Religion has always been an important issue in America. The Founders in their wisdom thought to preclude the Federal government from both establishing a formal state religion and interfering in the free practice of private religion. The United States has also undeniably been a majority Christian nation for her entire existence as a sovereign entity. Of the two glaring examples of clashes between a religious group and the Federal government, one (Mormonism) was against Christian sect. The other, the intentional suppression of the various religions of the Indians, undoubtedly had a religious undertone but was at its heart about territorial expansion.
The importance of the religious beliefs of our leaders has by and large depended on circumstance. In times of great strife, the country has tended to turn to men of great genuine conviction: the eve of our greatest internal schism gave us Lincoln, and Reagan’s sunny and forthright beliefs were a welcome answer by many to the Evil Empire of the Soviets. Presidents have been devout and largely agnostic. We have elected a Catholic, a Quaker, Baptists, Methodists, and more than one argumentative agnostic. A few have undoubtedly not been believers, but still paid lip service to Christian values.
Since the election of Reagan, the Republican candidate’s religious conviction has generally been seen as very important in attracting the votes of the Christian conservative voting bloc not only in primaries but in general elections. There are solid arguments for it not only pushing George W. Bush over the top in 2000 but also for keeping Mitt Romney, a Mormon, out of the White House in 2012 by failing to show up in the voting booth for him. Then 2016 came along.
This is of course all brought to mind by Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tweeted photograph with Donald Trump after introducing Trump at a summit of religious leaders in New York, with Mrs. Falwell standing in front of a framed copy of an old Playboy cover featuring Trump. The tweet led to relatively predictable reactions from all sides.
The presumptive nominee’s religious beliefs (or lackthereof) have been a contentious issue in the Republican primary. He has struggled to garner the support of many evangelical leaders (though Mr. Falwell Jr. has announced his support). Perhaps owing to his perceived weakness on the issue of his conservative Christian bona fides, Trump has taken to attacking the left-leaning Christian bona fides of his presumptive opponent in the general election.
All of this seems somewhat beside the point, as we don’t have a presidential religious litmus test in this country. What we have, or should have, is a Constitutional fidelity litmus test. As a believing Christian (though admittedly a poor one of the non-denominational variety), what should it matter to me if a candidate lacks the belief that Jesus Christ died for my sins if that candidate shares the belief that even if he does devoutly believe in Christ it doesn’t matter to his faithful execution of the duties of the President? The personal value system necessary to restrain oneself to the Constitutionally enumerated powers of the Executive branch aren’t particular to Christianity, anyway. Some Christian values are even seemingly antithetical to that restraint, and Christians don’t have the market cornered on honesty and integrity.
And that’s the rub: neither major party candidate possesses the inherent character traits necessary in the Executive, and both are (nominally) Christian. Granted, there have been many Presidents who failed to live up to their professed values. But very few men do in general. What matters more in this particular election is how glaringly obvious both Trump and Clinton fall short of what they say they believe, and how clearly neither has even the inclination to fulfill the oath of office if they get to take it. A President’s religious beliefs may matter to voters, but an honest desire and intent to act within the confines of the office is what should matter most. That’s a lesson we should’ve all learned by now.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.