Since Romney has emerged as the early, early front-runner for the GOP nomination, and then Huntsman joined him, the issue of a candidate’s religion is being discussed again. Should it matter? I’ve heard several pundits sigh in weary surprise that it seems to in an America that elected Obama. I guess religion is no more a choice than race, and no more determinative of views, agendas, and character in their eyes. Of course, those opposed to marriage equality still view homosexuality as a choice that connotes an agenda…
The truth is that for many of us, religion is not much more a choice as cultural background. We may choose whether or not to continue participating, but it does influence who we are and how we engage the world. As such, it seems to me that it’s fair to consider. I would expect any Jewish candidate’s perspective on Israel and Palestine to be fair game in considering whether to support them or not. Any candidate’s view on this question would be relevant, but a Jewish candidate’s background and commitments beg the question in a different way. I think it is fair to ask catholic candidates how and to what degree they are influenced by church teaching, how and to what degree it shapes their policy perspectives, and how they view papal authority. I think an observant Muslim candidate (fat chance, I know) should indeed address how their faith informs their thinking. No more and no less so than with an evangelical candidate. The problem seems to be when people judge candidates according to assumptions about their faith and its influence. But it’s a fair question.
Mormonism is an aggressively missionizing religion. Just like Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelicals. That in and of itself raises questions. I don’t support the organized, institutional recruitment that is part of these door knocking religions. My first question to door-knockers who show up at my home is: How is your koine Greek and western Aramaic? When they inevitably cannot read a word of either, I ask them whether they would attend an undergraduate course on Homer with a professor who cannot read attic Greek? Would they read Dante with a professor who didn’t know Italian or Pushkin with someone who was unversed in Russian? The point is that these people represent institutions who claim authority and truth based on their doctrine, not their knowledge. So, yes, I want to hear from any candidate of a proselytizing faith how that informs their perspectives on law and on historiography. How does it inform their perspectives on sexuality and reproduction? How does it inform their approach to poverty and human rights? How does it affect their perspectives on other belief systems and cultures? And if they think we are moving toward an imminent historically consummating encounter with divine justice, I cannot support them.
So yes, religion matters. It matters in a different way than race or class or geography. Some of the recent conversations in the public sphere suggest that this is bigotry. But it’s only bigotry to make a decision without asking the questions.
So what do the Moose think? Is crotchety old Strum a bigot?