lundi, août 20, 2007

My editorial from the IJ

It is an unsettled season in American political life, one in which it is predictable that voters will seek a president who is Chief Preacher as well as Chief Executive.
This quadrennial intersection of private faith, public policy and civil religion says as much about Americans and their complex relationship to their own beliefs as it does about the candidates.
For the whiff of the revival meeting that has already begun to infiltrate the presidential campaigns, we can give partial blame, or credit, to George W. Bush.
Then-candidate Bush set the pace in 2000, when he commented that Jesus was his favorite philosopher. While this folksy statement set the bar rather low as a statement of faith (what the heck was he talking about?), it did signal evangelicals and conservatives that the Republican candidate would take their interests seriously.
With his willingness to blur the separation of church and state, Bush became an advocate, if not always a successful one, for his conservative base.
In opening the door to debate about faith in the public square, he also opened a window on American beliefs, doubts and prejudices.
Even among a remarkably eclectic candidate pool, a few of the spiritual biographies are particularly intriguing, in part because they serve as a template for some of our own deep ambivalence about the relationship between public policy and personal faith.
Democratic Senator and party frontrunner Hillary Clinton has talked publicly about how her faith and Methodist background enabled her to move forward in the wake of husband Bill Clinton's infidelity, forgive some of her critics and make critical decisions.
Although she has long struggled to combat a reputation for coldness, Clinton's faith seems deep and sincere.
Yet in this highly polarized political climate, she continues to face attacks from critics who accuse her of pandering.
Her charismatic rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a Christian by choice, attends a Chicago United Church of Christ congregation he joined as a young South Side community organizer. His close relationship with its sometimes-controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright Jr., a champion of "black values," has also opened him up to criticism from conservatives, who dislike his connection to Wright's Afrocentric church, and from liberals, who accuse him of mixing politics and religion.
Obama, who has long called upon Democrats to speak more openly of personal faith, speaks with evangelical ease of his "personal relationship" with Christ.
Interestingly enough, some of the top Republican candidates are also contending with the genie President Bush helped unleash.
Take Rudy Giuliani.
Recently, the divorced politician, a champion of abortion rights, was quoted as telling the Associated Press, "The mayor's personal relationship with God is private and between him and his God."
Former Republican governor Mitt Romney has the most intriguing faith narrative — and the biggest hurdle in convincing voters he is "one of them" — because he represents a minority religion and because, to his credit, he has not disavowed, softened or sidestepped his faith.
Will voters embrace a member of a faith that believes a man named Joseph Smith dug up a golden-plated book of precepts of the one true faith in 1827 with the help of an angel named Moroni?
Early polls say that even many conservative Republicans, Romney's natural target audience, are less likely to vote for a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints.
Whether Romney can defuse questions about the Mormon faith and convince voters he will be impartial in administering U.S. laws will probably influence whether voters see him as a serious contender.
So what we're seeing, in this early stage of the presidential race, is:
A female Senator and former Sunday school teacher whose husband is one of the nation's most famous and engaging philanderers;
A youthful politician, son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan, who has become a litmus test for our sensitivity to race, our eagerness to embrace the new and our fear of too much change;
A former New York mayor who once considered becoming a priest but who, along with millions of his fellow Catholics, supports legalized abortion in many circumstances;
And a wealthy governor from a liberal state who has again and again made it clear that the line between his personal convictions and his conservative political principles is fluid at best — and now must convince the public he can be impartial in upholding the Constitution.
In columns to come I want to return to the interplay between faith and politics and how our candidates shed light on our own ambivalence about who we are and what we profess.
For now, suffice it to say that I hope when we turn on the televisions or flip open the newspaper we will be a little less quick to jump to judgment and a little more willing to acknowledge that in our candidates we see diversity that excites and scares us, a hunger for sincerity and fear of hypocrisy and an ambivalence about the intersection of faith and politics in the public square that make this election not only a test of a candidate's character, but a challenge to our own.

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