Most people would assume that a president is motivated by his personal faith. This, of course, differs depending upon each individual’s level of devotion. However, the assumption that a person elected to the highest office in the land will definitively create policy based on his faith isn’t necessarily true, according to historians. CNN’s Belief Blog penned a special report on faith and the presidency, delving into these very issues.
In the piece, Darrin Grinder, chair of the english department at Northwest Nazarene University, a professor and the author of “The Presidents and Their Faith,” contends that a president’s faith may make no difference in his policy-making. If true, this, of course, contradicts the very reasoning many Americans cite when they cast a vote for specific candidates.
The U.S. has had a long tradition of considerations of religious adherence in the democratic process. Since George Washington, Americans have had an expectation that the individuals they elect have a fervent faith in the almighty. Religiosity has become a litmus test of sorts. Despite this fact, there may be a disconnect between actions and words, Gringer says.
“If I asked George W. Bush what he thought about torture, I think outside the presidency he would say he hates it,” he told CNN. “But he’d do it for the country if he thinks it’s right in terms of American security.”
Grinder goes on to claim that a president who doesn’t showcase a love for God may have a difficult time getting elected. He also contends that it will be a very long time before an atheist or agnostic can be elected in America. This, of course, is something that non-believers continue to lament.
The piece goes on to address those who may not embrace the notion that faith is important to Americans when they consider presidential contenders, using President Barack Obama as an example. Here’s a portion of that section:
Anyone who doubts that a president’s faith remains important to the American people has only to look at the experiences of Obama.
Obama has declared his Christianity in his biography, and in many speeches. He evoked it recently when he came out in support of same-sex marriages. But arguably no president has had his faith so aggressively questioned. Many Americans still believe he is a Muslim.
Stephen Mansfield, author of “The Faith of Barack Obama,” is a political conservative who has written about the evangelical faith of President George W. Bush. He became curious about Obama and spent time talking to Obama’s spiritual cabinet, a collection of ministers who counsel Obama.
Mansfield says he has no doubt that Obama is a devout Christian. His belief has angered some fellow conservatives so much that he says he has had speeches canceled and received angry e-mails.
Not everyone would agree with all of the contentions held within the piece. While CNN goes on to claim that Washington “was not a Christian but most likely a Deist,” other sources would refute this. In fact, here’s what WallBuilders has to say about the notion that the nation’s first president wasn’t a believer:
Interestingly, Washington’s own contemporaries did not question his Christianity but were thoroughly convinced of his devout faith–a fact made evident in the first-ever compilation of the The Writings of George Washington, published in the 1830s.
That compilation of Washington’s writings was prepared and published by Jared Sparks (1789-1866), a noted writer and historian. Sparks’ herculean historical productions included not only the writings of George Washington (12 volumes) but also Benjamin Franklin (10 volumes) and Constitution signer Gouverneur Morris (3 volumes).
Sparks went on to write, “To say that he [George Washington] was not a Christian would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty.” This is only one of the many pieces of evidence that WillBuilders claims upholds the ideal that Washington believed wholeheartedly in Jesus Christ.
Regardless of where you stand on it, the CNN article does cause one to wonder just how connect one’s faith is to his policy-making in the White House (read the rest of it here).
Let us know what you think. Does a presidential candidate’s faith impact your vote? Take the poll: