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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Religion in the 2012 Race

In our chapters on civic culture and political campaigns, we discuss the role of religion in electoral politics. The linkage has always been there, but there are new developments, as an Associated Press report suggests:

Rick Perry dived right in.

The Texas governor, now a Republican presidential candidate, held a prayer rally for tens of thousands, read from the Bible, invoked Christ and broadcast the whole event on the Web.

There was no symbolic nod to other American faiths. No rabbi or Roman Catholic priest was among the evangelical speakers. It was a rare, full-on embrace of one religious tradition in the glare of a presidential contest.

Looks like another raucous season for religion and politics.

It used to be simpler. Protestants were the majority, and candidates could show their piety just by attending church.

Now, politicians are navigating a landscape in which rifts over faith and policy have become chasms. An outlook that appeals to one group enrages another. Campaigns are desperate to find language generic enough for a broad constituency that also conveys an unshakable faith.

There is no avoiding the minefield, especially with early primaries in Iowa and South Carolina, where evangelical voters are so influential.

Nationally, more than 70 percent of Republicans and more than half of Democrats say it's somewhat or very important that a presidential candidate have very strong religious beliefs, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

In 1960, John F. Kennedy could blunt Protestant fears about his Catholicism by calling his religion private. After four decades of culture wars and Christian right activism, the Kennedy strategy no longer works.

Politicians are evaluated not only by what church they attend, but also by what their congregation teaches and what their pastor says on Sundays.

"Candidates often have to make tough choices about their religion - whether to talk about it, what to say about it and even what to do about it - such as leaving a church," said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Ohio. "These tensions are quite strong among Republicans as the presidential nomination contest heats up, partly because of religious disagreements among key constituencies, but partly because of differences in issue priorities - economic versus social issues."

AP has also assembled quotations on religion from presidential candidates over the years:

“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.” — John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1960, in a speech to Greater Houston Ministerial Association, addressing concerns about his Roman Catholic faith.


“The most important thing in my life is Jesus Christ.” — Jimmy Carter, April 2, 1976, campaigning to become president. He became the first self-identified born-again president.


“I understand this is a nonpartisan conference and you can’t give me your endorsement, so I give you mine.” — Ronald Reagan, Aug. 21, 1980, at a gathering of conservative Christians in Dallas, considered a key moment in mobilizing evangelicals for his campaign.


“Christ, because he changed my heart.” — George W. Bush, Dec. 13, 1999, at a debate for prospective GOP presidential candidates where he was asked to name a philosopher who had influenced him.


“Dear Lord, maker of all miracles, I thank you for bringing me to this extraordinary moment in my life.” — Joe Lieberman, Aug. 8, 2000, after he was announced as the first Jewish major party nominee for vice president.


“I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen, my article of faith.” — 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, Oct. 13, 2004, in his third and final presidential debate with George W. Bush.


“I submitted myself to His will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.” — Barack Obama, June 23, 2007, describing his religious awakening, in an address to a national meeting of the United Church of Christ.


“Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.” — Mitt Romney, Dec. 6, 2007, in a speech answering concerns about his Mormon religion while campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination.


“The Lord has changed me just by allowing me to surrender to his will. ... A few years ago, he put a call on my heart to have me go into politics.” — Michele Bachmann, Oct. 14, 2006, in a church appearance during her campaign for Congress.


“That’s tough to define.” — Jon Huntsman, responding to a question in a Time magazine interview about whether he is a member of the Mormon church, published May 12, 2011.


“Like all of you, I love this country deeply. Thank you all for being here. Indeed, the only thing that you love more is the living Christ.” — Rick Perry, Aug. 6, 2011, at a prayer rally he hosted in Houston ahead of announcing his candidacy for president.