The Christmas season is a time to reflect on the many blessings we are fortunate enough to enjoy in this great country. Like millions of Americans, I count my faith in God, my family and my country as blessings.
Faith is a comfort as well as a source of strength, a stabilizing force in our lives – especially during these hard economic times when anxiety, debt, high rates of poverty [most tragically among children] and unemployment abound.
According to a survey on religion published by Baylor University in September of this year, a clear majority of Americans, 73 percent, agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “God has a plan for me.” Of those who agreed that God has a plan for them, 88 percent also agreed with the statement “anything is possible for those who work hard” and 96 percent said they felt that government was doing too much to interfere in people’s lives.
The personal faith that God has a plan and, no matter how bad things get it will all work out, is undoubtedly helping to sustain millions of Americans this Christmas. With so many people feeling vulnerable and relying on their faith here’s a question: Why don’t politicians treat personal faith as more than just another hot button to be pushed to get out votes and bring in money.
As a political reporter I have seen politicians take advantage of people of faith by confusing personal faith with a religious group’s political agenda. History is full of American politicians who profess personal faith but run ads full of lies about their opponents, make racist appeals, cheat on their wives, handout public money to their political allies [including some church leaders] and make holding power into a false god.
They take to the pulpit with cynical appeals to stop abortion, end gay rights, and even claims to be running because of a message from God.
But that cynical, manipulative behavior by politicians has never caused me to lose faith. I am not embarrassed to say I believe in God. I believe in Jesus as God’s son. I also believe in the Holy Spirit. And Christmas, Passover or July 4th, I believe God loves the world and is watching over us.
If I am a sucker to be so full of faith in God at least I am not alone. According to the most recent Gallup poll on faith – published in 2010 – 80 percent of Americans say their religion is either very important or fairly important in their own life. The same survey found that 30 percent of Americans reported going to religious services at least once a week.
The Pew Forum on Religion on Public Life reports that 82 percent of Americans say religion is either very important or somewhat important in their children (56 percent and 26 percent, respectively). Pew estimates that 79% of the American people are Christians. Within that majority, 26% are Evangelical Protestant, 24% are Catholic and 18% are Mainline Protestants. Pew also says that 88% percent of Americans are either ‘absolutely’ or ‘fairly’ certain that there is a God (71 percent and 17 percent, respectively). Americans are the most religious people of any population in the western world.
Yet, a dramatic 70 percent, in the Gallup poll, say religion is losing its influence in American life - [I suspect most of those people are seniors who are also likely voters].
And politicians have been shaping messages to appeal to this worry.
Rick Perry, in Iowa, has been calling on them to resist the “politically correct police” and “bring their faith into public arena.” Perry held a prayer meeting in a Texas stadium before he started his campaign. That does not look like a man who is afraid to bring prayer into the public arena. Newt Gingrich is declaring religion to be a “central part” of a presidential candidate’s qualifications, asking “how can you have judgment if you don’t have faith and how can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?”
And organized religion – as opposed to expressions of personal faith – is playing a key role in the GOP presidential primary as we speak. Are Christian conservative activists skeptical of Mitt Romney because of his Mormon faith? Will evangelicals in Iowa overlook Newt Gingrich’s previous marriages when they cast their vote in the Caucuses in three weeks? Will the Baptists help to deliver an upset victory for Santorum or Bachmann in South Carolina?
This year, I wrote a best-selling book called “Muzzled – The Assault on Honest Debate” about the culture of runaway political correctness which has made honest debate about the most pressing national issues all the more difficult. Organized religion use of political correct thinking is part of that story because the Constitution, not any religious book, including the Bible, is the right document for political guidance in a nation founded on the principle of religious diversity. And personal faith is more than just another political football to be kicked around in the game of politics. It is too important. Calls for Christian compassion, forgiveness and understanding can never be forced on all Americans as a matter of federal or state law.
As we prepare for the rough and tumble of politics during next year’s presidential election, we could all stand to learn something from the teachings of the one whose birth we celebrate this time of year.
I wish all of the wonderful readers of FoxNews.com a very merry Christmas and a happy, new year. I’ll close with a passage from Romans, 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.