Friday, December 07, 2007

Faith in the White House

We've heard a lot recently about religious faith and its relevance to the job of President. In fact, religious faith is being used in both positive and negative ways already in the campaigning in ways that I cannot ever remember being so prominent. It seems that religious faith is almost the central defining feature of this primary campaign season.

For instance, Arkansas Governor, and Candidate for the GOP Presidential Nomination, Mike Huckabee, attributes his current rise in the the polls and in popularity exclusively and completely to his Christian God and the power of prayer. Here's a clip of Huckabee, without any hesitation at all, making this bold (and dare I say outlandish) claim in a Q&A session at Liberty University:

Here's a man running for President, just one of any number of believers, mind you (so why would God privilege his campaign over others??), who is claiming a kind of religious mandate for office, yet who said at a Presidential debate that Jesus himself wouldn't be running for President. We can all make what we will of this; but I'm only here to point out how central religious faith is to Huckabee's campaign and how he has inserted this directly into the political space of the Presidential race.

Then there's Mitt Romney, who recently made a major speech defending his Christian religious credentials against the questions being raised about his Mormon faith. It really hasn't been since 1960, when John F. Kennedy gave a speech defending himself against questions raised about his suitability for the Presidency because of his Catholicism. The difference, though, is that now Romney defends himself by using the "America is a country of many faiths" argument, while demanding the requirement of religious faith (of some kind, at least) for the Presidency. Andrew Sullivan has a go at this element of the Romney campaign. Romney's speech is really more for the members of the GOP, and so I'm content to let the right wing punditocracy squabble internally about how much Romney's Mormonism matters. But, again, my point here is not to judge, but simply to point out the centrality of religious faith to the current political Presidential campaign environment.

Then there's Barack Obama. I, myself, have been impressed and inspired by the manner in which Obama embraces and speaks on the subject of religious faith in the political sphere. But, even here, though I think he speaks on the subject in an ecumenical and universalizing way, Barack Obama contributes to the movement of making religious faith central to the political process. Recently, though, Barack Obama has been the subject of the nastier side of this process. He has been cloaked with the mantra of Islam, by his rivals on the right as well as his competitors on the left, as if doing so will tarnish his reputation by affiliating him with the "evil" religion of the terrorists.

Now, what do I think on the subject? Well, I do think there is a place for discussing religion and faith in the public space. And I do think our political leaders should be forthright about their faith. They should not use the legitimate notions of secular government and church/state separation to relegate the importance of their religious faith to the background of their identities. However, that is not to say that religion should be a litmus test for one's suitability to be the President. A candidate can certainly make a good President and also demonstrate a strong faith commitment. There is a line, though, that I believe should divide faith and politics. It is when folks begin advocating the erasure of this line and the merging of these realms of faith and politics that I begin to have problems with it. I think this threshhold is where the candidates sort themselves out. When it comes to what I think is an appropriate relationship between faith and politics, I put Barack Obama, Fred Thompson, and Ron Paul on one side, the side whose candidates don't hide their faith, but who also don't make their faith also the rock base of their political platform; and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee on the other side, the side whose candidates root their politics fully in faith. The former candidates value the importance of faith personally, but see an America where even those without faith of any kind are co-equal citizens. The latter candidates seem to want to cloak America with religion through public policy. And I'm very, very uncomfortable with that.

In the end, and in keeping with the intent of this posting, I should state that I value the inclusion of dialogue over faith in the public and political sphere, but only insofar as it is inclusive, nonjudgmental, and universalizing. We are all Americans, after all. Many of us are people of faith, and so we should be able to talk about this in the public sphere; many of us people of faith are people of different faiths, so this public dialogue should not presume the privileging of one faith over another; and, of course, some of us are not people of faith, which means that our public dialogue over faith as it relates to politics and citizenship should involve all citizens, even those with no religious faith, as equals in the discussion.


Drive-By Blogger said...

Ain't that Barack guy got a gospel tour going on or something?

What's that about?

Drive-By Blogger said...

Shit, I read that again. That's sort of like read a horoscope. You can justify anything. Not you, the collective "you". Well most of "you". I suppose there are some exceptions. You know what? I don't care. I don't now why I'm even still here. Bye