Religion and Presidential Candidates

With all the questions swirling about concerning Mitt Romney's religious beliefs, I found this column from Rich Mayfield to be "spot on" to quote my British friends. Professions of belief or religious affiliations rarely have ultimate influence on one's public life. In many ways, that's too bad, but as Mayfield points out Luther preferred a competent pagan to an incompetent Christian as ruler. Mayfield seemingly gloats at the Lutheran's good fortune to never have had a president to claim as their own, for it has saved them from acute embarrassment.
Alas, for me that's not possible. The Disciples are small in numbers, but we've had three of our own -- and you'll have to decide whether that is to our embarrassment: James Garfield (the only preacher to have been elected President), Lyndon Baines Johnson, and to correct Mr. Mayfield (at least on a technicality) Ronald Reagan was one of ours as well. Although he worshipped with the Presbyterians in his later years, his formative religious training and as I understand it, his membership never left the Disciples. So, there you have it. Now, lets see what the wind blows!

From the Vail Trail: via: Faith in Public Life Daily News

When politics is a matter of faith

Guest Column
Rich Mayfield
February 21, 2007

I am fairly certain I won’t vote for Mitt Romney if he wins the Republican nomination for president. I don’t much care for his position on a plethora of issues both foreign and domestic. His recent pandering to the religious right has my stomach turning. And this week’s announcement that he will be the commencement speaker at Pat Robertson’s Regent University means he’s catering to the crazies, Christian or not.No, I probably won’t be voting for Mr. Romney for a whole host of reasons, but it won’t be because of his religion.
I’ll confess that his Mormon faith was initially off-putting with its history of golden tablets and angelic visitations, but a nanosecond of self-reflection on my own religious tradition reminded me that orthodox Christianity has its share of bizarre beliefs as well.
There is grousing about Romney’s recent and radical change of mind regarding gay and abortion rights. A more cynical mind than mine might suggest these alterations have less to do with questions of conscience and more with getting elected, but given the benefit of the doubt I like a politician willing to admit he or she was wrong. If only a particular politico in the White House would do the same thing we all might be spared the continuing miserable mess of Iraq. John Kenneth Galbraith’s famous remark is worth remembering here … “In the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.”
In reflecting on the question of religion in regard to Mr. Romney’s candidacy, one can’t help but remember other political campaigns that cast similar shadows. John Kennedy’s Catholicism had people convinced that the Pope would rule the White House. Jimmy Carter’s outspoken evangelicalism certainly had some of us main-line Protestants apprehensive, but none of these previous religious concerns have been as vociferous or vicious as the alarms raised around Romney’s faith.
By all accounts, it isn’t just Democrats and liberals who are worried here. A recent survey showed that evangelicals harbored some of the severest reservations. After all, when you’re absolutely convinced that it’s your way or the highway, backing a non-believer may require a tad too much tolerance for some of America’s more convicted Christians.
A quick review of recent presidential tenures should alleviate any anxiety over religion’s real influence. Some of the most rigid regulations regarding sexual behavior belong to the Baptists, as does Bill Clinton. And Ronald Reagan’s Presbyterianism didn’t prevent him from playing fast and loose with the Contras. Richard Nixon was a Quaker after all, which probably was the greatest test Friends everywhere had to truly hold their tongues. Our current president claims Jesus is his top political guide. Is it any wonder atheism is on the rise?
There’s never been a Lutheran president, which may have saved us Lutherans some embarrassment. Founder Martin Luther once wrote he’d rather have a pagan prince who could rule well than a Christian one who couldn’t … which may have something to do with the Lutheran lack in presidential leadership. Still, such a pragmatic position might serve us all well as we look forward to someone, be he or she, believer or not, who can get us out of the fix one of the faithful got us into.

Rich Mayfield is former pastor of Lord of the Mountains church.


Michael said…
I found an old Time magazine article about Mitt’s father. It was published in 1962 just after his election as governor of Michigan. I find it interesting that in the article it talks about how George Romney would likely be the next Republican Party candidate for president. They related some of his great strengths that got him elected as governor; one of those strengths was that he was a Mormon. Apparently this gave him a huge boost to his campaign. I just find it interesting how the perception has changed over the years.
That is interesting -- especially since the LDS church has both grown exponentially since 1962 and has attempted to portray itself increasingly as a mainstream faith, focusing on its similarities to Mainstream Christianity rather than on its distinctive doctrines. And yet, with the ascendency of the Religious Right a Mormon candidate is problematic. Of course George Romney positioned himself as a Rockefeller/Ford kind of Republican and not as a Goldwater Republican. Yes, how times have changed.

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