In the race of the governor of Pa. faith emerges in different ways

CARMICHAELS, Pennsylvania (AP) — In one of the most-watched races in one of the most contested states on the battlefield, both gubernatorial candidates bring up religion. But in completely different ways.

Republican Doug Mastriano’s campaign has several hallmarks of Christian nationalism, which combines 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 advertisements, saying it inspires him to public service as he tries to build a classic democratic coalition of black clergy and other progressive religious groups, including Christians and Jews, and the non-religious.

“My faith grounds me and calls me to public service. I do not use my faith to make policy decisions or to exclude others as my opponent does,” Shapiro, the current Pennsylvania Attorney General, said in an interview.

RELATED: How Doug Mastriano Uses Faith to Deflect Criticism — Even From Other Christians

Mastriano, a state senator, has rejected the label “Christian-nationalist,” although his political events often have a sense of worship. He was introduced at a church event near Pittsburgh by a pastor who mixed Christian and political imagery: “Get ready for a big ‘blood of Jesus’ red wave!”

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

A minister laid hands on him according to a common Pentecostal custom and asked God for protection.

“We pray that you will give him this courage and strength for what he is about to face,” the pastor said during the meeting 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 email requests for an interview. He consistently ignored requests for comment from The Associated Press and many other media outlets.

At the recent church event, a campaign worker told Mastriano a reporter would not answer questions. Mastriano claimed he has seen “several media outlets mocking our faith” in their coverage of his primary victory rally, which was infused with worship music and Bible quotes. “In my campaign there is no room for intolerance and bigotry,” he said.

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

Mastriano led efforts to nullify Pennsylvania’s vote for Joe Biden in 2020. He chartered buses to take Pennsylvanians to the open-air rally ahead of the January 6, 2021 Capitol uprising. According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report, he “passed through broken barricades and police lines.”

The two candidates appeal to the contrasting religious and ethnic demographics that both parties have supported in recent campaigns such as the 2020 presidential election, when a majority of white Catholics and a large majority of white evangelical Christians voted Republican, while Democrats received strong support. of Black Christians, Latino Catholics, Jews, Muslims and people without religion.

Several recent polls have shown that Shapiro is ahead of Mastriano.

A September survey by Franklin & Marshall College suggests that in general, Shapiro and Mastriano are even among Protestants and Catholics, while Shapiro leads the way among adherents of no religion. The poll shows that Mastriano is in the lead among self-identified born-again or evangelical Christians.

Mastriano has made “no effort” to soften his tough stance on a general electorate, said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and author of “Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.”

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

Still, some evangelicals “might be disgusted by his (Mastiano’s) Christian nationalism, but can’t imagine voting for a prochoice candidate like Shapiro,” Fea said.

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

A report from the Pew Research Center released Thursday said 45% of US adults surveyed, and 67% of Republicans, believed the US “should be a Christian nation,” although fewer people want the federal government. declares himself formally Christian.

Mastriano spends many of his stump speeches denouncing an increase in crime, the current Democratic administration’s COVID-19 restrictions, and transgender athletes’ participation in girls’ sports. He called banning abortion without exception a top priority.

Shapiro has said “my office is committed to protecting legal access to abortion in our Commonwealth,” where it is allowed until the 23rd week of pregnancy.

RELATED: Poll: Nearly Half of Americans Think the US Should Be a Christian Nation

Each candidate attracts supporters with a shared understanding of the role of religion.

In Carmichaels Church, Mastriano addressed a small but enthusiastic crowd one September morning.

“I like that he is encouraged to express our religious values ​​and our freedoms in the Bill of Rights,” said Dunkard Township’s Steven Grugin. Speaking at a church “tells people that he is very much for freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” he said.

The Rev. Marshall Mitchell, senior pastor of the Salem Baptist Church of Abington, Pennsylvania, who has known Shapiro for years, said Shapiro “feels as comfortable in a Black Baptist Church as he does in a conservative synagogue or a temple or a mosque,” said Mitchell. “He sees the common humanity, which he believes has its origin in God.”

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Associated Press religious coverage is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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