Writing about my summer vacation or the random thoughts on being human that cross my mind each week doesn't always generate a lot of feedback. But open a debate on religion and politics and the flood gates open.
Last week I posed a sensitive question: With many conservative evangelical Christians having historically labeled the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a cult, how can they support a presidential candidate who is Mormon?
Many devout Christians guided, above all else, by their faith find themselves having to decide whether voting for a Mormon legitimizes an institution they have long vilified and with which their doctrine is fundamentally at odds.
It seems a stealthy case of the tail end of a political party wagging its shaggy dog; of being willing to sacrifice core beliefs in favor of party loyalty.
I meant no disrespect to the Mormon Church with this question. I was speaking about a pejorative label placed upon it by others, not questioning Mormonism's legitimacy as a religion, its doctrine or beliefs. Gratefully, I received no emails from angry Mormons. Whew!
The response was strong, however. And thankfully — surprisingly — civil. Overall, except for the folks who want me to get back to more lighthearted topics, my question didn't ruffle as many feathers as I thought it might. Either I hit the nail on the head or newspaper delivery in Bible-belt neighborhoods was off last Saturday.
Or, like many of the comments I received, people are already exhausted by this election cycle and simply want it to be over.
“I am so tired of the political diatribes and hateful discourse,” Betty wrote. “Facebook is particularly bad right now. I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about my lifelong friends' true feelings on issues.”
Though it doesn't necessarily answer my initial question, the most common sentiment I heard on the topic of faith in politics was this: We're electing a president, not a pastor.
“You've had a Catholic president that cheated on his wife, a Christian one that is for late-term abortion....” Chloe offered. “Both sides are pandering to the Christian base — it's really sad.... If Clint Eastwood can work with Sean Penn and give us the excellent ‘Mystic River,' there's no reason for us mere mortals not to get along....”
Jack added, “In the last six years of my life I have gone from being a dyed-in-the-wool unbeliever to a believer with reservations because of the type of hypocrisy you mention that we see every day. I don't know of a president in my time who has tried to impose his religion on the nation. So why all of the fear on both sides of the aisle?”
Alas, in this humble columnist's opinion, so long as people follow their God as devoutly as they are called to, it would be easier to hack off their own limb than to remove their faith from their decision-making in politics and the world at large.
One viewpoint I shared is that a candidate's religious belief is fair game to use when judging their character. A few folks didn't agree.
“Who is to say what is truly in the heart of these politicians, both left and right?” Allan questioned. “They profess what they think will garner them votes, but we know not what is in their hearts.”
And Alistair offered this insight: “I would venture to say most folks who would hold that position are those that would have the candidate legislate their faith, and the candidates who would court that vote are probably those most likely to oblige. I don't have any issue with religion … but by the same token, I don't think there is any place for religion in politics.”
Perhaps most succinctly, Scott, a conservative evangelical Christian who has weighed this topic thoughtfully, answered this way: “For me, like most elections, it feels like an impossible choice. And I always have to ask myself, what do I compromise on this time? Unfortunately, Jesus is (again) not on the ballot. Sigh. I wish just once I could vote for someone instead of voting against someone.”
What was clear from the response is that everyone makes a choice before they enter the voting booth, as well as another when they have ballot in hand. We all choose in advance which criteria will dictate our vote: faith, party, issues, tax bracket, or a combination of those things. And when we make that first decision, we must also be willing to accept the compromises and sacrifices that inevitably come thereafter.
Thanks to all for the civil discourse.