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 msnbc.com, 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.