At an intern BBQ I attended last Tuesday evening, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann stated in her speech, “If there’s anyone here who has not given their life to Jesus Christ, do it now, don’t wait another day. None of you know how long that you have.” Representative Bachmann spoke for about 30 minutes to the assembled D.C. interns at the Jonathan House. It was the D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship annual intern BBQ and it drew upwards of 200 interns by my estimation, mostly from congressional offices. The featured speaker, Bachmann was there to discuss her faith and the role it plays in her life and governing.
It is important to say that this event was openly sponsored by a Christian organization and made no claims to be secular or political, or an official Bachmann campaign stop. In fact, when the Q&A period started it was asked that questioners avoid political questions because that wasn’t the point of the event. Because this was a religious event and not a campaign event I understand Rep. Bachmann’s right to articulate her religious convictions. The only cause for concern would be if this type of language made it on the campaign trail, and the way the 2012 campaign is going so far, it isn’t hard to imagine many candidates coming close to letting that happen.
Candidates run to be president of all citizens of the whole United States, those of us who are not Christian included. Americans belong to hundreds of faith traditions plus millions subscribe to no religion and when a political leader preaches faith on the campaign trail, other religious choices are disrespected and alienated. I don’t want to imply this is what Bachmann did in this case; I’m speaking generally of how religion and campaigning should not mix. Faith can of course inform the lives and decisions of our leaders. It is acceptable for those leaders to express what they believe and how it changes their perspective if they want to make this information public. I hope that candidates don’t cross the line at which their religious views go from informing their values to serving as the basis for public policy. And it is up to us as voters to question our candidates to find out which side of that line they stand on.
Politicians need to be cognizant that not all citizens share their religious beliefs, a truth that is forgotten even more often in the heat of elections. The recent Tim Pawlenty faith video, the words of Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, even the overzealous scrutiny of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman’s Mormonism, speaks to the overly religious nature of modern American campaigns.
To all candidates for higher office I want to say that religious campaigning is dangerous for religion and politics. When candidates claim they are endorsed by God or make religion their platform, they drag faith down into the realm of campaigning and use it inappropriately. It is one thing for faith to inform a candidate’s views; it is another to use it as a campaign tactic. The diversity and strength of America’s religious tradition has contributed greatly to our success as a nation, but for that tradition to endure there need to be boundaries between religion and politics. Let’s work to keep any candidate from crossing those vital boundaries. I would strongly recommend all candidates read Interfaith Alliance’s “Running for Office in a Multi-Faith Nation” guide. Representative Bachmann’s words were fine at a religious event, but let’s keep working to make sure she and her fellow candidates know that it has no place on the campaign trail. For a full video of the speech I saw click here.
For a discussion on the latest uses and misuses of religion in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election and why we should not discount Michelle Bachmann’s chances you can listen to this episode of state of belief. For a recap of religious campaigning in the 2010 elections you can listen here