Interviews currently available:
Talking about one's faith is bound to feel risky to a professional politician. Sure, you can show you're faithful (a political plus) but you can also end up angering or disappointing voters. It is easy to take religious comments out of context and candidates are not crazy to think that talking about their inner lives involves some peril.
So we hope that even if you don't like what you hear from the candidates or the president, you'll at least give them credit for talking openly about a topic that's both personally revealing and politically touchy. And we're going to try an experiment. We are offering all the campaigns a chance for the candidate to briefly supplement (not revise) his or her interview comments after we publish them if he or she feels they're subject to misinterpretation. We will add some of those comments (clearly labeled as additions) to the transcripts of the interviews.
Why is it important to know the spiritual life of candidates? The presidency of George Bush has illustrated clearly that for some leaders, faith is an important part of their character and may influence policy or even life-and-death decisions like whether to go to war. We'd also like to know what kinds of inner resources each candidate has to deal with the intense pressure of the presidency. The nature of the office means being required to make decisions that balance practical and moral factors -- or pit one virtue against another. For many people, how they handle such decisions is shaped by religion or spirituality.
Because of the deeply personal nature of these questions, it's hard to tell whether a politician is lying or exaggerating about his or her spiritual life. Usually, the best we can do is assess whether the answers seem canned and calculated or genuine and reflective. In most cases, your guess will be as good as ours, though if we feel there's anything in the tone of voice or style of the candidate that might not be conveyed through a transcript or audio snippet, we'll point that out.
In the message board just to the right of this essay (we call them "mini-boards"), please suggest any questions that you'd like to ask the candidates as we continue with this series of interviews.