James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

  • Archives

  • June 2021
    S M T W T F S
     12345
    6789101112
    13141516171819
    20212223242526
    27282930  
  • Categories

  • Subscribe

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Favoring a Christian president–or not

Posted by James McPherson on August 19, 2008

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as “the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterday with my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Added note: Somewhat related to this post (and perhaps slightly more related to yesterday’s), this al-Jazeera column offers an interesting discussion of religion in America and of evil as defined by U.S. presidential candidates. For example:

If religious interviews were done with such fanfare and influence in a Muslim country, democratic or otherwise, western and especially US media would have made mockery of such an imposition of religious fundamentalism on political process. 

For most outsiders, the US is in denial over its own “evil doing” around the world. Obama and McCain could see evil in Darfur but would not admit that the invasion and occupation of Iraq on false premises or for oil is no less an evil act.

THURSDAY UPDATE: Columnist Kathleen Parker, who takes a generally conservative position on most issues, also criticizes the Saddleback forum.

Posted in Politics, Religion, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Six more religious questions for McCain and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on August 18, 2008

In my view, John McCain and Barack Obama both did OK in their Saturday night back-to-back discussions with Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church. McCain did better than I expected and probably came out a bit ahead.

McCain did so well, in fact, that some critics thought he must have had the questions ahead of time. Despite Warren’s assurrences (and apparent belief), McCain and/or his key staffers may in fact have heard most of Obama’s interview, since McCain was in a car with staffers rather than locked away in a soundproof room during that time.

Still, though I have decreasing regard for McCain’s honesty, I doubt that he needed to cheat. His answers were shorter and more direct, and he came across as more focused, largely because he used most of the questions–as good candidates do during what has come to pass for political “debates“–as opportunities to regurgitate his stump speech. He said almost nothing that regular watchers of politics hadn’t heard repeatedly, but his answers did play to much of the Saddleback audience.

Obama’s longer, more conversational and less focused answers weren’t helped by Warren’s repeated interjections of “uh huh,” but the pastor was clearly nervous at the beginning and got better as the evening went on. Obama gave the worst answer of the night (about when life begins), with McCain’s answer about what qualifies a person as financially rich the second-worst. Neither candidate made a huge gaffe, though it remains to be seen which segments will be most heavily viewed as out-of-context YouTube videos. McCain also benefited from getting to go last (ask Shawn Johnson and Sandra Izbasa if that matters).

In truth, however, I doubt that the discussion will have much of an effect on anything. Given a choice of a religious/political discussion on a Saturday night in August, most of the relatively few people who were home watching television were tuned to the Olympics. McCain was going to get the conservative evangelical vote, anyway, though he may have boosted his credibility with the folks he once termed “agents of intolerance.” Obama may have countered the ongoing fiction that he is a Muslim, though the people stupid enough to believe that may not be able to figure out how to vote, anyway–and if they do, they weren’t going to vote for Obama.

I am a bit troubled that the candidates felt they needed to attend a church-sponsored discussion at all, a further complication of what I see as an often negative relationship between religion and presidential politics. It would bother me less if the candidates felt equally compelled to answer questions from a union leader, a state governor, the mayor of a major American city (New Orleans or New York, perhaps?), a panel of teachers and parents, and a panel of economists.

And though I think Warren did a decent job, he failed to ask a few questions that I would have in a forum such as this one. Though I likely will never see them answered by the candidates, I’ll post a half-dozen of those questions here:

  1. Catholics who practice birth control or have abortions sometimes are criticized for hypocrisy because they act in opposition to what the pope has professed. Since the leadership of every major religious denomination in the United States opposed the Iraq War, does that suggest hypocrisy among those churchgoers who favored the war–including President Bush and those in Congress?
  2. What is or should be the role of a church denomination’s leadership, for you and for Christians in general?
  3. Catholics make up roughly a quarter of the U.S. population,  and Jews only about 2 percent. Since five of nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic and two are Jewish, isn’t the court seriously out of balance?
  4. How do your views of the death penalty correspond with your Christian faith?
  5. As president, you are expected to represent the entire nation. Name one Muslim and one atheist whom you count among your friends and advisors.
  6. Discuss your views of evolution and “intelligent design,” and how you feel they should be taught in public schools.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Signs, despite our bickering, of our optimistic nature

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2008

Old people plant trees.

Teachers and parents keep trying to inspire children.

People who follow politics vote anyway.

Protestors keep showing up.

Journalists find good news among the evil.

Some still work to report the evil.

Almost everyone has faith in something or someone.

People from all walks of life read poetry.

Some write it.

Some get past themselves enough to write it well.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »