Back during the 1960 Presidential election, at least according to Wikipedia, the main issues being discussed were the economy, Cuba, Russia, the space program, nuclear missile proliferation and Kennedy’s religion (being Catholic.) It’s the later that has piqued my interest, particularly as we look toward the upcoming presidential primaries and the candidacy of Mitt Romney. As a Mormon, Romney has been fielding questions about his views on religion and how it might impact his decisions as commander in chief. There are those that believe Mormonism is a cult and that anyone who believes in it clearly is unfit to serve in office. There are others who submit that one’s religion should have no bearing on their ability to serve as president of the United States. To his credit, Romney has deflected this criticism by stating, as Kennedy did, that his decision making as president would be about the laws of the land, not his religion. But there are definitely two sides to this question. Time magazine recently summed up the two positions … one was Slate editor Jacob Weisberg’s assertion that Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, was a con man and that he had a right to know if a potential candidate believed in a con man … the other was Hugh Hewitt’s position that voting against Romney because of his religion was legitimizing prejudice.
What’s even more interesting is that, for some time, there has been a subtle undercurrent about the candidacy of Barack Obama. His grandfather having been Muslim has drawn some question about his own beliefs and the role of religion in politics. His interview on MSNBC and his speech to the “Call to Renewal” conference telling participants that we are no longer “just a Christian nation” has further amplified the discussion about one’s faith and how that might shape their thinking in the White House. Even the comedy circuit has drawn the connection between Obama’s family religious history and name with the Muslim faith and the war in the Middle East.
For me, I find it amusing that in a country founded, in large part, by religious dissidents who were fleeing the oppression of a certain religious world view, that we would even be debating this. Our founding fathers long held, and its embedded in our country’s core documents, that religion should not be used as a measure of someone’s ability to serve in office. It’s interesting to note that Benjamin Franklin, for example, was a deist. His religious conversion from Puritan belief was not unusual at that time, but it was notable that one of the heroes of the “revolution” that created our country shunned Calvinism and accepted what to many modern Christians would be heretical. Then again, he never served as president, so maybe it was OK. Ah, but that brings us to Thomas Jefferson. He was another deist that believed Jesus Christ was merely a human. He also believed in the strong separation of church and state to keep each from the corrupting influence of the other.
There’s another notion here that suggests one’s religion is not necessarily a guide to one’s behavior in office. Some think our current president lied about Iraq. Then there’s always the Lewinsky issue and former President Bill Clinton. Clinton calls himself a Christian Baptist. Bush calls himself a United Methodist. Now I’m not condemning either man for his transgressions, perceived or real … that’s for God to decide … but, both religions disdain lying, so is it safe to say, regardless of political party, that religion isn’t necessarily a good indicator of your future moral and ethical behavior in office?
So, I put the question(s) out to the readers of this publication … does one’s religion matter when you vote for the candidate? Should religion be used as a litmus test in determining the commander in chief? Are there any religions that are OK for potential presidents? Are there any that aren’t? And shouldn’t we all subscribe to the notion, as our founding fathers did, that there should be a separation between church and state and one’s religion, therefore, doesn’t matter when voting for president?