Debating religion and the presidency

January 31, 2012

At last week’s Republican Presidential Debate hosted by CNN in
Jacksonville, Florida, a wonderful question was asked of the candidates:
if elected, how would their religious beliefs affect their decisions as
president.

I don’t mean to Monday morning quarterback — actually, yes I do,
because this question is the sort of thing I think about a lot (from the
discipleship angle, not the presidential one). So, with the benefit of
plenty of time to think, I thought I’d take a stab at my own response.

First, though, I’ll note that of the candidates’ answers, Newt
Gingrich’s was closest to my perspective. His brief assertion that
religion isn’t something that just happens on Sundays and, in that
sense, is inextricable from daily life, was by far the most compelling
point.

Even now, I still have no idea how Ron Paul’s argument makes any
sense: that religion affects his character, and the way he lives, but
wouldn’t affect his presidency because his oath of office would take
precedence. Paul seemed to indicate he could set aside his faith at
times, which I find confusing and problematic.

Santorum and Romney made safe claims about Judeo-Christian values and
the Declaration of Independence, sticking to general faith fluff and an
embellished religious history of America.

That’s all fine. No candidate said anything particularly compelling, but no candidate had an “oops moment” either.

I’ll never run for president. I don’t analyze polling data or focus
groups. My answer, I have no doubt, would not be popular with much of
America. But, here it is:

Every day, before I check my email and my to-do lists, I pray.
Prayer centers me, reminding me that each day is a gift from God. Prayer
reminds me I didn’t make this world. I didn’t found our great nation. I
don’t live a perfect life. Every day, after that morning prayer, I’m
called to respond to God’s grace and love.

Faith, religion, and service are inextricable aspects of my life.
They are at my core. I try to live my life not primarily for personal
gain, but to serve God and others. So it turns out that faith is
actually a large part of why I’m running. After all: why would I put my
family, myself, my friends through the gauntlet of a campaign if it were
not for a larger purpose beyond self? We don’t need a president — or
anyone in public office — thinking the world revolves around any one
person. Public service, for many of us, is an act of discipleship.

Now, before anyone gets any ideas, I would not use public office
to compel or advocate my particular faith tradition. My values come from
my faith tradition, but they’re also certainly influenced by my family,
education, and community. In this most religiously diverse country on
God’s earth, we must seek to advocate for policy in ways that speaks to
those of all faiths, and those of no faith. For me, my love of neighbor
comes from Jesus’ teachings, rooted in the Bible, and is sustained by a
community of faith. For others, their love and service is influenced by
the teachings of Muhammad, or in the way of Buddha. For still others
(some dear friends of mine) who don’t believe in God, life’s goals come
from influences beyond faith. But atheists and agnostics can and do
still seek to contribute to society, to support their community, and to
live justly.

So, I hope, I pray, that faith would affect every aspect of my
time in office, that it would demand from me humility, honesty, courage,
love, care for the earth, respect, that faith would drive me to seek
liberty and justice for all. Faith then, wouldn’t hinder me in office —
it’s not something I can just set aside — rather, faith would help me as
I humbly sought to serve both God and country.

What do you think? What would you answer? What struck you about the candidates’ responses?

 

Originally posted at A Wee Blether