Where the candidates kneel

politics get religiousIn case you were wondering, the Associated Press reports that presidential aspirants include seven Roman Catholics, three Methodists, three Baptists, one Episcopalian, one Presbyterian, one Mormon and one who is “simply” a Christian.

With religion being an increasingly frequent topic in national politics these days, I’m starting to wonder whether a candidate’s religious affiliation will join party affiliation and locality after the candidate’s name. OK, that is probably not going to be considered by the editors of The Associated Press Stylebook. Do you readers think this survey is atypical of the AP? And are reporters focusing more on candidates’ religion this year than in previous elections?

Fortunately the AP did much more with the story, and in an accompanying article it sorted through some of the issues coming up in the next election:

Lately it seems all the leading presidential candidates are discussing their religious and moral beliefs — even when they would rather not.

Indeed, seven years after George W. Bush won the presidency in part with a direct appeal to conservative religious voters — even saying during a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher — the personal faith of candidates for the 2008 election has become a very public part of the presidential campaign.

Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have hired strategists to focus on reaching religious voters. Obama’s campaign holds a weekly conference call with key supporters in early primary and caucus states whose role is to spread the candidate’s message to religious leaders and opinionmakers and report their concerns to the campaign.

There is so much more that could have been done with this story, and maybe AP has plans to look closer at what the candidates believe. There are certainly some compelling religion stories among these candidates beyond the frequent articles on Mitt Romney’s Mormonism and Democratic candidates’ attempts to get religion.

For example, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a Methodist, is looking for a new church near his new house. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, is a member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Cleveland who attends services “not often,” according to the AP. And Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., a Catholic, attends services “when his schedule permits.”

Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor (Catholic), Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. (Catholic), and Romney are the only candidates who said they attend services weekly, regardless of their travel schedules. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on the other hand, tries to attend Mass daily. When he’s in Kansas, he also attends Topeka Bible Church with his family. As a friend asked, how does he square that theologically?

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s answer that he is a Catholic, but his “personal relationship with God is private and between him and God,” is somewhat refreshing. But since when did Giuliani ever keep his faith to himself? Reporters shouldn’t allow candidates to get away with lame answers that are inconsistent with the candidate’s past remarks.

But that raises one of the difficult challenges of covering religious and politics. Just how much can you press on public figures on their private faith?

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  • Maureen

    I’m pretty gobsmacked that reporters haven’t made more of these things. Publicly announcing, “Yeah, I’m Catholic, but I don’t go to Mass every Sunday unless I feel like it”?! I mean, yeah, there might be occasions when you really can’t; but if you can’t fit in 45 minutes or less of Mass at any time from late Saturday afternoon to the end of Sunday night, you obviously aren’t planning very well. What does this say about either your forethought or the depth of your personal beliefs? What does it say about fear of meeting one’s constituents in an unplanned way?

    Meanwhile, the whole evangelical church thing is problematic and interesting, and again, I’m surprised reporters don’t go into it more. Is the rest of Brownback’s family attending this church, and is he going along for family unity? (Not an uncommon solution in mixed marriages.) Or for the preaching? (Apparently not uncommon, so I hear.)

    Reporters could talk about how once Catholics were prohibited from visiting churches of other denominations, for fear of undue pressure being put upon them and because they were seen as heretical churches. Now, the emphasis is more on “separated brethren”, but it’s still seen as vitally important to be truthful, and not to pretend that Catholicism and other Christian groups are more unified than they are by sharing certain sacraments, like Communion. Is there a Communion service at this other church? Does Brownback abstain (he better)?

    OTOH, it is important not to be too nosy about this stuff. And nobody likes people using church as a stage prop, like too many candidates did last election. But some of this goes to character.

  • Hans

    Is it possible to ban “bot” from posting responses altogether? This is at least the third time that he/she has spammed the exact same absurdly long and entirely off topic post.

