Friday, October 29


Amy Sullivan is, as usual, spot-on when she reviews the candidates and their use of religion/faith in the presidential race:

The Bible is replete with warnings to beware of those who wear their religion on their sleeve: "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men," says Jesus (Matthew 6:5).

Instead, voters need to know whether a politician’s actions match the religious values they profess - whether, in other words, they walk the walk in addition to talking the talk. And it is on this point that the two presidential campaigns have provided distinct models this year.

ALTHOUGH BUSH has, over the course of his time in the White House, proven himself adept at evocative, under-the-radar uses of religious language and imagery, his second presidential campaign has been anything but subtle. During a fall campaign stop in Michigan, Bush was introduced by a young man who led the crowd in prayer, declaring that they were "gathered to lift high the name of Jesus Christ" and praising God for the election of Bush. ("We know you appointed him to the position.") Some of Bush’s supporters have argued that he is superior to Kerry precisely because of his born-again experience. In attacks that carry undertones of anti-Catholicism, both Zell Miller and conservative adviser Marvin Olasky have claimed that Kerry lacks the "spiritual support" Bush has because, as a Catholic, he has never rededicated his life to God.
The implication of all of this, of course, is that Bush has the endorsement of God and is, by extension, infallible. While once conservatives argued that opposition to Bush’s policies was tantamount to treason, under this logic opposition to the president becomes heresy. If you’re not with us, you’re not just against us, you’re against God.
Kerry and his campaign have used religion to critique Bush’s record and policies in a manner that is unprecedented in recent American politics. A candidate who runs on religion, they suggest, must be prepared to be judged by religious standards. "What good is it, my brothers," Kerry asks audiences, quoting James 2:14, "if a man claims to have faith, but has no deeds?" It’s a short leap from that jab to an evaluation of how Bush’s rhetoric matches up against his accomplishments on issues from the environment to faith-based initiatives to anti-poverty efforts. In a September address to the National Baptist Convention, Kerry used the parable of the Good Samaritan to highlight Bush’s abandonment of social policy programs, casting Bush as the Levite who avoided helping the man who lay by the side of the road. For four years, charged Kerry, Bush has "seen people in need, but he’s crossed over to the other side of the street."

No one could have anticipated that Kerry would end up playing the role of prophet to Bush’s Pharisee, but the senator has spent much of the year calling out the president for his explicit appropriation of religion. One of the biggest crowd-pleasing lines in Kerry’s acceptance speech was the retelling of a story about Abraham Lincoln in which some ministers asked him to pray with them that God was on their side. "As Abraham Lincoln told us," Kerry said, "I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side." The "pray humbly" part was an addition by Kerry that underscored the frustration many voters feel with Bush’s solid confidence that he is doing God’s will. It’s a sentiment that can be found even around the president’s own office. "I think you have to wonder when people are so sure they know what God wants them to do," a White House aide recently told me. "I just want to ask them, ‘Really? God told you that? That’s amazing.’ Because God seems like a pretty busy guy to me."

Politicians should be careful about claiming divine endorsement in electoral contests, and American voters should follow this closely. Because in this country we shouldn’t elect presidents (or any other official, for that matter) based on how many Christian rock stars they can line up on a stage, or whether televangelists call the election for them based on "talks" with God, or if they claim their unofficial running mate is Jesus Christ. Any politician who appeals to voters in that way is more than likely trying to deflect attention from their actual record, from what they have done. But talking the God-talk is no replacement for walking the walk.


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