10 questions worth asking about a candidate’s faith

Mark Wilson GETTY IMAGES Republican presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (L), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (C), and Rep. … Continued

Mark Wilson

GETTY IMAGES

Republican presidential candidates, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (L), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (C), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), listen to Jon Huntsman (R), speak during the Fox News/Google GOP Debate at the Orange County Convention Center on September 22, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.

Bill Keller’s column in the New York Times,
Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith,
exhibits more anxiety than journalistic curiosity. Keller writes of his fear that one of the Republican hopefuls may be “a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.” Would not a less reactionary dose of simple journalistic interest be a better place to begin the dialogue? If readership and ratings are the goal, I suppose not.

Too often the questions asked of presidential candidates in public forums about their religious beliefs are laced with suspicion and cynicism? Instead of considering the upside of faith commitments in the lives of leaders, the moderators imagine the worst. They too frequently seem poised to expose the perceived “threats” of people they deem just a bit “too committed” to their beliefs. In a nation where at least 86 percent of us believe in God (according to a Pew Forum Survey), ironically questions on faith are more often interrogation than honest searches for information.

It would do the inquisitors good to revisit the National Union of Journalist Code of Conduct, which says: “A journalist shall strive to ensure that the information he/she disseminates is fair and accurate.” While it’s fine and good to call on the candidates to be transparent about their faiths and to clarify areas of concern, it’s also right to expect that journalists be “fair and accurate” and avoid “distortion, selection,” and “misrepresentation.” The Society of Professional Journalists, a peer organization, insists reputable journalists “avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status” and that they should “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.”

We have a long tradition in this country of presidents who have practiced their faith. It is by no means unusual. Indeed, thus far the American presidency has included 44 men who have all identified at varying levels with Christianity, including Episcopalians (10), Presbyterians (8), Unitarians (4), Baptists (4), Methodists (3), Dutch Reformed (2), Disciples of Christ (2), Quakers (2), one Congregationalist and one Roman Catholic. Six were unaffiliated with any denomination, including President Obama (a professing Christian), although most attended church services. John Adams at one time considered going into the ministry and, although his path led to government, he nonetheless unabashedly described himself as “a church-going animal.”

A candidate’s religious conviction should not inspire suspicion in us but rather a sense of security. Arguably, maintaining a consistent faith amidst the challenges of life requires commitment, character and perseverance, all qualities much needed in the soul that would occupy the Oval Office. One of the qualifications of church leaders, for instance, according to the New Testament (1 Tim 3:2-5), is that they first are good family leaders: “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, … He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?).” The rationale is that the small circles of influence ready us for the larger ones; if you cannot effectively lead a smaller familial organization, how could you be expected to do so in a larger faith organization? King David’s faithful tending of his small “flock” as an adolescent helped ready him for a showdown with Goliath and ultimately the oversight of an entire people.

So, in the spirit of journalistic “fairness,” here is a suggested (albeit incomplete) list of 10 questions worth asking about a candidate’s faith:

1. How does your faith inform your public service?

2. In what ways has your faith experience helped you become a better citizen? A better leader?

3. Can America truly be “great” apart from God and a belief in God?

4. What role might your faith play in the event of a national emergency (i.e., terrorist attack, nuclear war, etc.)?

5. Should Mayor Bloomberg have been allowed prayer at the 9/11 Memorial event this month in NYC? How would you have handled this?

6. Has your faith changed you as a person? In what ways?

7. Does your faith experience cause you to be more accepting of other people’s belief systems or less?

8. After 9/11, the song “God Bless America” was often sung at public events (i.e., sporting events, etc.). In what ways do you believe God has “blessed” America? In what ways do you pray God will continue to “bless” America?

9. Do you view your entrance into public office as a means for advancing your particular faith group or denomination?

10. In what ways do your commitments to faith and family help qualify you for public office?

If Keller is truly concerned about the faith of the current slate of presidential contenders, this list is a better place for a journalist to begin. The questions we ask have a way of revealing a tone of either our “advocacy or news reporting.” Before we fear what faith might do, let’s first explore what it can do. I, for one, am not as concerned about the presence of faith in our candidates as I am by its absence.


On Faith asks: What religious questions would you add to Crosby’s list?

Robert Crosby is a Professor of Practical Theology at Southeastern University (Lakeland, FL), a contributor to Christianity Today, and the author of several books including More Than a Savior. He writes a column on issues of faith at Patheos.com. He blogs at The Current.

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  • PhillyJimi1

    I am sorry but those 10 questions are just a bunch of fat softball questions to ask! Like we don’t know exactly how the candidates are all going to answer those questions.

