Politics and Religion: Most Prefer Political Candidates to be Religious, but Voting Those Beliefs Is Another Matter
Cary McMullen is the Religion Editor for the Lakeland Ledger, and did an excellent piece in today's edition about the question. This link guides you to the entire column, but I'll take the liberty to excerpt some of it here:
Passion filled the gymnasium of Grove Park Christian Church in Lakeland during a recent Republican rally. At times it was hard to separate political from evangelical fervor. State Rep. John Stargel, (R-Lakeland), offered an invocation, and the featured speaker was Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now the Republican campaign director for the crucial Southeastern region. He declared, "We are going to move heaven and earth" to reelect President George W. Bush.
The zeal was just as intense among volunteers at the East Polk County headquarters of the Democratic Party in Winter Haven a few weeks later, although the only evidence of anything religious was a note on a marker board -- "Locate church sponsors."
"Wearing your religion on your sleeve is offensive to good Democrats," said office coordinator Ruth Ann Eaddy, who attends Beymer United Methodist Church. "We don't want to appear to be using religion. That's one of the reasons I'm a Democrat."
Among those present at the Republican rally were John and Mary Barker, members of Grove Park Christian Church. In their home later, Mary Barker, a retired accounting clerk for Publix, said it pleased her that Bush is "a good Christian man" who opposes abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.
"A candidate's religious beliefs matter," she said. "I've got the old faith that those things are wrong. I have a lot of respect for President Bush. I think he's trying to keep the country straight.
"It's a mistake to see evangelicals as a monolithic voting bloc, said Green of the Bliss Institute. Between 20 percent and 35 percent of evangelicals would consider voting for a Democratic candidate, depending on the candidate and the conditions at the time of the election, he said.
One of those is Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, which espouses orthodox evangelical beliefs and progressive views on social justice. Wallis has insisted candidates should be evaluated on moral criteria beyond abortion and same-sex marriage, including the war in Iraq, poverty and human rights.In September, Wallis' magazine took out full-page ads in several major newspapers, including The New York Times, which declared, "God is Not a Republican. Or a Democrat." The ad included a petition signed by dozens of people, including notable evangelical writers Tony Campolo and Philip Yancey.
In an interview in his Washington office shortly after the ad appeared, Wallis said the decision to take out the ads was a direct challenge to statements supporting Bush by evangelical leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.
"Had Falwell and Robertson just endorsed Bush, there would be no problem. They ordained him. They said Christians can only vote for Bush. Those statements are theologically outrageous and have to be challenged," he said.
Lakeland engineer Bill Futch agrees. Futch and his wife, Nancy, attend The Fellowship of Lakeland, an independent congregation. He voted for Bush in 2000, a decision he said was "a big mistake." He listed a string of Bush's policies -- vouchers that allow children to attend private schools with public funds, tax cuts that he said disproportionately favor the wealthy and the war in Iraq -- and said they do not match the teachings of Jesus.
"The religious establishment was not who he fellowshipped with. It was the prostitutes, the poor and downtrodden. I feel we should be looking after those just as he did. The party in power now is not respecting those values," Futch said.
Eaddy, too, will have none of the so-called "God gap" that puts religious people in the Republican camp and consigns unbelievers to the Democrats. She said she was raised in conservative religious traditions -- Church of Christ and Baptist -- and now feels "very comfortable" in the United Methodist Church, the faith of three of the four candidates for president and vice president (Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards).
"The religious right seems to have the answers, but God is a mysterious thing. The reason I like (Beymer Memorial United Methodist Pastor) Bob Hornback's sermons is that he understands there are mysteries in this world. We need a president who can see mysteries in this world. (Bush) is a black-andwhite guy," she said.
The Catholic Church advises its members to take into account a range of the church's social teachings when deciding who to vote for. Some Catholics say this approach means other issues besides abortion must also be taken into account.
"The ultimate test is how a party philosophy or candidate measures up to the gospel -concern for the poor, inclusivity. Jesus did not exclude anyone from his circle of teaching," said Tom Keller, a retired property manager and former priest who is a member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Winter Haven. "It's idealistic, but Christians are supposed to tilt at windmills."
Keller said he is leaning toward Kerry because he sees him as "the heir" of the traditional values of the Democratic Party.
"I always looked on the Democratic Party as the party of the people. I like to think (it) stands for gut gospel issues," he said.