How many Americans can name the religious affiliations of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George Bush (take your pick of Georges)? How about President Barack Obama?
We would bet not many can name the affiliations of even three of those nine most recent presidents.
That is interesting given this observation by former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in the Aug. 15 edition of the Atlantic: "America is a religious nation. Polls may differ, but most find that over 80 percent of Americans say they believe in God. Fifty percent also say they go to church on Sunday, while only half of those actually do. I guess this shows that we want to look better than we actually are, at least to the public -- if not to God, who presumably knows what we're really up to."
Even as a "religious nation," Wikipedia reports American voters have elected 10 presidents with little or no affiliation to a religion (oddly, none of those came in the lifetime of anyone alive today).
We suggest the bottom line is that most Americans don't care about religious affiliation when it comes to selecting the president. The label Christian is good enough to satisfy most of us. Others don't even need that.
When going to the polls we believe Americans care that a president is moral, honest, smart, capable, a patriot and effective at leadership and able to work with Congress to get things done. And, of course, we prefer that a president is photogenic. It doesn't matter if they go to the same church we do (the 25 percent of us that go to church).
So even though most of us would fail the religious affiliation test of the nine most recent presidents, why is it most everyone knows the religious affiliation of two current hopefuls for the Republican nomination -- former governors Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman of Utah? It is very simply because they are Mormons and there is an element in the media that just won't stop talking about it.
Anyone following the presidential campaign so far has heard repeatedly from the television political pundits that Romney and Huntsman will lose votes because each is Mormon. Some in the media quote anti-Mormons that claim the Mormon Church will try to run the country if one of them is elected. Really?
Similar comments were made about John Kennedy in 1960 when he was campaigning to be the first Catholic elected President of the United States. Back then it was political hacks and hate mongers saying that the Pope was going to be running the United States. Doesn't that seem pretty silly now?
Nonetheless, in his first go-around at his presidential aspiration, Romney was forced in 2007 to make a ridiculous statement: "No authorities of my church, or any other church, for that matter will ever exert influence on presidential decisions."
We could understand the need for that if Romney had a track record in the past of being a puppet of the church. But the record shows that he has been no more a puppet of his church than Bill Clinton was of his church (Baptist, by the way, even though he attended a Methodist Church while in the White House because his wife, Hillary, grew up a Methodist).
For those who care about this stuff, go to Mormon.org. When you read the messages about the essence of the religion you undoubtedly will decide Romney and Huntsman are Christians. Just Mormon.
Try this on from the site:
"Mormons, for all the other things that set us apart, believe first and foremost that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. We believe that through Him, all mankind may enjoy eternal life with their families in Heavenly Father's kingdom (John 3:16). We also believe that we lived with God as spirits before we were born (Romans 8:16), and that according to His plan of happiness we can come to earth to receive physical bodies in order to learn and grow. Through the work done in Mormon Temples, we believe our family relationships can be sealed eternally. All this is contingent on our living righteous lives according to God's divine guidance, as revealed by prophets, and repenting when we make mistakes. The Church's mission is to help us meet the challenges of this life so that we will be worthy of the temporal and spiritual blessings God wants for us."
Righteous life, check.
That kind of talk might be uncomfortable to an atheist or agnostic. But to a Christian it should be familiar.
We're not picking religions here. We're just trying to set the record straight that there may be some people with political motives trying to label these candidates and the Mormon Church as something that we should fear. We suggest you don't fall for the song and dance of those with political motives or those with hate in their hearts for anyone that doesn't believe as they do.
Here is a particularly lucid thought from Townsend in her article in the Atlantic (which actually was focused on Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his religious zeal):
"An alternative to assuming our views are aligned with God's is to humbly acknowledge that God works in mysterious ways, and that our human nature may blind us to His will. In that case, our belief in God could lead us to question the infallibility of our own interpretations rather than making us proud. Pride, at least in the Catholic catechism, is one of the seven deadly sins."
By the way, the answers regarding the religious affiliations of the other eight presidents named above are: Johnson (Disciples of Christ), Nixon (Quaker), Ford (Episcopalian), Carter (Baptist), Reagan (Presbyterian), Bush (dad is Episcopalian and son is Methodist) and Obama (unaffiliated Christian).