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Election 2012: A New Day for Religion in America

The big loser last night was the spiritual abuse of power that seeks to diminish the rights and dignity of others. The new religious America does not seek to shame or denigrate, but rather embraces the power of religion to lift all people up and mobilize people for the common good.
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A crowd reacts to a broadcast of President Barack Obama's reelection speech in Times Square, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)
A crowd reacts to a broadcast of President Barack Obama's reelection speech in Times Square, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in New York. (AP Photo/ John Minchillo)

President Obama gave an inspiring victory address last night. However it was the vision as the cameras panned over the listening crowd of faces that truly inspires the hope I feel for America and the world today.

People of all races, ages, and cultures stood side by side as they showed their appreciation for a president who himself represents a mix of race, religion and cultures. Yesterday America voted to recognize and celebrate our diversity and reaffirm our deep commitment and responsibility to one another.

This celebration of E Pluribus Unum was a turning point in American religion as well. The 2012 elections soundly defeated one brand of religion as another vision for religious expression showed its strength and promise.

The big religious loser last night was the spiritual abuse of power that seeks to diminish the rights and dignity of others. Maine and Maryland passed historic gay rights ballot initiatives; Minnesota defeated an anti-gay amendment effort, and Washington looks poised to have held off a challenge to its gay marriage laws. Similarly, the two Senate candidates who ran on the religious conviction that they would force women to carry a pregnancy to term even when it was the result of rape, found that their invocation of God's will repulsed voters, even deeply religious ones.

Religious hierarchical leaders such as the Catholic Bishop Conference, Ralph Reed, and the Billy Graham franchise found that their ability to impose their religion on other Americans has diminished and will not return.

However, in their place has risen a more grassroots coalition of Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Non-Affiliated who celebrate the worth and dignity of all persons including the LGBT community. This broad religious mix that makes up America understands that we will disagree on important matters of personal morality and that there must be room in our union for that disagreement. However, the new religious America does not seek to shame or denigrate anyone, but rather embraces the power of spirituality and religious ethics to lift all people up and mobilize people for the common good.

Like the Social Gospel of the progressive movement of the early 20th century, our new religious movement can be a primary inspiration for movements of justice in the area of poverty, environmentalism, and efforts towards a more peaceful foreign policy that were sorely missing from the debate in this election but must be a part of our national priorities going forward.

Yet unlike the social gospel, Christians cannot insist on a place at the center, but must move to being part of a wider circle of fellowship. We can recognize that our country has a wonderful heritage of Christianity, without subtly intimating that non-Christians occupy a place of second class citizenry. The most Christian act would be to love our neighbors of other faiths and no faith as equal partners who in our nation's spiritual tapestry. Yesterday's victory of the first Hindu to the US congress and the first Buddhist to the Senate only underscores the increasing and welcomed religious diversity in America.

The new religious vision for America insists on equal worth within our religious diversity. We reject the denigration of Muslims and distrust of people who have no religion. Part of religious diversity is acknowledging that we will disagree on matters of theology but that we can agree on matters of respect, and mutual commitment.

A new religious America is not only possible but necessary to move forward as one nation united in our efforts for the common good.

This is not to say that this will be easy. Last night showed an ugly side of America as President Obama's victory evoked slurs on his race and suspicions of his religion. Our vision for a pluralistic and inclusive religious America will not come easy. Our efforts on behalf of economic justice will be met with entrenched resistance. There are those who still deeply resent the poor and the weak; viewing them as pulling down our country instead of recognizing them as those who need a hand up.

If our vision for a new religious America is to be realized we must have deep resolve and a commitment to one another that will not fray. It will require prayer, meditation, and serious dialogue with those with whom we agree and with whom we disagree -- and that is hard work.

This is where the president's words on hope are so important:

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

The president's words remind me of the words of Chief Rabbi Sacks of Great Britain who wrote about hope:

Hope is the faith that, together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope is an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope. Hope is the knowledge that we can choose; that we can learn from our mistakes and act differently next time. That history is not a trash bag of random coincidences blown open by the wind, but a long slow journey to redemption.

This hope must guide all of us who are committed to this new religious day in America. Over three years ago, I started Huffington Post Religion to be a place where a pluralistic and productive discourse on religion could happen. Today we are the number one religion site in the country. This shows that there is a hunger for the kind of religious vision that triumphed last night, and the one that must prevail as we move forward. I end with the vision provided by the reelected president of the United States:

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations.

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