IF YOU’RE NONWHITE, NONCHRISTIAN, and of an immigrant background, you need to remake yourself to get somewhere in the Republican Party.
Take Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and South Carolina’s likely governor-to-be, Nikki Haley. They have had to completely distance themselves from their heritage to gain acceptance in their party and to get political traction in the Deep South.
Jindal and Haley have both converted to Christianity. Jindal was born and raised a Hindu; Haley a Sikh. They’ve loudly proclaimed their love for their new faith at almost every possible occasion.
Jindal, who converted in college apparently at the prodding of friends, has made political hay from his journey. He launched his first, failed gubernatorial campaign in 2003 while standing beside Louisiana Christian Coalition leader Billy McCormack. One of Jindal’s radio ads in that campaign asked, “What’s so wrong with the Ten Commandments?” He has written and spoken extensively about his conversion (Christianity, he says, is the “one, objectively true faith,” as opposed to Hinduism’s belief in the validity of all paths). Jindal stresses how he avoided telling his parents of his new faith and how disappointed they were when they found out. He said he read the Bible by flashlight to prevent being discovered by his folks, and compared his clandestine study to the early Christians “hiding from government persecution.” Jindal’s process of finding his true religion also involved participating in an exorcism of a college girlfriend.
“Strangely, I found myself repeating the Hail Mary until it became a chant,” he wrote in a 1994 article for New Oxford Review. “Being a recent convert to Catholicism, I had yet to accept the Catholic doc trines concerning Mary and considered any form of Marian devotion to be idolatry. Though I had never before prayed a Hail Mary in my life, I suddenly found myself incapable of any other form of prayer.”
Jindal’s flaunting of his Catholicism has helped him gain support—both from Louisiana politicians and the state’s public at large. In the four years before his successful gubernatorial bid, Jindal visited northern Louisiana seventy-seven times. Much of this time was spent in the pews on Sundays, where Jindal expounded on why he became a Roman Catholic. “Some churchgoers noted that they had never before heard a Roman testify in quite the way Jindal did, casting his own experience in terms similar to that of a born-again fundamentalist,” reports Esquire.
As a Congressman, Jindal pointedly abstained in 2007 on a nonbinding resolution commemorating Diwali (the festival of lights), the biggest religious celebration among Hindus. Not that this has stopped him from showing up at Indian American fundraising events.
Haley converted to Christianity when she married a Methodist in 1996, but her wedding contained both Sikh and Christian ceremonies, and she regularly attended a Sikh temple even as a state representative, embracing both faiths.
Not any longer.
Once her religion became an issue in the South Carolina gubernatorial primaries, Newsweek reports, she declared that she’s raising her two children as Christian and that she only goes to a temple when her parents ask her to. She has had meetings with pastors to dispel concerns that her conversion is not genuine.
“My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make,” she writes on her website. “God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day.”
Haley also changed her name to Nikki from Nimrata because, she reportedly said, “it wouldn’t fit on a yard sign.”