Opinion

Journalists should quiz candidates on religious beliefs

The field of presidential candidates is nearly complete. Only Newt Gingrich remains to decide - or announce if he has decided - whether he, too, will run for president. His decision is expected in November.

There is one person who is definitely not running, but may be invoked as the ultimate adviser. That would be God.

Writing in Time magazine, essayist Michael Kinsley raises some questions about presidential candidates who want God as their "running mate." Kinsley would like them to go beyond the superficial "God bless you and God bless America" benediction. He wants to know to what extent God and a candidate's understanding of him might affect public policy should that person be elected.

Kinsley asserts that former New York Governor Mario Cuomo was unable to be a "good Catholic" and simultaneously a good governor of New York because he differed with his church's teachings on abortion, among other controversial social issues. He also says he thinks it impossible - or at least very difficult - for Mitt Romney to be president and a good Mormon for the same reason. "I want to know what God is telling them," writes Kinsley, "just as I would want to know what Karl Rove was telling them if they claimed him for an adviser. If religion is central to their lives and moral systems, then it cannot be the candidates' 'own private affair.' "

Fair enough. While the two "kingdoms" are separated and, some might argue, headed in different directions, it is perfectly proper for candidates to be asked whether God requires them to impose his will as they perceive it through legislation and judicial mandate. If not, why not? If one believes, for example, that God created life at conception, does that mean all life is sacred and deserves protection in law, or are certain lives, namely those created in difficult circumstances, such as the tiny number conceived through rape or incest, dispensable?

But this coin has a flip side. If Kinsley would require candidates who worship and claim to know God to come clean about any hidden agendas they might have, should not full disclosure also be required of those who practice a religion of political convenience and even the secularist and the practical atheist?

On what basis does the non-theistic and practical atheist make moral choices, which include going to war and capital punishment?

Democrats, most notably Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have invoked God and Scripture during their campaigns. But theirs is a selective reading. Their theology meshes with the political objectives of their party and personal ideology. They quote Scripture about caring for the poor and interpret that to mean higher taxes and bigger government. They ignore those passages that speak of the inner life.

While Kinsley asks some good questions, who among the journalists and talk show hosts has the background to ask them directly of the candidates? Those without theological training or experience in faith often find such questions embarrassing because they don't want to face ridicule from their mostly secular colleagues. But to hide these issues in the catacombs of journalism is a poor excuse. The questions should be asked of both the religious and the secular to help voters make up their minds which ones best adhere to godly principles and to determine what standards govern the ones who do not.

Cal Thomas, a columnist for Tribune Media Services, can be reached at tmseditors@tribune.com.

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