“Being Both” as a Political Liability: Nikki Haley’s Religions

I find myself in the very odd position today of empathizing with a Republican gubernatorial candidate from South Carolina. Yes, I speak of Nikki Haley, who hopes to win  her state’s primary tomorrow. Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa and raised in a Sikh family from India, but converted to Christianity at age 24 and was baptized as a Methodist. What’s interesting to me is the degree to which her perceived religious “bothness” is being used against her by political opponents.

Haley “admits” that she and her husband went through two wedding ceremonies—one Christian, one Sikh. And she has the chutzpah to continue to celebrate Sikh holidays with her extended family. Sounds familiar to many of us in interfaith America. One Pastor Ray Popham of something called the Oasis Church International told CNN: “I think she needs to be straight up with people, if she is both. If she believes that you can be both, then she should say that up front.”

It comes as no surprise that there are still regions of America where proving your Christianity is important in the political arena. President Obama certainly learned that lesson early on. I can only imagine what folks like Pastor Popham think of the idea that one could somehow be both Christian and Sikh. What really interests me in this story is the growing acknowledgement that there is even a possibility of identifying with more than one religion, of believing in both (even if the acknowledgement is tinged with the implication that dual-identity is wrong-headed).

I am exhilarated by the inevitable conclusion that the demographic reality of bothness is lapping at the feet of even the most conservative and Christian Americans.  I realize that Nikki Haley probably needs to deny her “bothness” right now and assert that she is 100% Christian through and through, if she wants to get elected.  And I probably hate Haley’s positions on all sorts of issues–afterall, she has been endorsed by Sarah Palin. But I can’t resist the urge here to send out a message of support to her as an interfaith person.

Nikki, you are not alone. Like more and more of Americans, you are both, by virtue of family history and personal experience, whether the Pastor Pophams of this world like it or not, in fact, whether you like it or not. Interfaith families are everywhere now, not just in New York and Washington and Boston, but in Utah and Iowa and South Carolina. We welcome you, and encourage you to claim your right to being both.

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3 Replies to ““Being Both” as a Political Liability: Nikki Haley’s Religions”

  1. I would be a bit careful about declaring that an individual is ‘both’ without knowing more about their own views on their identity.

    I’m a Jew who was raised in a Christian family and converted as an adult. I tend to visit Christian relatives over Christmas (not so much at Easter because it tends to clash with Pesach) and take part in things like gift giving and cooking and eating dinner. I don’t regard myself as both. I regard myself as Jewish. Most of the people I know who converted to a religion as an adult regard themselves as a Methodist who was raised Catholic or a Muslim who was raised Buddhist, but not as both. It can be quite hurtful for people to insist on calling people like me ‘both’. I often think that there are odd parallels between conversion and gender transition. Referring to people who identify as one religion as ‘both’ due to their background is a bit like insisting on using gender neutral pronouns to refer to transsexuals. It undermines an important and hard fought for aspect of someone’s identity.

  2. Sam–Your point about applying lables to others is well taken. I appreciated your longer post on this at http://lavendersparkle.dreamwidth.org/

    It is true that converting is more closely analogous to gender transition, whereas being born an interfaith child is more closely analogous to being born intersexual (in terms of gender) or bisexual (in terms of orientation).

    I appreciate that the idea of “bothness” can be distressing to some who worked hard to convert and often must continue to struggle for acceptance.

    There are converts who follow this blog and do find the idea of bothness resonant or interesting or helpful. I think that the extent to which an individual gravitates towards a more binary model, versus a more fluid model, probably depends on a whole host of variables–brain chemistry, personality, childhood and adult experiences, and the family and communities that support and surround you.

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