And so we come down to the crux of the matter: those who believe the United States should be "a Christian nation," and those who want it to remain the open, pluralistic society it has always been. "We shall be as a city upon a hill," John Winthrop wrote of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. "The eyes of all people are upon us." But America as a whole was created as bigger than that, with tolerance and mutual understanding of our differences underpinning the communal ability to be a far greater whole than the sum of our parts. (That's also, by the way, the origin of Ben Franklin's "Join, or Die" cartoon, which is one basis for the Gadsden "Don't Tread on Me" flag so widely waved by Tea Partiers today.)
Perhaps the best news, if it can be called that, is this: Williams predicts that the positions that are aggressively defended by religious organizations, and their mutual alliances, are likely fairly solid now, having retreated to the most basic fundamental human ideas of family, marriage, and sex.
The energy with which those positions will be held, however, worries Keller, who likens churches "imposing" their doctrines on government to the religious-political connections in Iran's government, which is largely run by clerics acting behind the elected lay politicians.
West, as might be expected of a scholar of African-American culture in northern New Jersey, sees America as a "very pluralistic society" in which all types of people must learn to coexist. Opposing same-sex marriage is, to her, supporting "destruction of family life"; she says she wants to ask church leaders who oppose it, "Why that sense of urgency?" — especially when the Catholic Church, in particular, is facing significant obstacles both financial and scandalous in places as far-reaching as Germany, Ireland, and Wisconsin.
But she acknowledges that faith and religious teachings will always be in the political discussion. The question is whether dogma and belief spread themselves into the secular realm of backroom deals. "It's a fine line between standing up for what I believe is true about how we should live as a society because I am inspired by my faith" and prescribing "things in law should be aligned with my faith," says West. "Spending money to shape public policy to fit your religious tradition crosses the line."
Jeff Inglis is the managing editor of the Portland Phoenix. He can be reached at email@example.com.