Who Would Jesus Vote For: Do You Care About Your President's Religion?

"God?" – Madonna, Like a Prayer
Publish date:
February 7, 2012
religion, electoral politics, politics, spirituality, mitt romney, madonna

Seeing Madge working it out there on that football field in Indianapolis reminded me of how much of the Material Girl's work has actually been profoundly spiritual.

From the family and faith considerations of the "Like a Prayer" album to the religious references on the "Ray of Light" album to, y'know, all the Kabbalah and yoga stuff, Madonna hasn't exactly shied away from making her personal spirituality part of her public persona. And, naturally, that made me think of Mitt Romney.

Romney is a Mormon, and just like my beloved Madonna, he's open about his strong belief in God. He practices tithing, donating a percentage of his income (no one seems to agree on exactly how much, despite his release of his income tax returns) to nonprofit organizations.

Many of these organizations are in some way connected to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church's official name (you know, kinda like "Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone" is Esther's real name.)

It's common practice for the news media to speculate on the extent to which a candidate's religion affects his or her leadership practices, particularly when the candidate -- like Mitt Romney, John F. Kennedy (Catholic), or Harry S Truman (Baptist) -- might very well become the first of his particular faith to rule the most powerful nation on earth.

Thomas Jefferson caught some shit for having no particular religious affiliation (the so-called Jefferson Bible is worth checking out if you're interested in this sort of thing.) Dwight D. Eisenhower was raised by Mennonites who converted to the WatchTower Society, later known as Jehovah's Witnesses.

While he seems to have dispensed with the latter faith early in life and eventually converted to Presbyterianism, he did use a WatchTower Bible for his second swearing-in. Was it simply a salute to his mother, with whom he was famously close, or did it carry another meaning? Who knows? And does it even matter?

And just as some naysayers whispered that JFK would let mighty Papist pressures direct his presidency, some folks today worry that Mitt's fealty to the powerful LDS Church would extend even to his decisions as president.

Of course, he's not the only religious fellow vying for the top seat in the land. Back on the old Roman tip, Newt Gingrich is a converted Catholic (third wife's the charm!) who was raised Lutheran and later became a Southern Baptist before settling on Roman Catholicism.

Rick Santorum is a passionate Catholic so consistent in his adherence to dogma that he believes women who are raped and impregnated ought to be legally obligated to bear their rapists' children.

The incumbent, President Barack Obama, was raised by non-practicing Protestant grandparents as well as a mother and stepfather who did not participate in organized religion. His father, raised a Muslim, became an atheist in his adult life. The President was later baptized in the United Church of Christ, but quit his particular Chicago congregation amid an uproar over his pastor's political remarks.

As a recovering Catholic and a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, I've got my own opinion on this one (surprise!) but as usual, I think it's more interesting to first hear what xoJane readers and other passionate women and girls have to say. I'll give my own take after the quotes.

Elizabeth, 29, Manhattan

"I want a President with an honest, authentic faith. I don't care what the religion is, but I want to know he is connected to something bigger than himself/herself. But no fanatics or 'this is the only way' believers."

Vanasa, 40, Utah

"I grew up Mormon, was baptized and dropped out when 19…Now that I am 40, settled in a 90% Mormon neighborhood (Lehi, Utah) with husband and kids, I have started attending Mormon Church again. I still don't have a 'testimony' of Jesus, the church, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, 'God' or anything else like that. I merely go for the social and community aspect the local congregation provides. I have heard for years how Obama is just a stupid dirty Muslim from Mormons around here. Now that they have a Mormon candidate, they are quick to say that religion shouldn't matter, which really pisses me off… Personally, I don't care what religion anyone is. I have a lot of Mormon friends that I still like even if I think their beliefs are misguided. Your religion doesn't determine (maybe influences but doesn't determine) your character."

Rachel, 23, Cincinnati

"I couldn't care less about my president's religion. Unless you count preferring they not have one. God hasn't kept us out of depressions, recessions or wars, so why are we still so hung up on who our leader prays to?"

Malkah, 38, Denver

"I only care about it if it affects policy decisions. I do not want someone's religion affecting policy, no matter what it is."

Carolyn, 25, Chicago

"I honestly couldn't care less about the religion of a presidential candidate. I'd however be more inclined to gravitate towards someone who doesn't believe in fairy tales."

Marisa, 28, Upstate New York

"I care about a presidential candidate's religion not at all. What I care very much about is whether that candidate has a religious agenda, or even a hint of trying to push one. Separation of church and state is incredibly important to me (and since I don't believe we do it all that well now, I certainly wouldn't want less of it). So my candidate can be a Catholic, a Jew, a Mormon, a Scientologist, or the ever-predictable Protestant. But his or her religion best not have bearing on his or her feelings about legal policy and government."

Sarah, 19, Boston

"A political leader's religious beliefs can play a large role in their political beliefs and how they handle things in office, so if I feel like their religious beliefs are causing them to make good decisions, then I will vote for them. But if not (for example, a Catholic leader who wants to make abortion illegal) then they will not receive my support."

Hannah, 15, Calgary

"They can believe whatever they want, as long as they don't shove it down their country's throats. That's not going to go anywhere great."

Rose, 58, Pennsylvania

"I would only care about a presidential candidate’s religion if they are a radical Muslim, or a member of any other religion that disrespects or suppresses women."

I chose to conclude with Rose's opinion because, to my surprise, it has something in common with my own. While Rose chooses only to cite "radical" Islam by name as a strain of religion that seeks to oppress women, I'd add to the list "radical" Judaism -- I can't envision myself taking a Lubavitcher candidate seriously, for example -- as well as "radical" Christianity -- and to me, that includes mainline Catholicism, which actively oppresses women, homosexuals, transgender persons and even children.

And while Mormons are Christians, I'll call them "radical" in their own right. I'm not talking about the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints, who are obviously an insane cult. I'm talking about all the regular friendly mainline Mormons who directly or indirectly pushed for Proposition 8 as if their eternal salvation depended on it.

So yeah, I care about my political candidates' religious beliefs. I care a lot. Honestly, I'd love an atheist president who identifies as a secular humanist. But the belief that this nation would ever elect a secular humanist as president is about as realistic as the belief that a handsome sandal-wearing zombie died twice so that I'd learn not to curse or masturbate.

Anyway, what do you think? Go at it in the comments! In a friendly, diplomatic, Christlike way, of course.