of U.S. history and society.

"We can no longer assume when people speak of American values they're speaking in terms of Protestants who dominated American religious and public life" since the nation's founding, Prothero said. Besides the Supreme Court's makeup, he cited the diversity in Congress, which has Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims.

Nor is the Bible every candidate's go-to text anymore. Prothero expects Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic, and Ryan to argue over their different views of Catholic social teachings rather than stand on Gospel quotations.

Some evangelicals claim Ryan as one of their own, said David Brody, chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and author of a recent book, The Teavangelicals. …