“We don’t know anything about Hillary in terms of religion,” said Donald Trump, while speaking to a group of Christian leaders in New York. “Now, she’s been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there’s no — there’s nothing out there.” Trump, of course, is dead wrong about that, just as he is about so many other things on which he opines. There’s plenty “out there” about Hillary Clinton’s faith.
She is on the record about her role as a church youth-group member and Sunday school teacher, and how her faith and teachings on forgiveness helped her endure disclosures of her husband’s affairs. She even allowed things to get out of hand in a 2007 New York Times interview, when she responded to such questions as “How do you feed [your] personal relationship with God?,” “Do you believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened?,” and “Do you believe on the salvation issue . . . that belief in Christ is needed for going to heaven?”
Instead of telling the interviewer that what she believes is “none of your business,” Clinton jumped through all the hoops to prove her religiosity. The questions were intrusive and her responses were ill-advised, and I said so at the time.
Voters don’t have a right to know what a candidate thinks about the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Decalogue or being “slain in the Spirit.”
We do need to know, however, about a candidate’s fealty to the Constitution and laws of the land. In reaching a judgment about a candidate’s fitness for office, we should want to know where the candidate stands on a host of issues, and his or her willingness and ability to defend the rights and protections of the law promised to all citizens.
But learning about a candidate’s views on public matters ought to be enough. Whether those views are informed by religion is not my chief concern — all arguments that I advanced in a column responding to the then-departing executive editor of the New York Times who asserted in a 2011 article that candidates should be subjected to questions about their religious faith.
Obviously I’m on a different track from Trump and his Christian conservative supporters who want God in government.
This week, Trump expressed concern to a conservative gathering in New York that the United States is being damaged because he sees Christianity on a slide to becoming “weaker, weaker, weaker.”
He proclaimed “my greatest contribution to Christianity — and other religions” will be “religious liberty” along with his promise to appoint antiabortion Supreme Court justices, make department store employees say “Merry Christmas” and let public school coaches lead sectarian prayer on the field. Reportedly he won a standing ovation.
Because that is what his crowd wants to hear.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, shares the presumptive GOP nominee’s fears. “We’re losing our country,” Graham told a rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., in May. As a remedy, Graham is urging more pastors and preachers to seek elective office. “We need Christian men and women at every level,” he thundered.
Graham, quoting a local official, wrote in a Facebook post: “Do you think that if people on your deacon board or pastoral board were serving on the school board that you would be discussing same-sex bathrooms?”
Let us pause.
Under the Constitution, there is no religious test or requirement for public office. Still, Christians haven’t been shut out of the game.
Almost all U.S. presidents have been Christians, according to the Pew Research Center.
Nearly 92 percent of members of the House and Senate are Christians, compared with 73 percent of U.S. adults.
Protestant and Catholic justices have dominated for most of the U.S. Supreme Court’s history.
The overall U.S. population appears to be reflected in the religions of state legislators, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures: Protestants and Catholics predominate, with “unaffiliated” people represented in large numbers, too.
But many of those presidents, legislators and judges probably aren’t the kind of CIA (Christians in Action) that Trump is wooing, and that Graham is urging to run for office to, as Graham has said, put God back in the political debate.
But playing to fear persists.
Earlier this month, Trump told another audience of evangelical Christians that, when he is president, “we will respect and defend Christian Americans.” He repeated “Christian Americans” for emphasis.
As a Christian, I neither want nor need the president of the United States to protect either my faith or me. However, I do want and expect the chief executive to respect and defend all Americans, regardless of their faith or their nonbelief.
A thought lost on Trump in his role as the Panderer in Chief.
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