Bachmann’s faith: None of our business?

Holy 2012, Batman!

A Godbeat pro who shall remain nameless (unless he chooses to identify himself) posted this news story on his Facebook page with a tongue-in-cheek analysis:

CBS discovers that a Christian politician prays.

Another religion writer chimed in:

Always amazed at how some media just don’t get it.

Preaching to the choir, guys. But thank you for the GetReligion fodder.

The story concerns a politician you may have heard about: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., the Republican presidential candidate. (Sarah tackled a different Bachmann story Monday.)

Here’s the CBS headline:

Bachmann: Got “sense” from God to run for office

(Somebody cue the dramatic music, please.)

The top of the story, based on Bachmann’s interview with “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer on Sunday:

(CBS News) Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., says that she prayed to God about whether or not to run for political office and that those prayers provided her with a “sense from God” of “assurance about the direction” she was taking.

In a Sunday morning appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Bachmann – who will formally announce her presidential campaign in Iowa on Monday – responded to questions about statements she has made in the past that God “called me to run for the United States Congress.”

The story doesn’t actually include the questions that Schieffer asked (in a remarkably awkward way), but here’s how he broached the subject:

Schieffer: “You are a proud Christian, and my feeling had always been that people in public life, if they want to talk about their religion and what it means to them, fine. If they don’t, that’s their business. And you can say, ‘None of your business.’ But I would like to ask you this question. You can answer it or not answer it. You said you had no idea of going into politics, but God called you to go into politics. If you’d like to answer that question, I’d like to know the circumstances of that.”

Bachmann: “Sure, I’d be happy to.”

My first reaction: If someone aspires to be president of the United States, and claims that God told her to run, why wouldn’t that be a legitimate question? I mean, don’t the voters have a right to know? (Whether or not that’s what she claims is an entirely different issue.) But I digress …

More from the story:

“I am a Christian, as is my husband. I became a Christian when I was 16 years old. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ,” Bachmann told CBS’ Bob Schieffer. “Since that time, I’ve been a person of prayer. And so when I pray, I pray believing that God will speak to me and give me an answer to that prayer.

“That’s what a calling is,” continued the Tea Party favorite. “If I pray, a calling means that I feel like I have a sense from God.”

Bachmann says she asked God about running for political office.

“Did God tell you He wanted you to run for the Minnesota State Senate, or something like that?” Schieffer asked.

“I prayed about that, as well,” Bachmann said. “And that’s really what that means. It means that I have a sense of assurance about the direction I think that God is speaking into my heart that I should go.”

After that exchange, Schieffer quickly detoured to political issues.

The CBS report is actually pretty straightforward about what Bachmann said, allowing her to express her faith and God’s role in her decision in her own words. I guess what’s either frustrating or amusing — take your pick — is that the report provides no insight or analysis into Bachmann’s response. As Sarah put it so well in her Bachmann post:

Let’s clear this up once and for all. It’s not unusual for Christians to say they believe God intended them to do something. They might cite certain circumstances, advice from other people, say they “felt called,” etc. etc. to different degrees, but this is not strange. There’s a big difference between someone who thinks that they are “called by God” to public service and someone who believes God ordained their specific votes.

Your turn, GetReligion readers: Was Schieffer right or wrong to be so timid in asking about Bachmann’s faith?

What follow-up questions, if any, should he have asked about her Christianity?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com mattk

    I wish he wasn’t so apologetic about asking the question. I think it is great that he aked and she answered. I think a good follow-up would have been: “Does that mean God wants you to be President?”

  • melxiopp

    A good, related question would be whether she can imagine a situation where she felt God would call her to act in one way while the Constitution and the law required her to act another way. How would she balance those two, equally important responsibilities?

    While Protestant (and non-RC) Americans were worried about how JFK would balance Pope and Constitution, today’s far less religious America is worried about how a devout religious person of any stripe (especially the kinds that sometimes seem to assume their values are the definition of the real America’s values) balances conflicting responsibilities. For instance, is it possible for a given person to enforce a constitutional law that contradicts the person’s personal values and beliefs? Can a person fight to challenge a law or ruling while also enforcing that law or ruling?

