Friday, October 19, 2007
A panel discussion with Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, a Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, Diana Eck, director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and Amy Caiazza, study director for democracy and society programs at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington came to some possibly surprising conclusions.
The panelists were critical of a number of recent political developments and not among the usual suspects:
Democratic Sen. Barack Obama recently said "God's spirit is traveling with us and he wants us to do the right thing" and asked a religious congregation to "pray that I can be an instrument of God."
During a Democratic debate, the candidates were asked to name their favorite Bible verse and Eck found it disturbing that not one candidate said the question had no place in a debate about the leadership of the country for the next four years.
Of course, there is a reason for this seemingly unseemly religiosity among Democrats.
The latest poll on religion and politics by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that nearly seven in 10 Americans think it is important for a president to have strong religious beliefs and 58 percent think it is proper for journalists to ask candidates about their religious beliefs.On the other hand, the two candidates considered the front-runners for their respective parties' nomination -- Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton -- were, nonetheless, judged the least religious in the Pew Forum poll.
Although Republicans, Southerners and evangelical Christians were more likely to agree that a president's religious beliefs are important, the numbers were fairly consistent across religious, regional and other lines. The only group in which a majority disagreed about its importance was those without any religious affiliation.
Rev. Gaddy hearkened back to John F. Kennedy's response on the question of candidates and faith in 1960.
In that talk, Kennedy said communism, poverty, education and the space race were far more critical election issues but had been obscured by debate about his Catholicism.Ms. Eck correctly noted that the candidates "are not running to be president of all Christians, but to be president of all Americans." But Rev. Gaddy had the best line:
He described his belief "in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote."
We're electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief.