Playing the Religion Card

  The word religion is eight letters long, but for some in the media these days you'd think it was the latest four-letter word. Consider: A few weeks ago, George W. Bush said that the thinker who most influenced his life was Jesus. From the reactions of pundits and talking- heads, you'd have thought the governor had said Adolf Hitler. Add to that the sniping at candidates Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes—both accused of fronting for the Religious Right. And then there's the latest broohaha over Rudolph Giuliani's fundraising letter. The Mayor dared to say that Hillary Clinton opposes government funding for faith-based ministries. And he reminded voters that she had criticized his efforts to shut down that outrageous exhibit—so offensive to Christians—at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Once again, the press attacked Giuliani for "injecting religion into this race." And Mrs. Clinton herself expressed "outrage." Well, this is just one more sign of the growing animus against religion in America. Government funding of the arts and religious groups is a legitimate public-policy concern, and a natural topic for political campaigns. Besides, if you open a history book, you'll find that politicians have always carried on debates over religion. We see this clearly in the British system of government, the roots of our own. In 1906, Hilaire Belloc ran for election to the British Parliament. A Catholic in a Protestant country, Belloc knew his religion would be a campaign issue. In his first speech, he said straight out: "I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. As far as possible I [pray] every day." Then he told the audience: "If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative." Well, Belloc won. We saw the same bold approach in 1960 when candidate John Kennedy's Catholicism was a raging issue. Kennedy answered the question put to him in his famous speech before the Houston Ministerial Association, saying, "I will make my decision[s] in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest. No threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise." And religion was a big part of the 1864 campaign, too. As Julia Vitullo-Martin notes in the Wall Street Journal, it "was probably the most religiously driven national election in American history." In the midst of multiple Union defeats, Lincoln announced, "It is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence and [to] do it." Anti-slavery clergy campaigned vigorously for Lincoln, whom they believed was on God's side. Yet today, the press feigns shock to find religion in political campaigns. In reality, this public gnashing of teeth is merely the latest weapon-of- choice for those who think they can denigrate their opponents by accusing them of addressing the most important question of all: how a candidate's faith will affect his decisions. We need to teach our neighbors that religion has rightfully been a part of politics for centuries. It's essential that we understand each candidate's views, and how he intends to act on them in office. Those who challenge the legitimate expression of religious views are the one who are exploiting the religion issue. So ignore them, and listen to what each candidate says about his core values—and then cast your votes accordingly.


Chuck Colson


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