  • Jerry

    I mentioned the word in another topic, but I really wish a reporter would ask Bachmann to what degree she agrees with the concept of theonomy including specificis and how that would govern her decisions as President.

  • Mike O.

    I think there were a fair amount of time on the topic of religion. In the end, you don’t want to take away time from the political questions — which is really the heart of why someone would or would not vote for a candidate.

  • Mike O.

    Crumbs, I meant “was”. Sorry about that.

  • http://www.missbible.blogspot.com Miss

    I think he didn’t need to be so timid. It’s a valid and fair question. If you are going to put information out there like that (what religion you are, for example), than it’s not off limits.

    If she didn’t want anybody to know, or didn’t want to talk about it, she wouldn’t mention that she was a Christian.

  • Allie

    The wild part is that journalist betray their ignorance with questions like the one Bob asked. They come off as if they are either unfamiliar with Christianity, or that Christianity is some new age religion that people are not all the familiar with.

    Even the most basic understanding of Christanity would lead Bob to ask this question in a different manner than trying to cast the illusion that Michelle literally hears God’s voice.

  • Maureen

    And if she did literally hear God’s voice, that wouldn’t be unusual or a sign of insanity. It’s as if Henry James never lived and never wrote interesting psychology studies (as well as boring ol’ novels about boring East Coast people who can’t even have fun in Europe).

    Varieties of Religious Experience, anyone?

  • http://www.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    I agree with most of what has been said so far. I think a fair follow-up question would have been this: Would you interpret what you sense from God to mean that he would want you to become president, or that the value of your running might be independent of whether you’re elected?

    Or a little bit less direct: Do you believe any other candidates could be legitimately getting the same sense from God as you have have?

    Incidentally, it will be interesting to see how the press handles issues of Rep. Bachmann’s religion. Her church is in some ways (but certainly not all) more countercultural than Mitt Rommney’s church, and it certainly isn’t in the evangelical mainstream in the way it approaches theological differences in Christendom.

  • Ann

    I would like a reporter to as Bachmann how she reconciles being a Christian and the many false statements she makes.

    http://politifact.com/personalities/michele-bachmann/statements/

  • str

    Melxiopp,

    “A good, related question would be whether she can imagine a situation where she felt God would call her to act in one way while the Constitution and the law required her to act another way.”

    That actually is the kind of bigotry-inspired question that we would not want to be asked, unless each and every candidate without a particular profession of faith is asked the same thing as well.

    Can you imagine a situation where you felt you had to violate the constitution.

    But if it is only asked of believers … no, thanks.

    And hence the JFK comparison is right, as it was bigotry then and is bigotry now.

  • str

    I don’t think the interviewer needed to be timid either.

    Then again, what he said in long words in this cases should be a given in any case – no, you don’t need to answer. We will not drag you to the dungeon if you refuse.

    Unfortunately, that is not how the media usually handles the situation.

  • Sydney Penner

    It’s as if Henry James never lived and never wrote interesting psychology studies (as well as boring ol’ novels about boring East Coast people who can’t even have fun in Europe).

    Varieties of Religious Experience, anyone?

    Best not confuse Henry James and William James. The former wrote the novels, the latter the psychology/philosophy.

  • carl

    The presumption behind ‘religion not being anyone’s business’ is that religion is not properly brought into the public square, and certainly should impact how a man lives his life in the public square. Instead he must hide it and hermetically seal it away. The only person who would do this is a person who is not serious abut his religion. If it does not order your public life and conduct, then what is the point?

    JFK was not a serious Roman Catholic, and in 1960 that was the re-assurance he was required to give in order to get elected. This kind of question seeks for either an affirmation or rejection of that same re-assurance. It gives the candidate the opportunity to affirm or deny the influence his religion will exert on his public conduct. Those who answer too seriously will hurt their chances.

