Bowing Down to Rimmon: Nikki Haley and the South Carolina GOP

Despite not living in South Carolina for nearly 10 years, I still follow politics from my home state. I was an active voter in the state and my family still live there, so it doesn’t take much to hear about what is going on. Lately, it’s been easier since the governor ran off to Argentina to have an affair and the lieutenant governor compared poor people to stray dogs. So glad the home state can entertain the rest of the country.

Recently, it’s been the governor’s race that has attracted attention. Nikki Haley in a bid to be the first female governor of South Carolina drew some unwanted publicity when two people claimed to have affairs with her (neither had proof). Then State Senator Jakie Knotts brought the issue of her religion out when he called Haley a ‘raghead’ (I have since learned that it is a derogatory term for Muslims). Haley was raised a Sikh (which shows Knotts’ ignorance if nothing else) but she converted to Christianity at 24 and attends an United Methodist Church in Lexington. None of attacks on her had any effect as Haley took nearly 50% in the Republican Primary (she is predicted to easily win the run-off today).

According to, the whisper campaign against her continues. Some conservative Christians worry because she still attends Sikh services a few times a year with her family. I also wonder if there is some suspicions about the United Methodist Church in there, but none have been raised. The issue is her family’s religion, and the question they ask, ‘Is she really a Christian or is she lying about it and is really a Sikh?’ Or, ‘Does she believe both religions are the same?’ That neither of these tactics have worked do surprise me. I had thought that SC Republicans would believe the answer to these questions as essential to who they vote for (i.e., I would expect they would have demanded a near evangelical statement of faith from her). Maybe that shows my own prejudice. Still, Sen. Knotts is demanding she answer his question, ‘Have you ever asked her if she believes in Jesus Christ as her lord and savior, and that he died on the cross for her sins? Have you ever asked her that?’ Exactly why this is important in a governor’s race is beyond me. Haley hasn’t made an issue of religion, and hasn’t responded beyond what her website says about her faith.

Looking ahead to the Lectionary reading for 4 July, the Old Testament lesson is the story of Naaman and Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-14). The lectionary stops short of the passage where I see Naaman’s story and Haley’s story relate. Naaman is cleansed and goes back to Elisha where he asks Elisha if he may take the dirt of Israel back home with him so he make use it to make sacrifices to the God of Israel. Naaman leaves the god of his ancestors and will now worship the God of the country he is trying to help conquer. But Naaman asks for a concession. He says that because of his job, he will still have to accompany his king into the Temple of Rimmon and bow to the god of his country. Elisha grants him the concession! Naaman will on Israelite dirt worship and make sacrifices to the true God who healed him of his disease, but a few times a year he will worship in the temple of Rimmon with his family! And Elisha, the great prophet of Israel, shrugs and says, ‘OK.’ (Maybe he didn’t shrug, but that’s the way I imagine it.)

I am struck by the leniency God (or at least Elisha) gives in this story. Elisha was never one to mince words about idolatrous worship, so I doubt this detail in Naaman’s job description would have passed Elisha unnoticed. Elisha’s approval is unsettling to me, while at the same time I am drawn to it. Naaman makes it clear he is just ‘going through the motions’ and is just providing his service as part of his job. Perhaps for Haley, part of going to the Sikh temple is part of honouring her family. What she feels about what goes on there she hasn’t said. But if Naaman and Elisha are any model, her presence at a Sikh temple may not mean divided loyalties, but an understanding that she is fulfilling her part of being in her family. Her loyalty may very well be to the God of Israel even as she sits in another temple.

How does this fit in? How far does leniency go? It disturbs me that God may not work the way I want him to work.


7 thoughts on “Bowing Down to Rimmon: Nikki Haley and the South Carolina GOP

  1. Interesting post Will and raising some good questions, as you probably know I like to inhabit the grey areas where black and while boundary lines are blurred. Good for her I say, and surely it is Biblical to honour your father and mother….(?)

