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You’d think God was a voter

By
June 1, 2007

Lately it seems all the leading presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs — even when they'd rather not. Indeed, seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters — even saying during a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher — the personal faith of candidates has become a very public part of the presidential campaign.

Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have hired strategists to focus on reaching religious voters. Obama's campaign holds a weekly conference call with key supporters in early primary and caucus states whose role is to spread the candidate's message to religious leaders and opinionmakers and report their concerns to the campaign.

Democrats in general are targeting moderate Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and even evangelicals, hoping to enlist enough voters for whom religious and moral issues are a priority to put together a winning coalition.

Next week, Clinton, Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards are scheduled to address liberal evangelicals at a forum on "faith, values and poverty."

Some top-tier Republican candidates, the natural heirs to conservative religious support, are finding the issue awkward to handle.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been questioned so much about his Mormon faith — 46 percent of those polled by Gallup in March had a negative opinion of the religion — that he has taken to emphasizing that he is running for a secular office.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Catholic who says he gave serious consideration as a young man to becoming a priest, is fending off critics who say he should be denied the sacrament of communion because he supports abortion rights.

Religion has become such a common element of presidential politics that during the first televised debate among the 2008 Republican candidates, a reporter asked if any did not believe in evolution — three Republicans raised their hands: Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo.

"To many Americans, religion is a very important part of their life and they are interested in how religiosity influences candidates," said John Green, a University of Akron political science professor and senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

"Where this election cycle is different," he said, "is that more of the Democratic candidates are speaking out about their faith, and they've organized their campaigns to appeal to religious voters."

In past campaigns, Republicans nearly cornered the conservative religious vote. The 2004 Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, is a Catholic but lost the Catholic vote 47 percent to 52 percent to Bush, according to exit polling. Bush won white evangelicals 78 percent to 21 percent.

Now, Democrats are speaking plainly about their beliefs. In March, Edwards told the multi-faith Web site Beliefnet.com that Jesus would be appalled at how the nation has ignored the plight of the suffering.

"I think the majority of Americans, the people who largely decide elections, what they are looking for — particularly in these times — is a really good and decent human being to be president," Edwards said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you are a person, a man or woman, of faith, that has an impact on how they view you as a human being, whatever your faith is."

Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners/Call to Renewal, which is holding next week's liberal evangelical forum, said in a statement that "faithful voters" are "hungry for a real conversation about the big moral issues of our time."

The forum is the latest in a series of events in which presidential candidates have addressed the issue of religion and politics.

Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, a Catholic, told an April forum at Boston College that Democrats have made "a huge mistake over the years" by not talking more openly about how their personal faith informs their public policy positions.

Brownback, a former Methodist who converted to Catholicism in 2002, told the same forum that faith "doesn't make all your decisions, but you can't segregate it out — it's part of the values basis you bring."

In one of the first joint appearances of the 2008 campaign, Brownback and Obama were guest speakers at the evangelical Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., where best-selling author Rick Warren is pastor.

Obama's close relationship with his own pastor at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, whose theology emphasizes "black values" and strengthening the black community, has also been a campaign issue. Obama withdrew an invitation to the pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., to speak at his presidential announcement in February.

Last year, Obama chastised fellow Democrats for failing to "acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people," and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoers.

"Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters," he said.

Ironically, it is some of the top Republican candidates who are shying away from public discussions of their faith.

"I don't think that a person who's running for a secular position as I am should talk about or engage in discussions of what they in their personal faith or their personal beliefs think is immoral or not immoral," Romney said in an AP interview last week in response to a question about whether he believes homosexuality is immoral.

Giuliani didn't want to talk about his faith, either. "The mayor's personal relationship with God is private and between him and God," his campaign told AP.

It may be difficult for Giuliani to keep a lid on discussions of his faith. Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI said he agreed with bishops who said Catholic politicians had excommunicated themselves by legalizing abortion in Mexico City.

Seven of the 18 candidates for president — four Democrats and three Republicans — are Catholic. Besides Giuliani, the four Democrats also support abortion rights.

But support for abortion rights doesn't necessarily hurt candidates with Catholic voters, who support legalized abortion in all or most circumstances by 53 percent to 43 percent, according to 2004 exit polling.