    It is amazing how fast serious religion has come to be seen as incompatible with public service. That is because serious religion has become counter-cultural. It’s not so much about the question “What if God calls you to act counter to the Constitution.” It’s about the question “What informs your public conscience? How do you make decisions?” People are becoming increasingly leary of those who recognize knowable metaphysical absolutes because our culture no longer accepts knowable absolutes.

    Candidates are currently supposed to be religious, but not too religious. That’s the context from which these questions originate.

    carl

  • carl

    Gaaah. ” … should NOT impact how a man lives his life in the public square.”

    How is it that pressing ‘Submit’ suddenly reveals a critical mistake?

    carl

  • tv22

    Isn’t it funny how we couldn’t ask any questions of the current President about his true beliefs, even though we have his pastor on tape articulating radical views. But when someone has true faith and looks to God for inspiration and comfort and most importantly to ask Him what He wants for us, they are somehow flawed. Isn’t it better to have someone who knows who they are and what they stand for rather than someone who can’t really say?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Ann, Schieffer spends a big chunk of the interview focused on the issues you raise, although he does not tie the issue to her faith.

    Before we fall too far off the slippery slope, a reminder that we really are interested in journalism and not folks making political statements for or against Bachmann.

  • R.S.Newark

    What the people deserve is a rejoinder question put to the interviewer since s/he clearly has an attitude concerning religiousity. When will those being interviewed return the question. The television interview is an overwhelmingly one sided shooting gallery. It has to be thrown out.. its not 1950 anymore.

  • Mike

    Both the timidity and the substance of the question point to cultural frameworks resistant to people having an intimate relationship with Jesus. When I traveled to Africa I was told that public speaking must begin with a brief but convincing testimony of salvation, or people would not accept anything else I said. Here an intimate prayer life is raised in public discourse as a possible disqualifier for public office.

    People here also want to know where a candidate stands in terms of faith, for a variety of reasons. I am glad the question was asked, and am thankful for the response.

    Bob did ask an appropriate follow up, to get at the hart of the the question “You said you had no idea of going into politics, but God called you to go into politics.”

    Rep. Bachmann/s response indicated that the issue of politics was raised by her, not by God, at least with regard to the Minnesota State Senate. I am fine with that in general, but the issue of her original inspiration to politics was not addressed.

    I would like to hear more about Mrs. Bachmann’s calling into politics if it is an issue she raises while campaigning.

  • Bram

    Maureen,

    Varities of Religious Experience is by *William* James and *not* by Henry James — by the philosopher and psychologist, and *not* by the novelist.

    So much, I suppose, for the idea that liberals are “well-educated.”

    If you’re going to be a smarty-pants, it pays to be smarter than you were in this case.

  • melxiopp

    In the context of the culture wars where one’s position often lines up with one’s religious or non-religious beliefs, it makes sense to ask and answer the kind of questions I put forward – IF one is interested in getting any but the choir to vote for you. I’m not sure Rep. Bachmann is; I tend to think she is simply positioning herself for standing within the Tea Party and religious conservative movements – she isn’t positioning herself to lead all Americans.

    In the midst of what many understand as a ‘culture war’, the content of strongly held religious and areligious beliefs is pertinent to a person’s candidacy to political office. If a purely legal rationale cannot be provided for what may also be a person’s religious or areligious beliefs, then that says something important about their ability to govern in the Republic according to the Constitution and legal precedent. A politician’s militant atheism or secularism would justify such questions, as well, not just strongly held religious belief, in general.

    Obama’s religious beliefs were held under a microscope based on the video of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Since he was, in fact, elected, we seem to forget how dangerous the religious question was for both his nomination and candidacy. That is, this isn’t just a question for religious believers. Nancy Reagan’s reliance of astrologers was also fair game for the same reason – to what extent were spiritual or religious values alone shaping White House policy, if any.

