The GOP’s Unasked ‘Religious’ Questions

In the Republican race, the hottest “religious issue” is the Mormonism of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, which many commentators have ruled out of bounds. But there are broader issues of religion and politics that should be part of the presidential debate, says Rev. Howard Bess.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

Listening to the current series of Republican presidential candidate debates, I have wearied hearing about policy prescriptions regarding jobs and economic recovery.  Granted those issues are important, but there is a long line of subjects that are waiting in the wings, including many where a candidate’s religious principles are central.

Yet, the debate moderators have shied away from these subjects. They also have avoided probing how a candidate’s religious views might influence his or her behavior as president. Possibly the people asking the questions are uncomfortable with issues that religion raises or perhaps they are reticent to put the competing candidates’ views in a religious context.

However, because of the absence of questions about how a candidate’s religion connects to policy, the American public is being poorly served. While the issues of jobs and economics carry religious implications, other issues do so even more. Let’s look at the list of neglected topics:

WAR AND PEACE:  All religions of which I am aware address the path to peace. Yet, war has never achieved its promised goal of establishing peace. War has only cultivated the seed bed for the next war.

So, I’d like to hear the questions, “What does your religion say about the path to peace? As president, would you pursue the teachings of your religion regarding peace?” I want some answers.

POPULATION CONTROL, BIRTH CONTROL AND ABORTION SERVICES: Hunger and poverty in the world are concentrated where population is expanding by birthrate. The world is speeding toward the limit of the earth’s ability to sustain the needs of the population. Yet, some religions are promoting population expansion, not family planning.

So, “How does your religion speak to the coming crisis? Will religion inform your actions regarding these pressures on meeting human needs? Will you act in defiance of your religious teachings if population control is needed to avert mass starvation?” As a voter, I want to know.

FULL RIGHTS FOR GAY, LESBIAN, TRANSGENDERED AND BISEXUAL PERSONS: Major American religions have actively opposed equal rights for gay people. Without religious opposition in America, gay rights likely would have been embraced long ago.

“As U.S. president, would you actively oppose or support gay rights. Would you support equal rights even if that conflicts with the tenets of your religion?” American voters need to know.

PRESERVATION OF THE INTEGRITY OF THE WORLD’S ENVIRONMENT: Some religious leaders have led the way in denying the scientific evidence that our industrialized societies are responsible for degrading the water, the air and the planet’s survivability. The stakes are very high for the world’s population and there is not much time to lose.

“What is your response when scientific evidence comes in serious conflict with your religion? Would you put your religion or empirical facts first?” American voters have a right to know where religion will take their candidates.

PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION: There has long been tension between public school education and parochial education. One of the byproducts of American religious freedom has been the establishment and maintenance of very large parochial education systems.

Today about one in every five young people receives his or her entire education without ever attending a public school. Yet, whether by intent or not, parochial education in America often has become segregated by race and economics. Public schools are mandated to accept every student. Parochial schools generally do not.

Meanwhile, many religious people and their organizations have not supported the financing of public schools. Thus, adequate support of public schools has become a religious issue in America.  So, I’d ask the candidates, “Are you committed to public school education and how do your religious views affect your position?”

PROVISION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE LESS FORTUNATE:  One of the most important issues in Western religions is encapsulated in the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Today, the attack on that standard is coming in the form of “entitlement reform,” which translates into reducing assistance to the poor, the sick, the old and the vulnerable. This discussion is, in reality, an attack on the ethical standard of responsibility for our neighbor/brother/sister. Affordability is the smoke screen.

The presidential candidates should be asked how their religious views regarding being “my brother’s keeper” fit with their policy prescriptions. They should be pinned to the wall on this issue in the context of religion.

