I don’t know John McCain personally but I have admired him from afar. I appreciate his service to our country and the price he paid for that service by spending some of the best years of his life in the Hanoi Hilton. I appreciate his sometimes renegade stances that put him at odds with the leaders of his party because I get really, really tired of just about everybody else on both sides of the aisle always toeing the party line. I appreciate his willingness during the 2000 presidential primary season to attempt to speak some truth to the power that some fundamentalist Christian leaders had become. I even appreciate his stance on the Iraq War; I don’t agree with it but I do get the sense that he has the courage of his convictions and is standing by those convictions regardless of which way the political winds are blowing. One gets the feeling that the man has a spine.
Given my respect for Sen. McCain you might think that I would be glad to know that he is one of us. That’s right—he has just let it be known that he is a Baptist.
(While McCain may have never come right out and claimed to be a Baptist before, his attendance at North Phoenix Baptist Church is not "new" news. Time had a story about that way back in 2000.)
The truth is, though, that I don’t care. It makes no difference to me whether he is Baptist as he now says he is or Episcopalian as we had always thought he was or Mormon like one of his opponents—or Methodist or Catholic or Hindu or Muslim or Rastafarian. Well, ok, if he were Rastafarian that might give me pause.
Now, don’t misunderstand; on one level I do care very much. For Sen. McCain’s sake and out of my interest that everyone know the salvation that I know in Jesus Christ, I care very much whether or not he is a Christian. That is something that I would gladly discuss with him or with anyone else.
When I say that I don’t care that Sen. McCain now says he is a Baptist, I mean that it will make no difference in my decision of whether or not I would vote for him. What I want to know about a presidential candidate is what kind of president I can conclude he or she would be based on his or her past record and on his or her current policy statements. Life stance and character do matter, of course, because you can’t separate a person’s life from that person’s leadership. Still, if I am confronted with a choice between a Baptist candidate whom I believe would be a less effective president and an Episcopalian or a Hindu or a Catholic whom I believe would be a better president, the Baptist tag is not going to be the decisive factor. My evaluation of the candidate’s overall qualifications is.
We are experiencing an interesting fascination with the candidates’ religion during this presidential election cycle. Just how much does Fred Thompson go to church? To what denomination does John McCain really belong? Is Baptist Bill Clinton trying to use an upcoming large Baptist meeting to help the chances of his Methodist presidential candidate wife? Will America put a Mormon in the White House? Does the church that Barack Obama attends over-emphasize the “Black Value System”? Why can’t Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, get more traction with Baptist and other evangelical voters? And so on.
Is such fascination a good thing? Perhaps. It is good that Americans still care enough about religion to at least talk about it. It is good that Americans care about the moral foundations of the candidates’ lives. It is good that, if a candidate is trying to use a religious affiliation to score political points, he or she is called on it, particularly if the affiliation is being misrepresented.
Maybe I’m naïve, but John McCain just doesn’t seem the type to say “I’m Baptist” just to get some more Baptist votes in South Carolina.
Again, maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think there are too many voters out there who would say, “Well, thank God he’s Baptist—now I can vote for him!”
At least I hope not.