Here are six things about election 2012 for which people of all religious and political stripes can give thanks.
First, we can all give thanks when more voters focus on the way a candidate would govern rather than on his or her religious affiliation. In this election, many conservative evangelicals were willing to vote for Gov. Mitt Romney because they shared certain commitments with him on public policy, despite their differences with his Mormon theology. In other words, we're making progress when, in a recent letter addressed to Gov. Romney, Ralph Reed and Tony Perkins, as well as a number of other religious conservatives, say:
It is time to remind ourselves that civil government is not about a particular theology but rather about public policy, and the question we ask is this one: what are the policy principles that will govern your administration should you prevail on Election Day.
One may disagree with the policy principles embraced by these evangelicals and still believe this statement is a step in the right direction.
A second cause for thanksgiving is related. When some of President Obama's supporters tried to make Gov. Romney's religious affiliation a negative, the Obama campaign insisted that that would be "out of bounds," and President Obama himself complimented Romney on his faith commitments.
Sadly, some Virginia pastors who supported President Obama circulated materials that tried to make an issue of Gov. Romney's theological beliefs. These pastors criticized certain convictions they said were part of the Mormon faith (beliefs about the Trinity, for example), beliefs that had no relevance to how Romney would govern, if elected. The Obama campaign, however, quickly rejected such tactics as "out of bounds." And in an August 2012 Time magazine interview, President Obama praised Gov. Romney for his commitment to his faith. Obama said: "I think [Gov. Romney] takes his faith very seriously. And as somebody who takes my Christian faith seriously, I appreciate that he seems to walk the walk and not just be talking the talk when it comes to his participation in his church."
Whether you supported President Obama, we can all be thankful for his speedy and steadfast rejection of these tactics.
A third item for thanksgiving involves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Gov. Romney's church. Throughout the election season, this official church body clung to its traditional and studious neutrality in partisan politics. It's a good thing when churches recognize that their membership is politically diverse, and that it is not job of the church to tell congregants to support or oppose certain candidates. The LDS church also took another commendable step. On the night of Nov. 6, it posted a gracious note of congratulations for President Obama on its website.
That statement read:
We congratulate President Obama on winning a second term as President of the United States. After a long campaign, this is now a time for Americans to come together. It is a long tradition among Latter-day Saints to pray for our national leaders in our personal prayers and in our congregations. We invite Americans everywhere, whatever their political persuasion, to pray for the President, for his administration and the new Congress as they lead us through difficult and turbulent times. May our national leaders reflect the best in wisdom and judgment as they fulfill the great trust afforded to them by the American people.
We also commend Governor Romney for engaging at the highest level of our democratic process, which, by its nature, demands so much of those who offer themselves for public service. We wish him and his family every success in their future endeavors.
The church deserves congratulations both for the content of the statement and for the fact that it was so quick to post it.
Fourth, all Americans can be proud when the religious diversity of our nation's political leadership expands. In this election, Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu-American elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She will represent Hawaii 's second Congressional district. According to The Hill newspaper, Gabbard is an Iraq war veteran, and she will take her oath over the Bhagavad Gita, Hindu Scripture. Also, for the first time a Buddhist will be serving in the U.S. Senate, Mazie Hirono. Hirono is from Hawaii as well. The presence of these and other leaders in Congress reminds us that, at its best, our nation seeks to draw on the strengths of all of its citizens.
The fifth election-related item that's worthy of nonpartisan thanksgiving is that the presidential candidates did not treat same-sex marriage as a political wedge issue. Instead, both President Obama and Gov. Romney treaded carefully here.
When he made his announcement supporting the recognition of same-sex marriage in civil law, President Obama insisted that conversations about these matters should be conducted in a spirit of civility, and that proponents of same-sex marriage should resist the temptation to demonize those on the other side of the debate. Obama said:
[I]t's important to recognize that folks who feel very strongly that marriage should be defined narrowly as between a man and a woman, many of them are not coming at it from a mean-spirited perspective. They're coming at it because they care about families. ... [A] bunch of them are friends of mine: pastors and people who I deeply respect.
President Obama also called for appropriate exemptions for religious bodies from civil laws recognizing same-sex marriage. Likewise, Gov. Romney said this issue is "a very tender and sensitive topic." As President Obama and Gov. Romney recognized, we can state our beliefs on these issues plainly without slandering those who take a different point of view.
Finally, we should give thanks when issues move to the forefront that unite a diverse faith coalition, as well as other people of good will. First and foremost among these issues is comprehensive immigration reform. For example, a politically diverse group of Christians has long advocated for comprehensive reform of our immigration system. Just last week a coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table re-affirmed its support for this goal. The coalition includes the National Association of Evangelicals and World Vision as well as Sojourners and Bread for the World. When people with diverse political views find common ground and work together to promote consensus proposals, it creates more understanding and solidarity.
Without doubt, good people will disagree about many matters of public importance as we move forward. One of my Thanksgiving prayers, however, is that we will build more unity and demonstrate more civility as we face difficult choices and seize exciting opportunities in the days ahead.