Candidates' faith at center of media scrutiny

After Texas Gov. Rick Perry's Reliant revival — an all-day prayer meeting (with no-dinner-on-the-ground) — last weekend, God is sure to be a major part of next year's presidential election whether he wants to be or not.

Even without Perry getting into the race, which he's expected to do within days, several Republican contenders have been making God and Christian values an issue.

Perry, however, took it a giant step further when he called preachers and lay people together for "The Response," a prayer and fasting rally at a Houston football stadium on a day the governor said "people are going to discuss for years to come."

No doubt they will.

Some of those ministers associated with the prayer meeting are known to have fairly extreme views when it comes to certain groups in this country like gays, Catholics and Muslims. Perry tried to distance himself a bit by suggesting that he did not agree with all the views of the participants. He insists that the nation's problems were so big we need God's help in solving them.


That's fine, but the governor should know that in a presidential race, candidates often are judged by the people with whom they associate, including the preachers they've listened to over the years. Just ask President Barack Obama.

During the campaign of 2008 the president's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, was subjected to a barrage of denigrating criticism based mostly on a few out-of-context passages taken from a couple of sermons. Obama was constantly hammered for having been a member of Wright's church for 20 years and refusing to denounce the man he had regarded as a spiritual mentor.

The term "liberation theology" became a dirty phrase once the radio talk show hosts got through defining and maligning it.

Obama eventually would have to distance himself, denounce some of his pastor's statements and ultimately quit Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

I'm wondering if the conservative media and all those who criticized Obama for his choice of church and pastor will treat Republican candidates' clergy and associates with the same scrutiny.

Not that I particularly care what church or religious institutions a candidate belongs to, I think we should insist that the media examine statements and sermons of the preachers these contenders have embraced.

Let's go back 20 years and see what their thoughts are about the "social gospel," the role of women, ethnic and religious minorities and the U.S. government, just to get started.

Leading candidate Michele Bachmann, who's expected to do well in the Iowa straw poll on Saturday, has proudly proclaimed her religious conservatism. She apparently wasn't so proud of her church, however, when she prepared to announce that she was running for president.


Bachmann and her husband left the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., where they had been members for more than 10 years. In addition to teaching that the Roman Papacy is the Antichrist, what else did her preacher and church instill in Bachmann over the years?

I would love to know what Newt Gingrich has learned in church, as well as former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

With his current ratings, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty could use some divine help, as could former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Still, I'd love to know what religious instruction they draw on as they seek the presidency.

There are two candidates whose religion already is under attack, not by Democrats but other conservative Republicans. Frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are Mormon, which some conservatives don't see as Christian. Huntsman detractors, though, probably are more upset with him for having served in the Obama administration as ambassador to China than they are about his religion.

Then there's Herman Cain, former CEO of a pizza chain, who many conservatives "adore" perhaps because he's a black man who obviously has never been smitten by liberation theology.

It seems, no matter what we wish, religion will be a major part of this presidential contest.

To that I simply say: Hallelujah, praise God, and pass the campaign collection plate.

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