Even though Al Gore and George W. Bush have locked up the
presidential nominations, they have quickly assured a worried nation
there will be no let-up in their ferocious campaigning for the White
House. As if we doubted it for a single moment.
Too bad for them and even worse for us. I fear we are in for eight
months of nonstop "speechifying," daily photo-ops, personal appearances
on hundreds of TV shows, and a steady barrage of negative commercials.
God forbid either of these hard-driving professional politicians should
take even a one-day vacation from the campaign trail.
Clearly, the American public will be subjected to repeated personal
descriptions of the candidates' "born-again" spiritual conversions as
well as pictures of Al and "W" attending church services every Sunday
Because of the polling data, ministers, rabbis and priests will see
very little of Bush in California and New York, while clergy members in
Texas won't be shaking Gore's hand too often. However, you can be
certain the candidates will be making many appearances at various clergy
associations in swing states like Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and
Gore and Bush will numb the electorate with endless orations about
the virtues of family values and the urgent need for public morality.
The Republicans will happily re-run tapes of the vice president's 1996
fund-raising visit to a Buddhist temple, and in the true spirit of
ecumenism, the Democrats will counter with the Texas governor's long,
problem-filled walk to the Bob Jones University podium earlier this
You can be sure when Gore and Bush speak in storefront churches
within Hispanic barrios, the candidates will chatter away in carefully
practiced Spanish. And the two men will punctuate their appearances in
African-American churches with lots of high-fives all around.
Gosh, for a moment we might even forget Al and "W" are graduates of,
dare I say it, Harvard and Yale, and both come from elitist
ultra-establishment political dynasties.
In the long run to Nov. 7, both men will wear their religions on
their sleeves. The Southern Baptist Gore will eagerly seek to pin the
extremist religious right label on Bush, and the latter, a United
Methodist, will do all he can to tar Gore with the "liberal" epithet,
both religiously and politically. Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims and
Hindus can only watch the upcoming Protestant religious mud fight in
The highly visible role of religion in the 2000 campaign is in
stunning contrast to earlier presidential elections.
In 1952 and 1956 Dwight Eisenhower, who was raised in a Mennonite
peace church tradition, twice defeated the Unitarian, Adlai Stevenson.
Incredibly, Eisenhower became a formal church member--as a
Presbyterian -- after he was elected president the first time. Ike's
entry into church membership was probably a recognition that an American
president should, after all, be religiously affiliated.
At a now historic 1960 meeting with a group of Houston Protestant
ministers, John F. Kennedy had to practically apologize for being a
Roman Catholic. JFK felt the political need to assure the ministers his
Catholicism would not interfere with his duties as America's chief
Richard Nixon attempted to micro manage things spiritual by inviting
carefully chosen clergy to conduct religious services inside the White
House. The Sunday services were by invitation only and were justified on
security grounds. However, critics said the the White House rites were a
Nixonian attempt to control religion for his own advantage and to avoid
hearing sermons critical of his Vietnam war policies. The practice has
not been repeated by later presidents. Interestingly, Ronald Reagan, a
favorite of the religious right, rarely attended church services and had
little contact with his children. So much for presidential "family
But today it is politically unthinkable for a candidate to be
without a religious affiliation or to maintain a spotty church
attendance record. Ironically, one of Bill Clinton's most indelible
images (and there are many!) is the picture of him leaving church each
week with his hands clutching both a Bible and his wife. It is one
presidential standard Clinton's successor will surely strive to
What we will probably not hear from Gore or Bush is the kind of
refreshing honesty exhibited by Abraham Lincoln who, at the beginning of
the Civil War, was reported to have said that while he hoped to have
both God and Kentucky on his side, if it were a choice, he would take