Gary Bauer’s Religious Test

From USAToday:

Gary Bauer, who once sought the Republican presidential nomination, is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families. (Last Sunday, Bauer endorsed Rick Santorum for the GOP presidential nomination.)

A thought experiment: Imagine a presidential candidate. He has spent years in politics,rising to become a trusted leader in his party. He also has spent time in the business world, has an impeccable personal life, a deep understanding of the issues, and is eloquent in speech and moderate in temperament. Sounds like a dream candidate,right?

But imagine that, along with those qualities, the candidate is also a Wiccan, a modern pagan. It’s not an implausible idea. Some estimates put the number o fAmerican Wiccans at more than 100,000. It’s safe to saymost voters would at least have a few questions for our hypothetical candidate. After all, Wicca involves magic,spell-casting and sorcery — not exactly mainstream religious practices.

But would this candidate’s beliefs make you question his fitness for office? Would you oppose him based solely on his faith?

There has been much talk lately about whether, and to what degree, a candidate’s religious faith should matter on the campaign trail and in the voting booth. I have come to the conclusion that while a candidate’s faith matters, what’s most important is how he or she applies that faith. Some commentators, citing the constitutional clause forbidding a religious test for office and the so-called separation of church and state, assert that all religious considerations should be off limits. Many in the newsmedia report the “unsettling news” that polls show some voters are less likely to vote for candidates of certain religions.

Nobody should be legally prohibited from running for office because of his religion. That is what the Founders addressed when they wrote what could be the Constitution’s most emphatic statement: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Even so, voters should consider a candidate’s religious beliefs (or lack of them) because, whether secularists want to acknowledge it or not, those beliefs often help define the candidate’s political values and public policy positions. The question Americans should ask is not whether a candidate is affiliated with a particular faith but rather whether that candidate’s faith makes it more likely he or she will support policies that align with their values. Just knowing that a candidate is, say, Catholic says little or nothing about his or her political positions. The Catholicism of Nancy Pelosi leads to very different policy positions from the Catholicism of Rick Santorum.

Though I wouldn’t vote for a pagan, I’d vote for a Catholic or a Jew whose policies reflect the traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of human life much more readily than I would vote for the man next to me in the pew who doesn’t support those things…

Americans have not only a right but a responsibility to consider the values of those who seek to lead them — whether they arise from life experience, political ideology or religious belief.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • E.G.

    I’ve heard people predict that the Romney’s Mormon beliefs would come to the fore prior to South Carolina. I guess that they were correct.

  • Jasen

    I’d rather vote for a qualified Muslim then an unqualified Christian.

  • Sally

    So, he’s putting Catholics and Jews on par with pagans, who all 3 are apparently under the excellent evangelicals, and then pagans are unable to have a traditional understanding of marriage and defend the sanctity of life??? His last paragraph undermines his whole point. He’s not even willing to consider the values of this hypothetical Wiccan candidate, because if he’s a pagan, he’s automatically off-limits. How obnoxious and offensive.

  • http://dry-bones-valley.blogspot.com Rob Dunbar

    I’m not sure what studies show on beliefs of Wiccans re: family and marriage, but I’d be a bit surprised if they didn’t skew towards, shall we say, “non-traditional.” Be that as it may, I think the biggest issue in a candidate is integrity. Unfortunately, candidates of all faiths show little of it. I’m not against reasonable compromise. But integrity is shown in working to keep your promises and in honest portrayals of those you oppose–not found in either the Democrat or Republican parties.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    #3 Sally:

    I don’t think he’s equating Pagans with Jews or Catholics. It is their very roots (an unstated fact) that he would trust over Pagan.

    Having said that, Bauer is making a bizarre point. Perhaps a Roman Pagan ran for office. Most Conservatives would applaud a Cato the Younger. A man who supported traditional family values, traditional cultural values, who was fiercely against corruption, had military experience and was dedicated to excellence in governance.

    This all makes a good politician and yet it is not the Gospel. Bauer is confused.

  • Sally

    #4, yeah I agree on the possibility of a conservative Wiccan being quite unlikely, but he doesn’t even allow for the possibility.

    #5 that could be…I probably am reading into it the ‘Catholics aren’t real christians’ belief I grew up in, so for him to say, ‘I wouldn’t a pagan, but I would Catholic or Jew’ just sounded like all 3 he would rather not have, if he had his way. And of course he leaves out a few other major religions…is he actually doing a faith/values test or is does doing a judeo-christian test? I wish he would at least be honest about it, instead of sounding like an elitist about which religions are acceptable to him in a president.

  • Tim

    #2 comment is similar to a quote made by Martin Luther

  • Dennis J

    Mackenzie King, a Canadian Prime Minister from the 30′s, is well known for consulting with mediums and conducting seances.

  • Dennis J

    In Canada, the more secular you are, the more trusted you are to run for office. Most Canadians find the current Prime Minister’s public faith to be very offensive and proof that he is not fit for the job. It is something private. When Jean Chretien (who has a Catholic background) was asked about his faith, he responded basically with, “none of your business”.

    Yet, Canada has not followed the US with de-regulations that led to a major economic crisis. Also, Bush, a professing Christian, introduced the Patriot Act (the very name of which is deeply disturbing) that greatly undermines the American way of life. Republicans blatantly abuse Evangelicals for their own ends. Despite the 20 years Republicans ruled in the US in my lifetime, Roe vs. Wade has never been overturned, the family unit is not in any way promoted, education is not any better, and on and on. Sorry but Newt Gingrich is not going to be some kind of forerunner for Christian ethics in the whitehouse. Nor is anyone else. Anytime something ‘Christian’ is done in American politics it ends up being some kind of dominion-type policy that favours Christians at the expense of other American citizens, which I don’t think is Christian at all.

  • Richard Jones

    I think what he is saying is “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
    To the extent that we are able to see the hearts of candidates, we get better indications of who will be appropriate and reliable for political office. I suppose political debate is one way we get a glimpse at the inner selves of these individuals.
    What we see on the outside is just so much fluff.

  • Fish

    I think we’ve elected quite a few wiccans, given our government’s fascination with voodoo economics.


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