Faith and Politics: Should Religion Bar a Candidate from Public Office?

By McBrien, Richard P. | National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2007 | Go to article overview

Faith and Politics: Should Religion Bar a Candidate from Public Office?


McBrien, Richard P., National Catholic Reporter


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Michael Kinsley is a well-known and widely respected writer, editor and television personality. In the early 1990s he was cohost of CNN's "Crossfire" program as the liberal counterpart to Pat Buchanan. He was later the founding editor of the online journal Slate, and then for a brief period the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times. After that, he became a weekly columnist for The Washington Post and Slate, and is currently a regular commentator for TIME magazine.

Mr. Kinsley wrote a highly provocative piece for TIME's Sept. 21 issue, titled, "God as Their Running Mate," in which he argued, at least implicitly, that no person of sincere religious faith can be trusted to serve in public office, and certainly not in the presidency of the United States.

Although his central target was Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination in 2008, Mr. Kinsley also took a swipe at Catholic liberal politicians in general and the late President John F. Kennedy and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in particular. I shall return to these comments at the end of this column.

Mr. Kinsley seems to propose that a public figure who is affiliated with a religious entity, such as the Roman Catholic church or the Mormons, can serve in office only by "lying to their church" or 'lying to us.'

If all of the teachings of their respective churches were civilly enforced, Mr. Kinsley suggests, there would be widespread social instability.

Therefore, to evaluate candidates for public office, "we need to know in some detail the doctrines of their faith and the extent to which they accept these doctrines."

"What exactly should we worry about?" Mr. Kinsley asks. "Most important," he replies, "we need to know what forms of conduct a candidate's religion forbids or requires and how the candidate interprets that injunction. Is it a universal moral imperative or just a personal lifestyle choice?"

Every religion, he points out, has a list of prohibitions. Mormonism's includes alcohol, coffee, tea and "passionate kissing" outside of marriage. "If Romney's church doctrines require efforts to impose these restrictions on others, Romney has a Cuomo problem: He cannot be a good Mormon and a good president. He needs to show at least that he has thought about this."

And if the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, was an "obvious con man," as Slate editor Jacob Weisberg once described him, should someone like Mr.

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Faith and Politics: Should Religion Bar a Candidate from Public Office?
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