2009 Archives

Texas Faith:

Has the connection between religion and political candidates gone too far?


The following is from the August 15, 2009, edition of The Dallas Morning News. Expertise for this regular column was provided by William B. Lawrence, professor and dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology; Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science in SMU's Dedman College; and Robin Lovin, the Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics at SMU.

August 18, 2009

Texas Faith is a weekly discussion that poses questions about religion, politics and culture to a panel of religious leaders. This week's question is: Has the connection between religion and political candidates gone too far? Or is it appropriate given that most major religions have a strong social component? Here are excerpts from some of this week's answers:

Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science, Southern Methodist University:

America is, by most measures, a deeply religious nation – much more so than many other industrialized democracies.

It is only natural that Americans would welcome insight into their leaders' basic values and worldviews.

A president is (or should be) more than a mere list of negotiable issue stances. He or she is a human being with (presumably) some conception of right and wrong, and voters are right to question where that conception comes from.

For a great many people, including candidates for office, religious convictions are a major part of the answer.

William Lawrence, dean and professor of American church history, Perkins School of Theology, SMU:

Political candidates can take the connection between their religious views and their political aspirations as far as the religious community will permit them to do so.

The problem has been that leaders in Christian denominations and other religious associations have not frequently enough stepped forward to hold the political candidates accountable for their religious assertions.

When a candidate speaks about prayer, faith, religion, and other categories of spiritual believe and practice, the religious community must insist that they explain their assertions and not be allowed merely to decorate their speeches with vague spiritual claims.

Robin Lovin, Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics, SMU:

Americans still want to know that a candidate has some sort of moral compass. For most voters (and most candidates) that compass has something to do with faith.

Candidates today have to reveal enough of their basic beliefs to make themselves credible as moral leaders without seeming to say, "Vote for me because of my religion."

That's a difficult balance for the candidates, but voters face a challenge here, too. As voters, they have to be willing to consider what faith means to a candidate, without focusing on whether they agree with those beliefs themselves.

They also have to discipline themselves not to believe nonsense about other people's religion, even when some find it politically useful to spread the rumors.

Read the full story.

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