Americans, to their credit, have proven to have a high degree of tolerance when it comes to religious beliefs. We are well past the time when anti-Catholic sentiments cost Al Smith the Presidency in 1928. John F. Kennedy broke the Catholic barrier in 1960.
Mark Rozell, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia says, This is a deeply religious nation by many standards. People want their leaders to be believers. They want them to have a moral framework as they lead the country.
But, the issue with many may be where the moral framework comes from and what its foundations are. Can we accept a political leader who believes in the Old Testament but not the New? How about one who believes in the Old and New Testament but, also, the Book of Mormon?
A recent poll from the Pew Research Center tells us the religious affiliations of those who currently represent us in Congress. There are just two non-Christian Republicans in the new Congress, New York Republican Lee Zeldin and Tennessee Republican David Kustoff. Both are Jewish. Thus, 291 out of 293 congressional Republicans identify as Christian.
There is slightly more religious diversity on the Democratic side of the aisle, though Democrats still are 80 percent Christian. Out of 242 Democrats there are 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist.
The number of Christians in Congress is a higher percentage (90 percent) than the number of Americans who identify as Christian (77 percent).
Most of us can remember when a group calling itself the Moral Majority attempted to influence national elections in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. They told us it was our religious obligation not only to vote but to actively support candidates who believe as we do. Those quotes are there for emphasis. Most church members, even pastors, are still struggling with their own beliefs. Most can agree that there are truths but finding them is a journey.
In issues related to religion there is no what we believe, only what I believe.
The point to consider is that the Moral Majority was not capable of deciding who any person should vote for nor which issues were most important to any individual. In America, we like to talk about individuality and there is nothing more individual than our religious beliefs, other than, perhaps, who we vote for. In truth, the vast majority of Americans care less about church affiliation and more about whether the candidate believes in God and how that affects his/her moral framework.
It is hard to tell how the religious foundations of previous presidents have benefited them and us as they pursued their responsibilities. In one of Henry Kissingers books he tells of Richard Nixon on his knees praying late at night in the White House after impeachment charges had been filed. Jimmy Carter, perhaps the most celebrated born again president, found it very difficult to make the wheels of government work while inflation handcuffed the country. Bill Clinton, like Carter a Southern Baptist, had his own notorious problems.
Having a moral compass is important no matter what the endeavor. But, Thomas Jefferson was very much the visionary when he wrote the foundation statement for separation of church and state. He saw what happened in Europe when religion and government were entwined and we see, today, what is happening in the Middle East. Roger Williams, the founder of the first Baptist Church in this hemisphere said, When politics and religion mix, religion is always subverted to the purposes of politics. That cant be good.
It is good to think about the moral and religious foundations of those who are our leaders in Washington D.C., as well as our own. However, I hope we are way past thinking, If a person doesnt worship like I do, he/she cant represent us in Washington D.C.
-- Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states. Books by Hopkins currently available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble include Journey to Gettysburg and The Wounds of War, both Civil War-era novels, and The World As It Was When Jesus Came. Contact him at email@example.com.