A reader would like to run for public office, but there’s a major question he’s not sure how to answer.
He writes in an email:
I’m sure there are ways of saying you do things that many church-going people tend to do (donate money, volunteer, work with the community, etc.) without necessarily saying you attend a church. But will anyone listen if you say you don’t belong to their club? I doubt it. Will the Republican opponent use it against you? Probably.
I live in a very conservative, religious part of the my state and am very active in Democratic Party politics. I am considering running as a Democrat against our incumbent U.S. Representative (a Republican) who is an ultra-conservative, reactionary, theocratic politician who is an embarrassment to many of us, but unfortunately fits the bill for this very Bible-Belt area. He had no opponent in the last election and my main goal (being pragmatic) would be to at least provide our voters with a choice.
I’ve been thinking it through and one of the problems I’ve mentally come across is my faith (or lack thereof). In a region where even the liberal Democrats tend to be devout Southern Baptists, I want to be a semi-viable candidate. I think my issues could resonate, but if the question of personal faith ever came up, I’d find myself torn between being honest about my atheism or coming up with some white lie (I attend the Unitarian Universalist Church would be a decent one since it at least implies that I’m “church-going” despite the fact that it would be criticized. I have gone occasionally but am not a member and haven’t been in over a year. Thus, it would simply be untrue). So, if I were to undertake this venture, would it be better to avoid the issue or be honest and forthcoming if asked?
It’s a tough sell either way. I imagine you’d have a hard enough time running for office in a blue state as an atheist. In a red state? Good luck.
But still, it’s worth trying. It’s good to let people know other options are out there. Just ask Herb Silverman, who ran for governor of South Carolina as the “candidate without a prayer” — mainly to make the same point this reader is trying to make.
What would you advise him?