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Political candidates & their faith

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Article VI of the U.S. Constitution says, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation to support this constitution, but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States” (emphasis added).

Our Founding Fathers prohibited that a person be a person of any particular faith or of no faith to hold public office or public trust in the United States. Instead, we are to select public officials based upon their character, their public policy record, their policy positions and their vision for our country.

In the famous speech delivered almost 50 years ago regarding his religious faith and his run for the White House, John F. Kennedy noted that while it was a Catholic who was the victim of suspicion in 1960, in other years it may be a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist who is targeted because of their faith.

Indeed, as Kennedy reminded the nation, it was the persecution of Baptists in 18th-century Virginia that inspired Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to pass the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. In other words, discrimination against a person of any faith opens the door to discrimination against people of all faiths.

While Gov. Mitt Romney has been criticized for his Mormon faith for some time, Gov. Mike Huckabee is the latest target. Huckabee has been criticized by feminist groups because while serving as governor of Arkansas, he and his wife endorsed statements, which appeared in USA Today and World magazine, affirming the Southern Baptist Convention’s confessional stance on the family.

In 1998, the Southern Baptist Convention added an article to its Baptist Faith and Message, the denomination’s confession of faith, addressing the family and marriage. At the time, the priests and priestesses of political correctness, those gurus who take it upon themselves to police what may and may not be said in American society, had a collective fit because the Southern Baptist Convention dared to say that a husband “is to love his wife as Christ loved the church” and a wife “is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”

You may recall that most newspaper and news magazine editorialists were in a dither as well, printing cartoons portraying Southern Baptists as modern-day Neanderthals, with their knuckles dragging the ground, outfitted in animal skins, and with clubs clutched in their hirsute hands.

I have a somewhat unique perspective on this because I was a member of the committee asked to draft the article on the family for the convention’s consideration and approval in 1998. It is a very clear statement concerning what the Bible teaches about the family. The convention’s elected messengers, from their local churches all across the nation, meeting that year, interestingly enough, in Salt Lake City, overwhelmingly adopted the article on “The Family” as Article XVIII of its confessional statement.

In support, numerous prominent evangelical leaders from across the country endorsed a joint statement that asserted: “Southern Baptists, you are right. At a time when divorce is destroying the fabric of our society, you have taken a bold stand for the biblical principles for marriage and family life.” Now, nearly eight years later, these feminists are attacking Mike Huckabee, labeling him as anti-feminist and anti-woman because he signed this statement in support of the Baptist Faith and Message article on the family.

In his Dec. 6, 2007, speech (which Time magazine suggested may be “Romney’s Kennedy moment”), Governor Romney told the assembled crowd at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, “A person who is running for political office should not be the chief spokesperson for his faith or his denomination in public life.”

If I had been advising Governor Romney, I would have told him to say, “Look, if you want to know what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes, call Salt Lake City. If you want to know what my values are, what my beliefs are, and how they influence my life, my character, my public service, my policies and my vision for America, call my office or go to my campaign’s Web site.”

If I were Mike Huckabee, I would say, “Listen, we don’t have a religious test for office. I am a Southern Baptist and I subscribe to the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith. If you want to know what Southern Baptists believe, call a local Southern Baptist pastor or read the Baptist Faith and Message. If you want to know what my policy positions are, call my office or go to my website.”

Then I would challenge my feminist critics by saying, “You have no right to accuse me of being anti-woman, for exercising my constitutionally protected right to free expression of my faith in stating what I believe about God’s plan for the family. Unless you can find evidence of anti-woman bias in my public policy statements or my record as governor of Arkansas (and you will not find such evidence), then you are engaging in anti-religious bigotry by attacking me for expressing my beliefs about how husbands and wives ought to fulfill their roles in the voluntary relationship called marriage by some and holy matrimony by me.”

Just as then-Sen. Kennedy spent virtually no time defending Catholicism, but rather the right of a Catholic to run for the presidency, Gov. Huckabee and Gov. Romney should not spend time defending the religious beliefs of their respective faiths. Instead, as Kennedy did before them, they should affirm their right to run and to be judged on their records and their vision for the country’s future.

To ask Gov. Huckabee or Gov. Romney to explain and to defend the details of their personal faith IS a de facto religious test for office, and that is unconstitutional — and un-American. Mike Huckabee has said that he is a person of faith, that his faith defines him. That means his faith impacts his life, shapes his character, and guides him as he faces the crises and issues of life.

How his faith has molded his character, life and vision is fair game in political debate. The precise theological affirmations of his personal faith, however, are not proper subjects for debate, analysis or scrutiny as a candidate in a presidential campaign.

We have no religious test for office in this country. We don’t judge candidates on their faith or their lack of faith; we judge them on how their faith or their lack of faith impacts their lives, character, conscience, public policy positions and their vision for the country’s future.

While discussing this subject, a reporter asked me a provocative question: “Would you apply similar tests to the candidacy of a radical Islamist?”

“Yes, I would,” I responded. “I would not reject someone who was a follower of radical Islam because they were a follower of radical Islam; I would reject that person as a candidate for office because his radical Islamic faith impacts his character by telling him it is all right to kill people who disagree with him under certain circumstances. I would reject him because his faith gives him a vision for America as an Islamic republic that would stifle dissent, deny religious freedom, and make everyone who is not a Muslim a second-class citizen. So I wouldn’t be rejecting a Muslim based upon his radical Islamic faith, I would be rejecting him because of how his faith impacts his character, conscience, life and public policy positions.”

That is the way our Founding Fathers envisioned it to be, and that is the way it should be.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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  • Richard Land