"Catholics are in a middle position — Republicans woo them on things like abortion and same sex marriage, but Democrats are closer to their core teachings on things like health care for the poor, the death penalty and social welfare policies," said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University professor and author of several books on politics and religion.

"They're a swing bloc not fitting clearly in either party, which makes them a very valuable constituency in elections."

12 Responses to You’d think God was a voter

  1. Sandra Price

    June 2, 2007 at 8:35 am

    I see nothing wrong with individual states running their own constitutions based on Christian values. Utah has done it for years. Our problem in America is that our voters do not know right from wrong. They will follow any leader who claims to be a Christian and think no more about what he stands for.

    Citizen responsibility must be taught in our schools where teachers must approach both sides of the aisle and explain the balance of Corporations in sync with the workers. It was so plain to most of us before WW2 when we saw the need and values of both parties. Today we learn how to win, not how to judge our candidates.

    Bush would not have had a chance in hell of winning the 2000 or 2004 elections without Pat Robertson’s help through his Christian coalition.

    Between the neoconservatives and the relgious right Bush managed to get into the white house. The threat of Armageddon was all over the television and in Hollywood movies. It was home-grown terrorism facing the American voters.

    They learned from the 1964 election when LBJ used that famous commercial of the atom bomb behind the face of Senator Barry Goldwater. It worked! It still works except it is now used against the Islamic terrorists. The Democrats have no movement against the Iraqi war and the Conservatives believe they are in a Crusade against the infidel Islam.

    Conservatives want war against Islam. This comes from their Ministers and Priests who are still in a crusader state of mind.

    Bush has managed to annoy many Christians and may destroy the GOP over his war desire in the Middle East.

    Are we ready to step in with a third party to bring this war to a close and restore our freedoms? Are we ready to live by the U.S. Constitution and not some weird concept of the Bible? I am!

  2. remoran

    June 2, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Just look at the recent PBS series, Secrets of the Inquistion. If that doesn’t stop one from being religious, nothing else will. Also, when three of the 10 Republican candidates declare they don’t believe in evolution, you know this country is in trouble.

    “Never stop questioning.” Einstein

  3. Sandra Price

    June 1, 2007 at 6:54 am

    …brought us G.W. Bush sailing on on a false premise. None of these candidates have a dime’s worth of information on the Constitution and are playing to the religious right to vote for them.

    Returning to the 10th Amendment and respecting State’s Rights could solve all this nonsense about judging candidates on sexual matters. It is simply a desire to redesign all Americans to have the same moral values which does not mean that they will live by the values or even understand what they are. It is a series of requests to make the Federal Government the all consuming authority. This is a problem coming from both parties.

    I want a third party who will release the public from these ridiculous and unenforceable prohibitions. The premise that stopping gay marriages will eliminate homosexuals or that prohibiting abortions will somehow stop them from being wanted is ridiculous! Americans are are not children with a need for Big Daddy to guide us from the crib to the grave.

    Pandering to the religious right will remove many good honest Americans from running for office. But do we really care?

  4. Steve Horn

    June 1, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Sandy,

    Reading your post it struck me – wasn’t the Republican party supposed to be the party of small government and minimal intrusion into the lives of the citizens? What happened to that?

    It seems to me that, in the past six years, our government has grown by a substantial margin and has become more and more involved in the lives of the citizens.

    Is it just me or has some change come about?

    Steve

  5. www.nazilieskill.us

    June 1, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Mature religion understands that no one can speak for God. It knows that man is like a dog that occasionally gets a mysterious pat on the head. Half-baked religion always has an advantage because it is magic and idolatry … stuff for crooks, suckers, and lazy cowards.

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  6. Donnat

    June 1, 2007 at 10:35 am

    would be another Bush in the making. The irony to me is that two world wars destroyed the influence of religion in Europe and I believe the longer the Iraq war continues, the more people will become disenchanted with the party that claims that God wants us to kill everyone who doesn’t share our world view, and the influence of religion on U.S. politics will evaporate. Maybe that will be the one good thing to come out of the Iraq mess. Donnat

  7. Steve Horn

    June 1, 2007 at 11:33 am

    The very fact that you’d feel the need to hire a consultant to advise you on how to appeal to relegious voters is, to me, a red flag regarding the sincerity of your own beliefs.