    These are only ‘big questions’ if they can’t be answered succinctly and appropriately. They aren’t ‘gotcha questions’ if you go on the record early, and you only have to go on the record if you bring religion to the forefront yourself. Romney will have to face the same questions given his church’s leaders claim to receive continued revelations from God that are binding on Mormons – what if the First Prophet receives a revelation that caffeine and alcohol must be legally prohibited in the U.S.? It’s only an important question if it isn’t addressed, answered, and taken off the table.

    Of course, most people don’t care and most politicians don’t bring religion (or areligiosity) into their decision making processes or stump speeches so centrally. However, when you do, as Bachmann does, the questions naturally arise.

  • str

    melxiopp,

    so much for “no religious tests required for office”.

    (And if it is “culture war”, why not be so bold and ask everyone, even the half-religious and the atheists the same thing. As far as I can see, they have been pretty much involved when it comes to breaking the constitution.)

    While I disagree with a religion must never be seen in public attitude, which imposes a DUTY on the believer, there is a reason why the constitution of my country specifically affirms the RIGHT not to disclose one’s religion – the reason is called “freedom of religion”.

    But of course, when it comes to the media, nobody has a right anymore.

    But from what I read above, I think Bachman handled the situation quite well.

  • str

    PS. When question were asked about Obama because of Rev. Wright, everyone was told to shut up and most people obliged.

  • JB

    If conservative evangelical Christians seeking political office must be made to answer questions concerning their beliefs, (and, alternatively, asked if they “believe in science”) I propose that the next batch of Democrats seeking office and proclaiming themselves to be “Christians” be made to answer the following: “Do you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, fully human and fully God; that he was born of the Virgin Mary; that he was crucified; that he died; that he was buried; that he bodily rose from the dead; that he ascended to the right hand of God the Father; that his death served as the sacrifice by which the grace of God is extended to all human beings willing to believe and confess Jesus as their Lord?”
    Their response would be enlightening, as a large number of those who vote Democratic would consider that to be anti-intellectual poppycock, while professing Christians would recognize those as bedrock doctrinal statements of any orthodox Christian church (please note the lowercase “o” in “orthodox.”)

  • melxiopp

    there is a reason why the constitution of my country specifically affirms the RIGHT not to disclose one’s religion – the reason is called “freedom of religion”.

    I agree, the point is that Bachmann has raised the issue of her religion herself. Thus, it becomes fair game. Similarly, children and family are off-limits to legitimate reporting on politicians, unless that politician makes a point of using his/her family and children for political purposes.

    Had Bachmann not spoken so openly about the connection between her faith and her politics, there would have been no need to have asked her about their relationship to each other. Were she to have a “Rev.” before her name (or “Rabbi” or “Imam”), she would also rightly need to answer how she sees how religion and politics relate to each other in her mind. It’s only a gotcha question if one treats it as a gotcha question. Answering the question thoughtfully, as any thoughtful religious person in politics should have considered already, not only takes the issue off of the table, it demonstrates the thoughtfulness with which that person addresses such important issues. Not answering thoughtfully can reveal the potential shallowness of one’s religiosity or the shallowness of one’s political thought, or simply the compartmentalization of both from each other (as is likely the case for many). In that sense, it’s not more dangerous a question that asking what books you’re reading or who your favorite philosopher or thinker is – it’s only a gotcha question when you don’t have a good answer for it.

    On that point, that is exactly where the Bachmann situation differs from JFK and Obama and Romney. These latter three politicians had to answer questions about their religious beliefs based on their opponents comments (both from within their Party as well as from the other Party). That is more appropriately deemed a ‘religious test’ – at least for some voters if not for either Party or our electoral system.

  • melxiopp

    The controversy over Obama’s religious beliefs was squelched by his very public statement on the subject – a subject brought up by others, unlike Bachmann. He basically said that he hadn’t heard that statement, that he didn’t hold to everything his pastor said, it was shown that he wasn’t a particularly devout member of the congregation, and there was no connection found between Rev. Wright’s controversial statements and then Sen. Obama’s record of public service. That’s why the controversy was dropped by most respected journalists and commentators.

