Rich Mayfield: Religion will determine our president’s policy, eventually |

Rich Mayfield: Religion will determine our president’s policy, eventually

Saturday columnist

Whoever first said that politics and religion don’t mix didn’t know much about politics and even less about religion.

Judging from the comments of many, the conventional wisdom has it that a candidate’s faith shouldn’t be taken into consideration when we go to the polls. I may be swimming against the tide here, but having spent more than a few years in the religion biz, I can assure you that a person’s religious beliefs wield enormous power over just about everything in one’s life.

From choosing a mate to choosing a car to choosing a candidate, these decisions are influenced by what we believe or don’t believe about God. If your image of God is found in nature, for instance, your view toward ecological concerns will be profoundly affected. If you believe in a God who blesses the rich and damns the poor, for another, it will undeniably affect your economic persuasions.

Even if you claim no belief in the divine, such a decision will affect how you understand the future and your role in it. To think that religious belief or unbelief is irrelevant to a politician’s decision-making seems to me, decidedly naïve.

Maybe I’m being politically incorrect but I’d like to know if a candidate actually believes we are descendents of ancient aliens or that heaven is reserved for Republicans or that women should be submissive to men or that homosexuality is a sin. Surely such religious preferences will have an impact on any legislation a politician will support or oppose.

One of the positive attributes of the seemingly likable Mike Huckabee is his willingness to admit that his religious sensibilities shape his politics. Now I certainly don’t agree with much of his policies but I do appreciate his honest acknowledgment. Because of his forthrightness, I as a voter can make some reasonable assumptions as to his future decisions … and reasonably decide not to vote for him.

When George W. Bush announced that he got his marching orders for war from God, it was a pretty clear indicator that we were in for big trouble. Most of us would rather he had listened to a few Middle East experts instead. It’s not that his religious faith is right or wrong as much as it is important to realize the influence it has on national and international policies.

Now it is important to make a distinction between a candidate’s official religious affiliation and his or her own personal beliefs. There can be considerable disparity between the two. I know a great many Christians, for instance, who continue to align themselves with the church even if they don’t agree with all of its policies. Within Christianity there is a huge range of theological positions, many that directly oppose one another.

Likewise within Judaism. There are many faithful Jews who are not fully supportive of the policies of Israel, for example. And, of course, many Muslims who are terribly discouraged over the usurpation of their faith by a fanatical few. The reality is that in America few can be elected to a school board let alone the presidency of the United States without declaring their whole-hearted belief in God.

The question voters need to be asking is what kind of God the candidate believes in. Despite the claims of some historically-challenged folk, the founding fathers (and I suspect mothers, as well) had radically disparate understandings of the divine.

Thomas Jefferson whose own translation of the Bible was the epitome of “cut and paste” theology, for instance, would certainly be certified as a heretic by many of today’s more conservative Christians. Theological conceptions differ dramatically and acknowledging those differences is vital to the well-informed voter.

Of course there are candidates, perhaps even the majority, who give only lip-service to their claims of religious devotion. But that, too, is important for us to know. Some of us grow uneasy with a hypocrite in the highest office of the land.

Recently, certain pundits have dismissed John Kennedy’s speech to the conservative Christians in Houston, where he described an impenetrable wall between his Catholic faith and his political goals, as admittance that ultimately a politician’s faith is irrelevant to his or her politics.

I believe he was saying just the opposite. JFK ended his now famous speech by declaring: “But if the time should ever come ” and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible ” when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

Perhaps I’m the one who is naive but I’d rather know more about a candidate’s faith than his or her political positions. My experience is that the former inevitably trumps the latter.

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