  • Chuck

    In this “religion in politics” story is emergin a story to watch. There are some Republican “operatives” working within the Catholic Church to get a standard ruling from the Vatican on politicians who vote pro-abortion. This would give further traction to certain bishops advising those who vote for people who have not voted against abortion (whether or not they themselves supported abortion) were committing a sin. This is precisely the idea that the Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey sought to float just prior to the 2004 election. It would seem that these priests and bishops got some real encouragement with the Pope’s recent statements on the Brazilian trip. This is a story in it’s infancy but will develope on track with the upcoming election. But the first step is to get the Pope to advise no communion for politicians who do not vote against abortion. That’s just the beginning. We’ll see if the Pope bites. My bet is that he doesn’t. He leaves it to the individual bishops. That will not please a lot of priests who would like to use church for a political statement. Which is another reason why a lot of politicians watch where they go to church. As soon as Joe Biden walks in, some priest sees it as his God given opportunity to chastise him from the altar (a truly wonderful moment I have tasted on occasion–it makes that EWTN Mass more inviting!). As to Sam Brownback… I am amazed even the faith police are on this blog!!! I am Catholic. I go to Evengelical services many,MANY, times per year. I do not think it is a big deal. We share Christ, for Goodness sake. What we share is greater than any doctrinal disagreement. Sometimes I think I am at a Catholic “pride” rally (you know, “Say it Loud, I’m Catholic and Proud!!” as the old James Brown song goes). Actually, when I go to Protestant churches I find the preaching more in line with the Catholic Church than out of line. I call it the EWTN effect. I am sure there are pastors getting their sermons right out of the Catholic Catechism (including Bible citations). Someone should do a story on that some day- Catholic media and it’s effect on Protestants. Begin with Pope John Paul and his emphasis on evangelization. Well, it’s a thought.

  • Martha

    Call me cynical, but I take Rudy’s response to mean “Hasn’t darkened the door of a church since his first marriage.”

    If you’re positioning yourself to appeal to the ‘religious vote’, then obviously you can’t admit that you don’t fulfil the Sunday obligation (yes, it still is a sin to deliberately miss Mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation).

    As for Senator Brownback, I take it that he’s attending out of family solidarity, since it doesn’t seem like his wife and children have converted with him. So this is okay, since he is indeed fulfilling his Sunday obligation before attending the other service and is not using it as a substitute and moreover it is for reasons of family cohesion.


    A Catholic may attend and participate in common prayer at services in Protestant churches. Catholics are encouraged to pray and sing, and they may read or preach, but a Catholic may not receive “communion” if this is part of the service.

    There is no ban against a Catholic attending a Protestant service, although a Catholic may not receive “communion” if made available. This is largely a consequence of the invalid ordination of ministers attempting to confect the Sacrament. Canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law says that Catholic members of the Christian faithful may receive sacraments only from Catholic ministers. Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that there can be no “Eucharistic intercommunion” between the Church and Protestant communities (no. 1400).

    Participation in common prayer without taking part in a communion rite is an act of true ecumenism—promoting unity without denying the truths of the one true faith—and should not likely be a cause of scandal. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in its 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, encourages such participation:

    In liturgical celebrations taking place in other churches and ecclesial communities, Catholics are encouraged to take part in the psalms, responses, hymns and common actions of the church in which they are guests. If invited by their hosts, they may read a lesson or preach (no. 118).

    However, the Catholic must not think of the worship service as an addition or substitution for Mass. It is important that the Catholic does not give the impression that there is no real separation between Catholics and Protestants. Protestant services must not be attended in order for the Catholic to experience “feelings” of fellowship or closeness to God.”

    What I do find interesting is that the majority of candidates are from a Roman Catholic background – looks like the Secret Vatican Plan for World Domination is well on track! ;-)

  • Roberto Rivera

    I kind of recall an ostentatious display of ashes on Giulani’s part back when he was mayor. But, really, who cares! If they are going to church for political reasons, spare me.

  • Matt

    The AP story reports the denominational tradition of each candidate, but not specific denominations. However, most candidates identify specific congregations that they attend. The three Methodists are all UMC (actually, Hillary doesn’t identify, but it’s a good bet). The three Baptists are all SBC (assuming Ron Paul means First Baptist Church in his hometown of Lake Jackson, TX, when he says “First Baptist Church in Lakewood, TX”; the latter does not seem to exist). Interestingly, the congregation of Tom Tancredo, the lone Presbyterian, is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a smaller Presbyterian offshoot that is more conservative than the PCUSA and less formal than the PCA and OPC.

    Two candidates appear to have different religious affiliations within their families (I’m assuming Brownback’s wife is Protestant, and thus his attendance at a non-denominational “Bible church”). McCain’s wife makes a fourth Baptist, also SBC.

  • Matt

    Obama, of course, is a member of the United Church of Christ, a large and rather liberal denomination. It is interesting that he does not identify himself as such, but rather as “simply Christian”.

  • Matt

    Sam Brownback converted to Catholicism in 2002. He was a Methodist when elected to the House in 1994, and a non-denominational (likely Topeka Bible Church) when elected to the Senate in 1996.