  2. Thanks, Sally. Actually, I was thinking of you as I wrote this! In particular your outreach to the more “new age” spiritualities. I don’t know if there is a connection there as well.

    Good point about the Biblical command to honour father and mother. Then, I wonder about Jesus’ command “hate” parents. That’s why I put the emphasis here on loyalties. Would loyalty to God necessarily include total abandonment of family in all cases?

  3. Hey Will, greatings from Columbia. I’ve noticed you pose a similar question several times about SC voters and why they are not more concerned about Haley’s religion. Of course you know there are as many opinions on politics as there are citizens, and everybody is convinced they are right.

    My take on it though is this, and I’ve heard others with the same lament. Politicians have used religion to stir the emotions of voters to the point you are seeing more and more voters turn off to it. We’ve been asked to support candidate X because they are a good Christain person. Sanford is a great example, all we heard for 7 years was to look at what a great example of a Christian man he was, heck he was as pure as the driven snow for all we were led to believe. Then look what we found was in his heart.

    If Nikki is a Christian, good. The only thing that counts is what is in her heart, and that is between her and God.

    I don’t think anybody expects perfection in a person, but the hypocracy is so deep around here you could sink a battleship.

    You may ask, “But don’t you want strong Christian leadership in our governement?” Yes that would be nice, but I’d rather have honesty and integrity. The “Christian” leadership we’ve been getting out of some of our elected officials with things like racial slurs, fabricated stories of adultery, lies on top of lies and the list goes on and on kind of leaves a person cold after while.
    I guess I would say to your question about Naaman…I’d be way out of line to assume God’s thoughts, but I’d imagine He would rather have someone that was right in their heart over somebody that was only right in their words or actions.
    That’s the crux of the situation with Nikki, whether she is or isn’t Christian is something only her and God know. I’d rather hear about how she is going to help the state out of the mess we are in than where she attends worship.
    Again, just one of a couple million opinions, but one I’ve heard repeated a lot lately.

  4. Hi Michael, and thank you for your comment. Glad you stopped by.

    My post was intended to be less a political reflection and more of trying to think through biblically what may be going on with Rep. Haley’s religious practices. I agree with you – I would prefer to have someone honest with integrity in the office of governor (representative/member of parliament, etc.). Honestly, I am not a fan of Haley’s politics and would be unlikely to vote for her, but not because of her race or religion. I am more left of centre than Haley (which may be an understatement).

    Perhaps under the surface of this post is your reflection on how religion has been used to support or denounce a candidate. My bemusement on SC’s emphasis in Haley’s religion stems from my concern that conservative Christians (and they are the majority of the SC GOP) create this conflation of what it means to be Christian and American, and in particular the conservative Republicans view of America. Perhaps this is my own prejudice getting exposed, as I would have assumed that Hayley would have needed to give a full evangelical statement of faith. Or, if I am being cynical, maybe because others like Sarah Palin support her, then she must ‘tick’ all the right boxes in the religion category. But, my question, is this conservative version of Christianity the only one? In SC, I have experienced that yes it is.

  5. I agree with your comments Will and I realized your post had two very distinct avenues to pursue. I think you are correct that for the vast majority the conservative version of Christianity is the only version here in SC. You will remember that many folks here have a very narrow window on the world (and for most, that window needs a hefty dose of Windex and paper towels).

  6. Wow, Will, I hadn’t noticed that before in the story of Naaman – I am going to have to go back and re-read that and ponder it – because it does raise the question of how far does this go?
    What a diversity of witnesses the Hebrew Bible holds regarding the relationship between Israel, God, and the nations!

  7. Michael: Thanks for your comment! Yes, windex is needed in SC! I spoke on that yesterday at our Methodist Conference over here!

    Sarah: It is an overlooked passage, and I also love the diversity of the OT even when it disturbs me. We do need to reflect on it. I might write a part two later on.

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