How gubernatorial candidates Doug Mastriano and Josh Shapiro approach faith

In one of the most watched races in one of the most contested battleground states, both gubernatorial candidates talk religion. But in a radically different way.

Republican Doug Mastriano’s campaign has several hallmarks of Christian nationalism, which fuses Christian and political imagery, words and rituals and promotes the belief that America has been and should be a Christian nation.

Democrat Josh Shapiro, meanwhile, talks about his Jewish faith in speeches and ads, saying it inspires him toward public service as he seeks to build a classic Democratic coalition of black clergy and other groups progressive religious, including Christians and Jews, and non-religious.

“My faith grounds me and calls me to do public service. I don’t use my faith to make political decisions or to exclude others like my opponent does,” Shapiro, the current Pennsylvania attorney general, said in an interview.

Mastriano, a state senator, rejected the label of “Christian nationalist,” though his political events often had the feel of a cult. It was presented at an event hosted by a church near Pittsburgh by a pastor who mixed Christian and political imagery: “Get ready for a great red wave of the ‘blood of Jesus’!

At a campaign event in the rural southwest corner of Pennsylvania, Mastriano stood in front of a church, against the backdrop of an oversized campaign sign and a towering cross.

A pastor laid hands on him in a common Pentecostal custom and asked for God’s protection.

“We pray that you will give him that courage and strength for what he is about to face,” the pastor said during the gathering at Crosspoint Assembly of God. “We pray against the darkness and the enemies that come against him in the spiritual realm.”

Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to emailed interview requests. He consistently ignored requests for comment from The Associated Press and many other outlets.

At the recent religious event, a campaign staffer told a reporter that Mastriano would not take questions. Mastriano claimed he “watched various media mocking our faith” in their coverage of his first victory rally, which was steeped in worship music and Bible quotes. “My campaign has no room for intolerance and bigotry,” he said.

This was disputed by Shapiro and others because Mastriano’s campaign paid $5,000 for what it described in a financial disclosure form as “consulting” services to Gab— a social media site popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites. It was on Gab, authorities say, that a suspect reported his plans for the 2018 massacre of 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue building in Pittsburgh. It is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

Mastriano led efforts to overturn Pennsylvania’s vote for Joe Biden in 2020. He chartered buses to bring Pennsylvanians to the outdoor rally ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol uprising. According to a report by the Judiciary Committee of Senate, he walked through “barricades and broken police lines.”

Both candidates appeal to the contrasting religious and ethnic demographics that have supported each side in recent campaigns such as the presidential election 2020, when a majority of white Catholics and a large majority of white evangelical Christians voted Republican while the Democrats relied on strong support from black Christians, Latino Catholics, Jews, Muslims and people of no religion.

Several recent polls have shown Shapiro with a lead over Mastriano.

A September survey by Franklin & Marshall College suggests that Shapiro and Mastriano run about even among Protestants and Catholics overall, while Shapiro leads among followers with no religion. The poll shows Mastriano leading among born-again Christians or self-identified evangelicals.

Mastriano made “no effort to soften” his hardline stances on a general election electorate, said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and author of “Trust Me: The Gospel Road to Donald Trump”.

Mastriano adopts a “black and white worldview, of spiritual warfare,” Fea said. “Anyone who criticizes him is the devil. I don’t mean that metaphorically. He truly believes they are working for the cause of evil. … That’s what makes him so dangerous.

Still, some evangelicals “may be disgusted by his (de Mastriano’s) Christian nationalism but can’t imagine themselves voting for a pro-choice candidate like Shapiro,” Fea said.

He said Shapiro seems to contrast his broader view of religious freedom in a diverse population with Mastriano’s narrower one. Shapiro criticized Mastriano’s statement that “not all religions are equal”.

A Pew Research Center report released Thursday says 45% of American adults polled and 67% of those leaning Republican believe the United States “should be a Christian nation,” although fewer would like the federal government officially declares itself Christian.

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Mastriano devotes much of his stump speeches to denouncing an increase in crime, the incumbent Democratic administration’s COVID-19 restrictions and the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports. He called banning abortion without exception a top priority.

Shapiro said “my office is dedicated to protecting legal access to abortion in our Commonwealth”, where it is permitted up to the 23rd week of pregnancy.

Each candidate attracts supporters who share a common understanding of the role of religion.

At Carmichaels Church, Mastriano addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd on a September morning.

“I love that he is getting bolder to (express) our religious values ​​and our freedoms in the Bill of Rights,” said Dunkard Township’s Steven Grugin. Speaking in a church “tells people that he’s very supportive of freedom of speech, freedom of religion,” he said.

Reverend Marshall Mitchell, senior pastor of Salem Baptist Church in Abington, Pennsylvania, who has known Shapiro for years, said Shapiro “is as much at home in a black Baptist church as he is in a conservative synagogue, a temple or a mosque,” ​​Mitchell said. “He sees the common humanity, which he believes has its origin in God.”

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