    If you’re willing to lie about your personal relegious beliefs in a lame attempt to attract voters, I’d think the door would be wide open regarding the list of other things you’d be apt to lie about.

    Then again, we are talking about politicians here – just look at the fine “Christian” example that the “Compassionate conservative” currently occupying the oval office has set. I seem to recall reading something about coveting, bearing false witness and killing being prohibited by God somewhere along the line …

    Then again, I have no scapegoat to lay the blame for my personal or professional shortcomings upon.

    Peace

    Steve

  8. nuQler Ostrich

    June 1, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Talk about Christ but when it comes time to do as he taught, they just can’t seem to bring themselves to love thine neighbor and to turn the other cheek.

    No these Christians are more likely to attack their neighbors [enemies] first.

    Their golden rule has become do unto others before they do unto you.

    We will never have PEACE by fighting.

    We will not end violence by doing battle with the warmakers. We will only have PEACE when we BECOME peaceful.

  9. nuQler Ostrich

    June 1, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    who actually will act to be a peacemaker.

    There’s a man of PEACE running for the Republican nomination.

    There’s another man of PEACE runing for the Democratic nomination.

    If we truly desire PEACE, then our choices are clear.

    If we choose to elect another warmaker, then we will become as those Jesus spoke of when he said, “Many have called my name, but I do not know thee.”

  10. JudyB

    June 1, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    I happen to be a Christian, but I do not believe that religion and politics should mix. In my opinion the only time any religious leader should be allowed to speak a word of politics from the pulpit would be if there were a real threat of not being allowed to pactice their various religions…as yet, that has never been a threat in the USA as far as I know. We cannot elect fanatics or zealots of any religion or because they are not believers. We can all look and see what that has resulted in this with Bush.
    I have found over my many years of life that people of faith have very different views on the exact same things and feel free to change the rules of their particular faith, if and when it suits them personally.
    I believe what John Edwards when he said “I think the majority of Americans, the people who largely decide elections, what they are looking for — particularly in these times — is a really good and decent human being to be president,” For myself, I will ever vote for anyone I deem to be a religious fanatic or zealot. I long for a President and a Congress who will put America first, and not their personal interests.

    Our current President lacks morals, integrity, not to mention wisdom, and there is no Checks & Balance system that is so neccessary for good Government. How did this come to be??? He courted the religious right who went on BLIND faith, believing in the lying words & promises he spewed along his campaign trail that was paid for by big oil, big Business and the monies knowing this would be his paid ticket to the Presidency..thats how it worked!

  11. Even Steven Monton

    June 1, 2007 at 2:32 pm

    Just because one “claims” they are Christian does not mean they’re really Christian.
    Just because one “claims” they are Jewish, does not mean they’re really Jewish.
    Just because one “claims” they are Catholic does not mean they’re really Catholic.

    Just because one “claims” anything does not make that “claim” true.

    Now here’s one to ponder…………..

    Just because one “claims” they’re an American does not make them an American.

    Think about that……..just because one “claims” to be an American does not make them an American.

    What everyone is failing to realize is that you can “claim” anything, but that doesn’t make it the truth.

    People demonstrate the authenticity/validity of their “claims” through actions and the results of those actions.

    This is how you PROVE what is true.

    If I said I was your friend, stole from you, talked bad about you, and lied to you continually, would you believe I was your friend even if I “claimed” I was your friend?
    Would I truly be your friend?

    Those in positions of power are no different when you view the situation synonomously.

    What are the results of their actions?

    I like to read Justin Raimondo’s articles at antiwar.com because he provides links, and backs them up with footnotes, and facts.

    Ron Paul, and Patrick Buchanan also write for antiwar.com

    No, I don’t represent antiwar.com but I just happen to like the site, and the writers like the previously mentioned individuals.

    In closing we might try pondering the notion that those who are “claiming” to be Christian, and American, don’t look like either when you measure up the results of their actions, and how they have impacted this nation.

  12. Ardie

    June 2, 2007 at 1:43 am

    I think it is irrational to discuss religion in a time when our country is in danger of self-destructing–if not becoming a full-blown dictatorship. If our politicians are serious about religion–join a monastery.