Newsweek recently had a big story about how Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards are openly talking about their religious faith. This is new territory for Democrats, according to the story, but a longstanding practice for Republicans.
So what? Does it matter that Mitt Romney is a Mormon or that Barack Obama is a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago?
My answer is that it doesn’t matter, and here’s why. Martin Luther, more than 400 years ago, said that he would rather be governed by a competent Muslim than by an incompetent Christian. His statement was especially provocative, because at the time Muslim armies were at the gates of Vienna.
Luther’s point was that knowing what creed a person subscribes to does not tell you everything about the person. For example, of the 21 Lutherans in the U.S. Congress-three in the Senate and 18 in the House-guess how many are Republicans and how many are Democrats. There are nine Lutheran Republicans and 12 Democrats. Apparently a politician’s denomination is not a very good indicator of how they will vote on immigration or the war in Iraq.
Not only does religious affiliation not predict how politicians will vote, neither does it give us a clue as to people’s moral fiber. Some of the holiest, most sacrificing individuals I have ever known have been Roman Catholics. Then there are the pedophiles. Richard Nixon, after all, said he was a Quaker.
What mattered, according to Luther, a 16th century reformer, was how a person behaved. Where the behavior comes from is irrelevant. I’m not sure what the religious affiliation of the five members of our new council is, and it doesn’t really matter to me.
Here’s what’s interesting. Some of the good Jewish folks I know could not be members of my congregation, because they in good conscience could not confess faith in the Triune God. That they wouldn’t want to is a separate issue. However, when working on justice issues like homelessness or peace making, I feel more in common with them than with some of my fellow Lutherans. I can kneel next to some Lutherans while receiving communion and be on the same wave length and then 20 minutes later be arguing like cats and dogs about No Child Left Behind as we sit around a table at coffee hour.
Let’s make a covenant. Let’s not even bring up what religion politicians belong to, not regarding our village council, nor in this long drawn out presidential campaign. Let’s talk only about the issues, about what they are proposing and how they have voted in the past.
To do otherwise would be to repeat the whole “can John Kennedy be independent of the Vatican” debate. It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now.