In the midst of a runoff, South Carolina evangelicals are beginning to discuss the Sikh heritage of Republican candidate for governor Nikki Haley. From CNN’s Political Ticker blog:
Haley was raised Sikh but converted to Christianity at the age of 24 and now attends a Methodist church in Lexington County, her campaign says.
CNN surveyed nearly two dozen faith leaders and conservative activists across the state on Monday to see what their communities are saying about Haley’s religion as she stands on the verge of capturing the GOP nomination.
Few predicted that questions about Haley’s background will hurt her in the runoff against Barrett or in a general election match-up against Democrat Vincent Sheheen. But most said that in the wake of Haley’s swift rise, her religious journey has become an increasingly common topic of discussion in churches, at community gatherings and online.
“The heritage issue is starting to bubble up on emails,” said former Charleston County GOP chairwoman Cyndi Mosteller, who supported Attorney General Henry McMaster in the gubernatorial primary. “I am hearing those questions.”
Haley, born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, still attends Sikh services occasionally with her parents and extended family. In 2004, after winning her first term in the state legislature, the Charlotte Observer quoted Haley as saying she and her family attend “both” Methodist and Sikh services.
As routine as that may sound to families of mixed faith, her ties to the Sikh tradition have left some evangelicals in the state uneasy.
Ray Popham, pastor of Oasis Church International in Aiken, said Haley’s religion is a “big topic” among his congregants, who have posted notes about her religion on Facebook and have lately approached him for advice about the governor’s race.
“She claims to be a Christian but also attends a Sikh temple and was married in a Sikh ceremony, so a lot of people can’t figure how you can claim both,” Popham 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.”