In a presidential election campaign not yet attracting voter interest in the major issues, a new and unexpected turn has emerged — the introduction of faith commitments into campaigns.
Where the traditional position has been to keep such statements general and vague, at least four major candidates for the Oval Office have chosen to make their personal beliefs explicit. This, according to Gustav Niebuhr of the New York Times (Dec. 19) is in direct conflict with an older tradition. Rather than search for common ground, as existed during the Cold War years, today’s office seekers are stating in explicit terms their commitment to the efficacy of personal conversion, a born again experience, and commitment to following Jesus. These references are coming from Albert Gore, George W. Bush, the obvious front-runners, as well as Orrin Hatch and Gary L. Bauer.
Observers are divided over the motivation of these candidates for being so explicit; some say the historical record of mixing politics and religion directly, as in the l928 and 1960 campaigns, does not auger well for the new frankness. Critics believe the candidates are responding to a new interest by voters in their personal lives and how they would blend politics and religion.
Church historian Martin E. Marty expresses puzzlement over the candidates’ seeming determination to be particularist about faith in a society which favors pluralistic statements when it comes to addressing religion and politics. Already the media is buzzing with strong protests over the new turn. Columnist Molly Ivins in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, (Dec. 20) believes dragging Christ into partisan politics is “a grave mistake;” she fears the “fanaticism that religious passion brings to the consideration of public policy making.”
— By Erling Jorstad, RW contributing editor.