Monday, June 6, 2011
What matters about this, I am not sure...
.... among the leading candidates for this year’s Republican presidential nomination, not one is a member of the Protestant denominations that for so long have dominated American political culture. Two of the potential candidates are Mormons (former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.); one is a member of an interdenominational evangelical church (former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty); two others are Catholics (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum). [Rep. Ron Paul is also LCMS.] Rep. Michele Bachmann, who says she’s considering the race, worships at an evangelical Lutheran church; if elected, she’d be the first Lutheran president. But no matter who wins from this list, it won’t be an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian or a Methodist.
So what does this mean? It is the Lutheran question but, unlike the answers the Catechism has given me, this one has left me with no certain answer. A certain part of me wants to route for the Lutherans -- you know, home team and all -- but another part of me does not know what to make of the religious connection to the candidates. The Mormons are longtime adherents to their faith. I do not know about Pawlenty. Gingrich is a more recent Roman Catholic convert; Santorum was raised in that faith. Bachmann has not exactly embraced her Lutheran-ness and neither has Ron Paul made much of being the member of an LCMS parish.
I do recall Luther suggesting that better an honest pagan than a dishonest or evil Christian as a ruler. I will leave it to others to decide how and if his words fit these candidates. On the other side, no one is quite sure what to make of Obama's religious affiliation since he distanced himself from his former pastor and former church and has left his religious expression more to devotional tweets than actual church attendance. So if you are thinking the religious affiliation would help you in the ballot box, I am afraid you are out of luck. The waters are made no clearer by knowing the faith they claim than by not knowing.
In the end what will define them is their platform. Sadly, this will not say much about the man or woman and his or her faith. Bachmann and Paul were tied to Lutherans who rejected abortion but I am less sure that being anti-abortion is a political choice than a reflection of actual values. It would seem that Mormons should also join the Lutherans and Roman Catholics in being pro-life but, here again, you are not so sure what or why they hold the opinions they do.
I remember a time when Americans feared that electing a Roman Catholic would mean the man on a throne in the Vatican would call the shots in Washington. Since then, we have mostly heard Presidents and candidates tell us that they are people of deeply held religious faith and strong moral values that will not affect their decisions in any meaningful way... Should I remind you that I wrote a column about being a monarchist at heart.... oh, well...