Joe Gunn


August 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton was likened to Lucifer in a speech at the Republican National Convention, and then Donald Trump referred to her as the devil. Not to be outdone, at the Democratic Convention, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Trump "a con," saying "The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy."

In a climate of highly-personal negative rhetoric, the two major U.S. political parties held their respective (if not overly respectful) conventions in July.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

My crystal ball suggests the unpopularity of both presidential candidates will likely cause a lower voter turnout in November, that personal invective will play a larger role than policy debate, and that while faith will be used as a vote-gathering lever, religion is decreasing in importance in determining how people cast their ballots.

Clinton grew up Methodist and taught Sunday school. While her Church once had social gospel roots, Clinton has said lessening emphasis on personal salvation and individual faith was an error.

The Methodist Church defines homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and opposes legalizing same-sex marriage and solemnizing same-sex civil unions.

However, Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington which Clinton attends calls itself a "reconciling congregation" that does not make distinctions among those whom it serves.

Abortion is formally frowned upon by the United Methodist Church, but it nevertheless opposes criminalizing abortion as a medical procedure.


When growing up, Trump attended a Presbyterian church in New York, returning to be married there (for the first of his three marriages.) He also attended Marble Collegiate Church. That historic congregation's pastor was Norman Vincent Peale, whose 1952 bestseller, The Power of Positive Thinking, sold two million copies in six years.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

This message of personal fulfillment and the "prosperity gospel" mirrors more of "The Donald's" personal credo than do current Presbyterian policies.

In February, Pope Francis was unimpressed with Trump's promise to build a wall on the Mexican border, saying, "A person who thinks only about building walls . . . and not about building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel."

As for the vice-presidential candidates, the Democrats' Tim Kaine is a Jesuit-educated Catholic, and Republican Mike Pence was once an altar boy - but later converted to evangelical Protestantism.

The Pew Centre reports that those who identify themselves as "born-again or evangelical" Christians comprise 36 per cent of registered U.S. voters - compared with 37 per cent of American voters who are non-evangelical Christians. (Evangelicals are less than 12 per cent of the population in Canada.)

Evangelicals are much more numerous in the Republican Party than among Democrats. Anecdotally, when I once attended a non-congregational religious service in Illinois, I noticed not one, but two Republican representatives had their photos and pamphlets included in the pew bulletin.


One key difference is race: While 87 per cent of Republican evangelicals are white, most Democrats who describe themselves as "born-again or evangelical" Christians are not white. This suggests race and economic status could be more of a deciding factor than religion among black and Hispanic evangelicals.

U.S. Catholics are politically the most split religious demographic - from 2002 to 2014 Catholics voted Democrat 50 per cent of the time. Jewish voters trended much more heavily to the Democrats (73 per cent) as did persons of non-Christian faiths (71 per cent) and of no religion (70 per cent). For their part, Protestants voted for Democrats only 41 per cent of the time.


As well, U.S. Catholics pay little heed to their leaders' political advice. The Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate reports that only one in five Catholics recall reading the American bishops' Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship; only one in 20 cite the document as a major influence in their political choices.

A Pew poll found that only 46 per cent of Catholics saw abortion as very important in deciding who to vote for, while other issues rated much higher: the economy (84 per cent), terrorism (81 per cent), health care (78 per cent), immigration (75 per cent) and even foreign policy (72 per cent).

The question American Jesuit Tom Reese asks in 2016 is: Will Catholics will go to Trump in high enough numbers to counter Clinton's advantage among minorities?

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)