The first Hindu elected to the United States Congress is expected to take oath on the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Bible, reports state.
Tulsi Gabbard, 31, a Democrat, won her bid for election in a heavily Democratic area of Hawaii earlier this month. Now, she will be representing Hawaii’s second district in Congress beginning in January.
Although the entirety of Congress takes their official oath together on the House floor with no religious materials involved, many choose to have an additional private ceremony where they recreate being sworn into office, largely for photo-op purposes. While most choose to use the Bible for their ceremony, Gabbard is slated to swear on the Bhagavad Gita, which she states is one of her favorite Hindu texts.
The Bhagavad Gita is a compilation of writings said to reflect dialogue between a warrior named Arjuna and the Vishnu Hindu god Krishna as they discuss the “universal order.” There are many books in Hinduism, just as there are several sects within the religion.
Following her successful bid for office, Gabbard stated that she hoped that her presence in Congress would cause others to understand and embrace Hinduism in America.
“On my last trip to the mainland, I met a man who told me that his teenage daughter felt embarrassed about her faith, but after meeting me, she’s no longer feeling that way,” she said. “He was so happy that my being elected to Congress would give hope to hundreds and thousands of young Hindus in America, that they can be open about their faith.”
In the weeks leading up to the election, Gabbard expressed similar sentiments.
“It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” she asked. “Hopefully the presence in Congress of an American who happens to be Hindu will increase America’s understanding of India as well as India’s understanding of America.”
“For Hindu Americans, it is a historic moment,” Anju Bhargava, founder of Hindu American Seva Charities and former participant with the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, told the Huffington Post. “It is a matter of pride that finally someone not only from our own faith, but someone who is a practicing Hindu, will be sworn in the Congress on one of our most sacred books.”
As previously reported, Gabbard, who was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father and Hindu mother, and is named after a Hindu sacred tree, is known in Hawaii for becoming the youngest state representative to be elected to legislature. At age 21, she served as representative for the local Oahu district.
Following Gabbard’s tenure, she joined the military and served in the Hawaii National Guard. In 2004, she was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, where she worked as a medical operations specialist. In 2008, she trained officials in Kuwait in counter-terrorism.
It is reported that Gabbard first became a follower of Hinduism as a teenager, and while mainstream Hinduism is polytheistic in that it espouses the belief in many gods, Gabbard follows the Vaishnavism sect of the religion, which believes in a supreme being named Vishnu and his “10 incarnations.” Although not prominent in America, there are a number of Vishnava organizations in the United States, such as the Pure Bhakti Society, which has locations in Hawaii, as well as Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, California, Oregon, Florida, Utah, North Carolina, New York and New Jersey.
While many have largely embraced Gabbard as being the first Hindu in Congress, others have expressed concern in the past about Hinduism being represented and proliferated in the nation’s capital.
In 2007, when Hindu Rajan Zed was asked by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid to open the Senate with prayer, the occasion was met with protest from attendees in the balcony, as a man could be heard declaring, “Lord Jesus, forgive us for allowing the prayer of the wicked. This is an abomination in Your sight. This is an abomination! You shall have no other gods before Me!” Police escorted the protesters out of the room, and later charged them with disrupting Congress, a misdemeanor.
Zed’s prayer began with, “We meditate on the transcendental glory of the deity supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of the heaven. May He stimulate and illuminate our minds.”
Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, also made comments earlier this year that Gabbard’s religion “doesn’t align with the constitutional foundation of the U.S. government.”
“It is stunning that some people in Congress would so arrogantly thumb their nose at the Bill of Rights,” Gabbard wrote in response in a statement to the media. “When I volunteered to put my life on the line in defense of our country, no one asked me what my religion was.”
Jesse Boyd of Full Proof Gospel Ministries in North Carolina, who has served as a missionary to Hindus worldwide for over a decade, told Christian News Network that those of the Hindu religion are generally welcoming of the Good News of Jesus Christ. He said that he greatly enjoys telling Hindus about the one true God.
“By and large, Hindus have been far more open to the Gospel. That’s been my experience,” he said. “They know that there’s some sort of Creator out there; they just don’t know Him.”
Boyd stated that more than being a moral code written by the hand of the Creator, Hinduism is of a collection of legends and traditions from the Eastern world.
“It’s not a set theme, or a set story or a set code of ethics,” he explained. “[Mainstream] Hinduism has 300 million gods and goddesses. They are not viewed on the same level that we do the Creator.”
Boyd cited the examples of the Hindu god Shiva, known as the destroyer, and the goddess Kali, known as the “mother goddess” being the consort of Shiva, or “the goddess of blood.”
While he stated that he was surprised that Gabbard is a Democrat, considering that most Hindus are conservative in belief, he feels that the increasing presence of paganism in American government is a sign that God is not pleased with the nation and its continued rebellion against His commandments.
“It’s evidence of God’s judgment on this country,” Boyd said. “It’s a judgment that comes on nations when they turn against God.”
Gabbard will be replacing Mazie Hirono, who became the first Buddhist to serve in Congress. In 2008, Minnesota representative Keith Ellison became the first Congressman to swear on the Koran instead of the Bible.