Faith and politics are an interesting mix in a free society

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January 2008

            Two Republicans are running for President with religion as a factor. Mitt Romney has to assure voters of his Mormonism and Mike Huckabee is driven by his Baptist religion. Barak Obama, a Democratic candidate, faces detractors because of his Muslim sounding name even though he was never a Muslim, much less a radical one, andhas been a Christian since 1991. This reminded me of previous issues with religion in American politics.

Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy faced objection to his  Catholicism in 1960.   Some people questioned Vatican influence in his decision making. He faced the objections head on in a speech on September 20, 1960 to the Houston Area Ministerial Association that he would make decisions based on national interest “and without regard to outside religious pressures.” He further said that “when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office.”

Since 1960 the fundamentalist and evangelical Christians (commonly called the “religious right”) has made a concerted effort to make our country Christian. The first openly evangelical Christian was Jimmy Carter who was elected in 1976. While Carter did not hide his faith he did not use it exclusively to make policy decisions. He has since distanced himself from the fundamentalist Southern Baptist Christians who are his religious tradition.

In 2004  another Catholic was running for President. This time various Catholic Church leaders spoke out against John Kerry because he wasn’t Catholic enough. National interest was not the concern of these outspoken critics but only that Kerry opposed abortion but not Roe v. Wade.

George W. Bush  has openly said God is telling him what to do.  This ifar worse than the Pope giving advice. We can question the Pope. God’s conversations are private.

No Mormon has been elected President so Romney is facing the kind of questioning that Kennedy faced nearly fifty years earlier. Romney told a select group of supporters at the George Bush Presidential Library in Texas on December 6, 2007 “A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”  Like Kennedy he then distanced himself from undue religious pressure in making decisions. 

            Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas is  an Evangelical Christian and ordained Baptist minister. In contrast to Kennedy, Kerry, and Romney, he  boasts about his faith. He says on his websiteMy faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them.” This is a far different approach to the relationship between a candidate’s religion and how that will influence his decisions and policies.  It makes sense. How important is a person’s faith if it doesn’t influence their actions? On the other hand he used his religion to win the primary vote in Iowa earlier this month. I wonder if that is a healthy mix of faith and politics.

            In 1998 when Huckabee was Governor of Arkansas he said to a gathering  of Baptist preachers, " I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."   (Arkansas Democrat Gazette on-line). When he was recently asked about this statement, the Detroit Free Press reported on January 6, 2008 that he “did not retreat “from it. 

            We know his faith guides his positions. For example, he is adamantly opposed to abortion and he supports a Constitutional Amendment declaring marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This is clearly an anti-gay position based on his faith. Much to his credit he also is pushing for more concern and care for the poor. This too stems from his faith.

What concerns me most is his stance that the solution to problems in our country is “accepting” Jesus Christ. I can imagine from my conversations with evangelicals that the rest of this statement is “accepting  Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” Non-Christians might accept Jesus’ message, as did Ghandi, but not accept him as Lord and Savior. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Accepting Jesus Christ would be tantamount to establishing Christianity as the religion of this country  - a violation of the First Amendment. At the very least Huckabee’s faith would blur the separation between church and state. Freedom of religion applies to all people.


               What concerns me is his stance that the solution to problems in our country is “acceptance of” Jesus Christ. I can imagine from my conversations with evangelicals that the rest of this statement is “acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” Someone needs to ask him if that is what he means by “acceptance.” If so it is clearly a violation of the First Amendment’s “freedom of religion” clause and he needs to be held accountable for it. It is a violation of the First Amendment to ask or expect people to accept Jesus Christ. They might accept his message, as did Ghandi, but not accept him as Lord and Savior.