Voters Need to Put Candidates' Values, Not Religion, First
Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Michael Bollenbaugh and Steven Goetz
During this campaign season, all the candidates on the major parties' presidential tickets have professed a deep and abiding commitment to religion, in their cases Christianity. Professions of faith from candidates who would serve as our president and vice president are interesting, but could also be disconcerting to some voters.
Although interest in the religious persuasion of our candidates has waned recently from the fever pitch of the past few decades, there is still strong interest in this question. So, are the religious convictions of political candidates relevant to the question of determining their fitness to serve as our nation's leaders?
To begin with, let us dispense with the repudiated practice of religious tests, whereby the suitability of people running for public office was determined by their commitment to a particular religious denomination. Such laws were premised upon a presumed correlation between character and creed; history shows this view to be misguided. Eradicating religious tests from the political arena was as much a stroke of genius in the time of our English and American founders as it was in the time of the Civil Rights Act, when racial discrimination was banned from the social arena.
Though no one should be elected to or disqualified from public office because of religious persuasion, there are good reasons for Americans to know something of their candidates' religious convictions. For one thing, America has had a long and abiding historical relationship with religion - as someone has said, "America is a nation with the soul of a church." Despite the venerable tradition of a separation between church and state, religion has been enmeshed in the American political life from the beginning and at key points in the nation's history (e.g., the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Cold War). Some might say that religion is in our national DNA.
On the matter of the relevance of religion and politics in the lives of public officials, Paul Tillich's definition of religion as "ultimate concern" might be of some help because it is an encompassing term that entails everything about which a person is most deeply concerned - for example, creed, worship, values and vision. These things do have an important influence on how our leaders frame issues and how they make decisions.
So inquiries into a candidate's heartfelt "ultimate concerns," rather than just his or her religious affiliation and creed, do seem reasonable and fair. …