I was asked by Sally Quinn and John Meacham of the Washington Post and Newsweek, what advice I would offer to Barack Obama and John McCain on the use of religion in their presidential campaigns. This was my response:
Dear Senator McCain and Senator Obama,
As a person of faith, I hope that religion plays a role in your lives, and if it does, then I would expect that we see it reflected in your campaigns also. But if religion is not central in your lives, please don’t make it central to either of your bids for the presidency. Either way, please do not allow religion, or the lack of it, to become a political issue about which you squabble or use to prove why any specific group of voters should vote for you. When religion is used that way, it is bad for both religion and politics, and ultimately for all of us as well.
America has some pretty big challenges ahead of it right now, and the typical religious posturing which passes for genuine faith, in American politics, is not going to provide any meaningful response to those challenges. However, politicians who are clear about the values for which they stand, and can help us appreciate the sources of those values, can shape a process by which to lead us toward the solutions we need. And I think that spiritual connection, religious wisdom, and ongoing practice can all contribute to that.
But that has nothing to do with standing up and telling us why God, the Bible, etc. endorse your position on anything from the war in Iraq to poverty in America or even abortion. Those are specific policies, and resorting to proof-texting for any of them has no place in making public policy for a country which reads a variety of texts and understands them in a variety of ways. Frankly, I am sick and tired of those on both the left and the right, invoking God’s name to prove their point about any specific policy.
The God who believers, including me, invoke has been around forever and has said pretty much everything about everything. The same God who calls for loving one’s neighbor has endorsed horrible wars against those very neighbors. The same God who has taught that all human beings are one with Him no matter what, has also taught that without Him, we are all going to burn. The same God, who calls us to surrender with humility, provides the teachings which inspire deadly fanaticism in His name.
Senators, let’s not make this election about what God says. Let’s make it about what you say. And because each of you hopes to lead the most powerful nation on face of the Earth, tell about the sources that you draw upon to reach those conclusions. We both want and need to know, not only what you think, but why. We need to know where you will turn in the middle of the night when confronting the really big questions. To the Bible? To your spouse? To the Constitution? The pollsters? That’s what we really need to know.