As the battle for the Republican and Democratic nominations for president begins to heat up, most candidates, especially GOP ones, are discussing their faith.
Four likely contenders for the Republican nomination are Catholic—Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum, and Bobby Jindal. Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, recently argued in a New York Times op-ed that his “faith-driven” perspective led him to oppose gay marriage and to support legislation to “prohibit the state from denying a person, company, or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment, or contract . . . based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.” Several other GOP hopefuls are evangelicals—Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson. Hillary Clinton, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, has declared that the Methodist commitment to social justice directs her approach to politics.
Should prospective voters care about candidates’ religious convictions? Do the religious commitments of politicians significantly impact their worldviews, political philosophies, policies, and actions? Substantial evidence indicates that faith does matter. As Jindal’s example indicates, the faith of many of these candidates has affected their work as governors or senators.
Moreover, the historical record strongly suggests that, if one of these candidates is elected president, his or her faith will continue to powerfully influence his or her work. Many chief executives, from George Washington to Barack Obama, have exhibited a deep and meaningful faith that has helped shape their character, thought, and actions. Presidents’ worldviews determines what they highly value and their perspectives on human nature, morality, and social causality.
Presidents’ religious commitments have often affected their policies and decisions. Examples abound. Washington’s faith led him to provide religious liberty for Catholics and Jews in the nascent nation. Inspired by their understanding of theology and history, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison worked to separate church and state. His perspective of the cultural mandate prompted the deeply devout John Quincy Adams to propose funding roads, canals, and educational institutions to expand and enrich the United States. William McKinley, a pious Methodist, explained that his decisions to declare war against Spain in 1898 to end the oppression of Cubans and to urge the Senate to take control of the Philippines the next year were bathed in prayer and inspired by Christian humanitarianism. Woodrow Wilson’s staunch Presbyterian convictions guided his work in devising the Treaty of Versailles. Quaker convictions helped motivate Herbert Hoover to reform prisons and protect civil liberties.
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