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July 29, 2008

The Faith Factor

Mmirusticalumcross There's a lot of speculation today about who will be Barack Obama's running mate. Specifically, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is being mentioned, although he's brushing off the rumor. Reading about all the gossip feels almost like flipping through tabloids guessing which celebrity is going to marry whom.

What struck me about the possibility of the Obama-Kaine ticket is how it would be similar, in a sense, to the possible McCain-Jindal ticket. That is, both Veep prospects have The Faith Factor (namely, they're both Catholic).

The Wall Street Journal on Jindal:

. . . Mr. Jindal, a convert to Roman Catholicism, is being mentioned as one of John McCain's top choices for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. And his strong religious faith is often cited as a potential bonus for the ticket.

Hinduism is a diverse religion, with varying interpretations. Mr. Jindal, speaking from his office in Baton Rouge this month, said his parents raised him "in a monotheistic home with a firm belief in a God with traditional values -- the same sort of values you find in the Ten Commandments and other mainstream religions." Recalling their religion as "not a faith that was necessarily tied to a particular historical scripture or revelation," Mr. Jindal said, his parents "made their faith their own." . . .

"I did not have an overnight epiphany like so many people do," said Mr. Jindal, calling his conversion a "very intellectual-based journey," where he studied countless religious texts. "Given my background and personality, that was an important part of the process." But, he notes, "I don't think you can 'read' yourself into faith. I had gotten to the point where I knew what history had to say about this person named Jesus and what he had done on Earth. . . . I think at some point you have to take a leap of faith."

As a teenager, Mr. Jindal said he sought out chaplains at nearby Louisiana State University as he grasped for a religious identity to call his own. During a youth group's Easter season musical production in 1987 at LSU's campus chapel, a black-and-white video of the Passion played during intermission. "I don't know why I was struck so hard at that moment," said Mr. Jindal. "There was nothing fascinating about this particular video. . . . But watching this depiction of an actor playing Jesus on the cross, it just hit me, harder than I'd ever been hit before," he said. "If that was really the son of God, and he really died for me, then I felt compelled to get on my knees and worship him."

Beliefnet's Ed Kilgore on Kaine:

It's Kaine's faith background that makes him an interesting option for Obama. 

He's not only a practicing Catholic (an area of relative weakness for Obama during the primaries); he once served as a missionary in Central America. (His Spanish-language fluency is definitely an asset beyond Virginia). And in his 2005 gubernatorial campaign, he provided an interesting example of how faith can provide a defense against wedge-issue attacks. 

His Republican opponent, Jerry (No Relation!) Kilgore, launched a barrage of ads attacking Kaine's opposition to the death penalty, as part of an effort to convince Virginians that the Democrat was well to the left of the popular Warner. Kaine responded by attributing his death-penalty position to Catholic teaching, and then argued that he could be trusted nonetheless to enforce the death penalty after he took the oath of office on a Bible. By most accounts, Kaine won this exchange decisively, without changing his position or acting evasively.

Back to the Pres prospects. Much has been said about Obama's beliefs. Now, to reiterate a question I had, what exactly does McCain say about the risen Christ? Just curious because I've had a tough time finding articles on that.

[Caveat! This is not a post about voting only for Christians, or voting those who've said "the right things," or judging who is and who isn't the right person to vote for. This is a post about candidates' and potential candidates' beliefs or lack thereof. Please keep discussion to that. Now: Play Ball (nicely)! Thanks.]

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Dave the Swede

Governor Kaine may be a "practicing Catholic," but, as a pro-choice governor, he is not practicing faithfulness to his own church's stance on abortion. This may hurt Obama among Catholics more than help him.

Chris Clukey

If Kaine and Jindal are the guys, I welcome their faith. That said, I think we should be careful judging candidates on how much they talk about religion, or Jesus specifically.

Take Reagan and Carter, for instance. Reagan wasn't reluctant to talk about the Almighty, but he kept his comments in the realm of the "civil religion" shared by all of us who call America "one nation under God."

Carter, meanwhile, was well known for being born again and for admitting he had lusted after women in his heart. He also promised that his faith would inform his foreign policy, especially on human rights. And in the 1980 campaign, he even ran this ad...


...the message of which was "I pray every day, so vote for me instead of that heathen Reagan."

Well, even though Reagan was a Christian, his term and Carter's could be illustrations of why Martin Luther said he'd rather be ruled by a competent Turk than an incompetent Christian. The litany of disater in Carter's term and in his post-presidential foreign adventures hardly needs to be recounted, but let me share one story most people don't know.

Carter appointed Andrew Young, also known for his Christian faith, to be our ambassador to the UN. In an address at Riverside Church in Manhattan, he said that it didn't matter that much that people in the Soviet Union had no religious freedoms, because the shorter growing season forced the government to curtail such freedoms in order to make sure everyone was fed. He also famously said that Cuban troops brought stability to Angola.

While I certainly don't see McCain as a Reagan figure, his approach to religion seems pretty Reaganesque. Obama seems to be very much like Carter. I expect Christians who buy the "look at me I go to church, therefore I'm wise" routine will be as disappointed as the ones who backed Jimmy Carter in 1976.

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