  • Bram

    What JB said. The media should press Democratic politicians to be substantive and honest in explicating their religious beliefs. And Democratic voters should be pressed either to put their votes where their mouths are or else to hush. “Well-educated” left-liberal secularists should not vote for Democratic politicians who “cling” to belief in “fairies by the garden wall,” etc, etc. And Christians within some traditionally-Democratic constituencies should not vote for left-liberal secularist politicians with contempt for their religious beliefs. No one would vote for someone who denied the humanity dignity of their brother or of their father. Why then do so many so blithely vote for politicians who deny the divinity of their Savior and the existence of their Father, and equate their Savior and their Father with “fairies by the garden wall?” And why do journalists and pundits allow this and even help enable this or abet this?

  • carl

    melxiopp

    Of course, most people don’t care and most politicians don’t bring religion (or areligiosity) into their decision making processes

    This is simply false. People cannot escape their presuppositions. Those presuppositions are determined by their religion or lack thereof. Every man holds to to a ‘faith system’ that he uses to understand the world in which he lives. It is simply impossible for him to make decisions independent of those presuppositions.

    This question of religion in the public square is occurring now because so many people have presuppositions derived from a materialist understanding of existence. Such people are concerned because they want law to be based upon their own materialist presuppositions and not religious presuppositions. Hence the questions. “You aren’t that serious about this religion thing, are you?” Which translated means “You are going to decide questions according to presuppositions of which I approve, right?”

    carl

  • Bram

    What Carl said. The split is between people who acknowledge the religious suppositions that undergird their moral thought, their ethical thought, and yes their political thought and those who do not, those who pretend that they make no religious suppositions, that they reason in some meta-religious way — which, of course, no one does, ever has, or ever will. “Secularists” just want to game the system to impose their religious views on everyone else under guise of meta-religious “secularity.” They attempt to do so by pretending that they don’t have religious views and by trying to disenfranchise those who would act politically on the basis of religious reasoning — moral reasoning, ethical reasoning — that is different from their own. What they are doing is anti-democratic and illiberal in the extreme. To the extent — the large extent — that the media abet and enable this, the media can and should be taken to task. The future of democracy and real liberalism may depend in large part on that taking to task.

  • MJBubba

    I think Shieffer’s religion question was entirely reasonable, considering some of Ms. Bachman’s remarks in her speeches and in interviews on talk radio. (I thought the “gotcha” question on drilling permits was unfair; my reading of what Politifact actually had to report in the way of documentation does not lead me to agree with their determination of “pants on fire.”)
    Shieffer’s timid approach to the religion question was probably because he and his support team all know that they are treading onto ground where they are at a disadvantage, since they are so unfamiliar with the Christian lingo. The situation reminds me of the famous Charles Gibson gotcha interview with Sarah Palin, in which it was revealed that he and his whole staff could not understand the difference between an assertion and a prayer request.
    Ms. Bachman’s reply was extremely interesting. She said “I became a Christian when I was 16 years old. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ.” That is Evangelical talk, not Lutheran talk, and might have prompted a follow-up question by an interviewer who knew anything about either.

  • Julia

    More and more media figures and politicians refer to “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion”. The presumption underlying the new term is that one is free to attend whatever church or synagogue or mosque you want, but that freedom doesn’t continue when you leave that building.

    The change in terminology does seem to reflect worry about people who are serious all week long about the tenets of their religion.

  • Bram

    Julia,

    A slight correction: the change in terminology reflects a worry about people who are serious all week and long about the tenets of their religion and whose religion is *not* left-liberal fundamentalism.

    If you’re a left-liberal fundamentalist, then you can be religious all week long.

    You only have to shut up and keep it in the closet if you’re not.

  • str

    melxiopp,

    I agree, the point is that Bachmann has raised the issue of her religion herself. Thus, it becomes fair game.

