Obama’s Former Faith Adviser: ‘I, Frankly, Am Glad American Civil Religion is Dying’

Penny Starr | January 25, 2012 | 8:34pm EST
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Shaun Casey, former religious affairs adviser to Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, said on Jan. 24, 2012, that he was "glad American civil religion is dying." (Penny Starr/CNSNews.com)

(CNSNews.com) – Shaun Casey, the religious affairs adviser to presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008, said at a discussion on Tuesday about  “God and Politics” that the demise of religious society in the United States is a good thing.

“I, frankly, am glad American civil religion is dying,” said Casey, who is an associate professor of Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Casey made the remarks at an event focusing on religion and the 2012 presidential election at the liberal Center for American Progress where he was a panelist along with Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Hispanic Evangelical Coalition.

Casey was responding to Salguero’s claim that civil religion is employed by politicians as an “iconic use of faith.”

“There is also a negative underside to that history with respect to slavery, manifest destiny, to war, you know, to empires, so I, frankly, am glad American civil religion is dying,” Casey said. “But it does raise the practical question, what does bind us together in some way as a country?

“We need some substitute for that and I don’t think we’ve found it yet,” Casey said.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Swiss-French philosopher, is credited with coining the term “civil religion” in his 1762 book in his series “The Social Contract.” He described civil religion as the moral and spiritual foundation of modern society.

Panelist Robert Jones, founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, said that while two-thirds of Americans say it is important to them that the president has “strong religious beliefs,” that finding reflects more a “proxy for trustworthiness” than religious conviction.

Barack Obama, left, and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (AP Photo)

In June 2008, Casey was hired by the Obama campaign to “focus on outreach to evangelical voters,” according to a June 27, 2008 Washington Post article. The article also said that Casey, who was named senior adviser of religious affairs, had been informally advising the campaign for a year before his official appointment.

The Washington Post also reported that Casey was raised as an evangelical Christian and had earned degrees from Abilene Christian University and Harvard Divinity School.

Casey also informally advised Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean of Vermont in the past, the article said.

During Obama’s presidential campaign, Casey defended Obama’s affiliation with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial and left-wing pastor of the United Church of Christ in Chicago and one-time “spiritual adviser” to Obama.

Obama attended Rev. Wright’s church for 20 years.

Obama distanced himself from Wright after his many controversial remarks and sermons were made public during the 2008 campaign.

On Mar. 18, 2008, Casey told The Washington Post, "The senator [Obama] is not naive, and what he's doing is very hard. He's trying to remain loyal to his pastor but also differentiate himself politically."

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