    Here are a few of mine that I know don’t have a prayer of making the list but here they go:

    1. When YOUR faith and science are in direct conflict how does this effect your policy making decisions? If you choose to follow your faith, do you feel that is in direct conflict with the 1st amendment?

    2. Do you feel non-believers have the same rights as believers? Can non-believers be trusted to be good Americans? Can non-believers be moral?

    3. Would you not make the right decision if you felt it would offend major religious groups in this country. Does the offending religious dogma trump solid policy making?

    4. Do you feel by espousing your faith you run the risk of alienating the people who are not a part of your religious beliefs? Do you feel the 1st Amendment specifically was designed to protect the majority from imposing their faith on the minority? If so how what would you say to someone who claims America is a Christian nation?

    Back to the article, I found the part about “John Adams at one time considered going into the ministry and, although his path led to government, he nonetheless unabashedly described himself as a church-going animal.” to be rather funny considering the same could be said about the devil himself “Charles Darwin” who also considered going into the ministry at one point.

  • gonnagle

    I would remove question 8. It presupposes that there is a God and that the candidate believes in God.
    Question 5 is also problematic. The Mayor did allow prayer he just stopped preachers hijacking the event.

  • SODDI

    11. If your religious beliefs as an individual conflict with the the law of the land, which will you honor?

  • ccnl1

    After reading the following, are you will to change your mind about Christianity?

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university’s theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’ Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s assumption also shows God’s positive regard, not only for Christ’s male body, but also for female bodies.” ”

    “In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the tempora

  • ccnl1

    After reading the following, are you willing to change your mind about Christianity?

    continued below:

  • ccnl1

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. ”

    So where are the bones”? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

  • conservatived

    I enjoyed reading blog entry by Mr. Crosby. There was a factual mistake: “..thus far the American presidency has included 44 men…”

    There have been 44 presidencies but only 43 men whom have served as President. Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms making him the 22nd and 24th President, but he is still only one man. An obvious error that should have been caught.

  • conservatived

    There have been 44 presidencies and 43 men whom have served as President. Grover Cleveland’s served in non-consecutive terms. I do find it difficult that someone at the Washington post didn’t notice this error.

  • zyanna

    The list of questions comes from a position of advocacy, and the author states he is concerned about lack of faith in public life, so I hardly see how the author can criticize journalists for what he implies is advocacy. Nor are they practicing advocacy. When journalists are skeptical and suspicious of a public figure’s words and positions, they are doing the job they are hired for. I for one don’t want journalists to become more accepting toward the people they report on, whether it’s matters of faith or finance.

  • Civitas39

    1. Do you believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing Biblical principles?

    2. Do you believe the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation?

    3. For Governor Perry: Pastor Tom Schlueter, with whom you have met in the Governor’s office, proclaimed that Texas was “The Prophet State,” anointed by God to lead the United States into revival and Godly government. and you would have would have a special role. Do you agree with him?

  • dnice1

    I tell my students that what political leaders do is usually more important than what they say. I would like to add the question: what have they done (in terms of public policy decisions) or tried to do? For example, if a governor makes a great deal of noise about his Christian faith but his state is the worst in the country in terms of health care access (public or private) after he has been in office for more than a decade, then I am inclined to regard that as a better indicator than his attendance at a prayer rally. By their fruits you shall know them.

  • huylergirl

    Do you believe the Constitution is a direct or indirect message by the founders to support or advance Christianity?
    Do you believe the American government should claim to be a Christian nation?
    Do you believe blue laws are supported by the Constitution?
    Do you believe American should have other nationally observed religious holidays besides the Christian Christmas?

  • 4blazek

    All of the “faith” in the world is no substitute for dignity, honor & self-respect. Those are the things the world needs more of.

  • boblesch

    what happens when a candidates spiritual life is dependent or personal experience rather than faith? an interesting collision when a leader’s real life experiences supersedes the belief system of those he’s been chosen to lead.

    i find it odd that every president, in this nation that ‘accepts’ all forms of spirituality and has more religions in its midst than any other, has had a spiritual practice centered around a main character who’s life the world knows little about and the religion he supposedly sanctioned didn’t appear until well after his death.

    think about it – one book, put together in an effort control the masses of europe – carefully edited and interpreted to eliminate controversy and make obedience to the ‘rules’ the key to eternal salvation in a purely theoretical afterlife. the ruling class couldn’t have scripted a better scenario – maybe that’s why they haven’t tried.

  • gthornton2

    If religion is so important to the GOP, why don’t they simply nominate a Catholic Priest? …Problem solved!