    Nonsense. Just because you speak about a certain aspects does not strip you of your rights in the matter. Sure, she mentioned it and it may be discussed (it might be even be discussed if she did not mention it) but not in the discriminatory, inquisitorial manner you have in mind. At least, it shouldn’t be.

    (And your point becomes even more dangerous in regard to children.)

    It is a “religious test” either way, regardless of who brought somebody’s religion into the public.

    Again, I ask you why one should not ask the same stuff of an atheist?

  • http://ingles.homeunix.net/ Ray Ingles

    str – The government may not impose a religious test. Voters, on the other hand, can use whatever criteria they wish to evaluate a candidate. Bram above, for example, wouldn’t vote for an atheist – and that’s entirely his right.

    This does impose a de facto religious requirement for significant office in the United States. Most districts today would require a lot of convincing to vote for an atheist, for example. Unfortunate – from my perspective, anyway – but Constitutional.

    And yes, I’m entirely in favor of asking about the philosophies of candidates, including atheists.

  • str

    To ask is one thing, but this was about questions as the one asked above, based on nothing more than bigotry along the lines of Dawkins. As if Christians were more likely to break the law because of a special link to God.

    This was not about individuals making their choice but about the media asking insinuating questions.

    People are legally allowed to vote for whatever reasons, even if the reasons are bigotry. But then again, when a certain politician from Illinois ran for president, bigotry was not as lightly looked upon.

  • carl

    A Mormon friend stopped me in the hall the other day, and said “Are you one of those Christians who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon?” I said “No” and quoted Luther. “Better to be governed by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.” My judgment of the candidate’s religion is less important than my judgment of how that religion will influence the candidate’s actions in public office. That’s why it’s always legitimate to ask these kinds of questions. They work to reveal a man’s world view, and that’s the most important piece of information a voter can learn.

    The question of race is therefore not directly analogous to religion (with the exception of Judaism since Judaism is both race and religion.) Race does not reveal any information about a man’s worldview. A man may have a right to vote against President Obama simply because he is black, but his decision is irrational. The man who would vote against someone like me for being a ‘right wing reactionary Christian fundamentalist’ is not necessarily bigoted or irrational. He simply hates my world view, and wishes to see it defeated. Which is the same attitude I have towards his world view. Fair enough.

    carl

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    OK, so GR question here: has anyone seen an examination of Bachmann’s religion that IS thorough and competent?

  • melxiopp

    The tit for tat regarding people’s ‘real’ religious motivations whether they acknowledge that’s what they are or not is part of the reason so many non-religious people want faith questions answered by Bachmann and others.

    Whatever a person’s underlying worldview, whether religious or areligious, the fact remains that we lives in a nation ruled by secular laws, not religious laws. The Constitution provides a public square where religious or areligious values need not enter into a zero-sum game with all others. It’s a place where all these values are allowed, except insofar as they would restrict the same rights to others. Strongly, publicly held religious and areligious beliefs – along with political, economic, social, etc. beliefs – are regularly questioned. They are questioned because a public official is elected to represent us in accord with the Constitution and laws of the U.S., and strongly held beliefs may/often conflict with the classically liberal values of our Republic. That there aren’t many politicians who publicly espouse such strong beliefs in one direction (areligiosity) doesn’t meant the media is somehow remiss in not asking the question – I don’t think we want journalists blindly fishing for controversy on personal subjects like religion by asking random question based only on our gut instincts about what the politician might ‘really believe (or not)’.

  • str

    A Mormon friend stopped me in the hall the other day, and said “Are you one of those Christians who wouldn’t vote for a Mormon?” I said “No” and quoted Luther. “Better to be governed by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian.”

    So you misquoted one of Luther’s sadder utterances (which said nothing about competence) – Luther actually advocated in his quote the position to wanted to reject by it.

    Luther hated Pope and Emperor so much, that he would have rather submit to the Sultan. Of course, only as long as the Emperor protected him (and the rest of Europe) from ever finding out what this would have meant.


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