The First Amendment prohibits the intrusion of government into the world of religion. But the First Amendment DOES NOT bar religion from being part of the nation’s discussions in the public square and from helping to shape government policies in general.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is [email protected] 

7 comments for “The GOP’s Unasked ‘Religious’ Questions

  1. rosemerry
    November 16, 2011 at 15:16

    Thanks to Rev Bess and all the posters so far. I cannot accept that the so-called Christians in the Repub lineup, or WBush, or Obama, or the Catholics in the SCOTUS or the Congress who have made their opinions known, follow in any way the teachings of Christ. I am retired, and only in the last few years have I ever heard of the endtimes, the Rapture etc which many of these people believe and push on others. I agree completely about public schools(I taught science in them for forty years) and find it dangerous that parents are allowed to “homeschool” their offspring in the USA just because they do not like their kids to learn about ideas which are essential to understand the modern world, as well as having social interaction with people who may have differing ides; how else can we learn? I found the DVD “Jesus Camp” quite unnerving. I think that peace, requiring talking with opponents, is part of most religions, and is forgotten by all the candidates for office in the USA, with few exceptions. Pres. Obama is excelling in this insistence on “all options” as long as they involve the Pentagon.

    • Plantation economist
      November 19, 2011 at 14:56

      I share your concerns. So many divisions have been purposefully sown in this country. The 2007 book, House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power, shows what has gone wrong. Any solutions which don’t address this fundamental problem of how any possibility of a democracy derailed amount to just chasing bubbles blowing in the wind.

  2. chmoore
    November 16, 2011 at 14:09

    Thank you Howard, good questions.

    What is up with the Mormonism of Romney and Huntsman anyway?

    Sounds like a wedge issue question to me. I’m not a theologian, but I understand there’s a perception that LDS thinks of Jesus as a chosen prophet of God as opposed to the actual incarnation of God like many Christians.

    This might be used as a wedge in a campaign to make American Catholics and Protestants fear a threat of some kind, except that the threat itself doesn’t seem to be very well defined.

    Maybe the real issue with that is various religions competing to be annointed as the true chosen messenger of God.

    Still, most if not all religions, at least in theory, subscribe to the Ethic of Reciprocity – aka, the Golden Rule. So maybe a good question for candidates is, “How does your campaign platform advocate a practical application of the Golden Rule?”.

  3. bobzz
    November 15, 2011 at 22:24

    I’d like to know their stance on the “peace process.” Bachmann spoke of the world aligning against Israel. This is Armageddon language. The other Republicans are not far behind Bachmann. The Christian Right, or much of it, is opposed to the peace process. These people want Armageddon as an end time sign of Jesus return. Deliver us.

  4. bobzaguy
    November 15, 2011 at 22:19

    Damn. A Baptist guy from Alaska who says that the GOPTea debate moderators “…have avoided probing how a candidate’s religious views might influence his or her behavior as president.”

    Avoided? Really? Every other comment of every current GOPTea participant is prefaced with either “I pray” or “As a Christian” — There’s even one candidate who does prayer meetings for rain! The same guy is also into “Pray the Gay Away” as well.

  5. Jim Faubel
    November 15, 2011 at 00:58

    I left the Southern Baptist Convention when it formally allied itself with Fundamentalism and then informally (but no less certainly) allied itself with the Republican Party. In the newest salvo from the Deliberate Republican Distortion of Christianity front, during last week’s GOP “debate”, Michele Bachmann, that self-styled Christian Tea Party Republican, said that America should get rid of welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security so that it could be more like Communist China.
    I’d say, “Jesus must be rolling over in His grave” except, well…you know….

    • Plantation economist
      November 19, 2011 at 14:32

      I’ve finally begun to see how political candidates such as the one you mention are really nothing but overseers on the plantation employed by the plantation owners. They’ve got to keep whipping the workers so the plantation owners can keep enjoying tea on the veranda just as Wall Street insiders leaned over their balconies toasting with champagne while the misery of Occupy Wall Street swirled below. It’s apparently OK for the rich to be idle but not the poor or the ill. The less fortunate, according to these overseers/owners, must be worked until their deaths to support the rich. It is revolting to me that the so-called advantaged in this society want to strip every single possible resource from the less advantaged. These people have no morals, no shame, no humanity–only base arrogance. The Republican party should have been exposed and crucified by real Christians during the Bush coup d’etat years.

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