Erasing Religion from Politics

Candidate's spiritual beliefs get in the way of real discussions about LGBT rights

Photo by Think Stock

After the six Republican candidates for president wrapped up a debate in Iowa this weekend in which they touted their strict Christian beliefs, it was enough to make one’s head spin. When in this country’s history has religion ever played such an enormous role in presidential politics?

Never mind how close it comes to tripping over the separation of church and state ideology that was purposely designed for freedom of all religions, but it limits the pool of prospective (smart) candidates who may not embrace such strict spiritual beliefs – and it undermines important issues that should be decided based on equal liberties and the good of the country, and not whether the Bible says so.

For the LGBT community, the increasing importance placed on talk of Christian values only ever hurts the fight for rights, especially when candidates like Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann use their religious values to publicly crusade against things like marriage equality. Santorum has made his anti-gay views one of his biggest campaign issues, which is not proving to be such a great idea considering that most Americans are concerned about jobs, finances and security – and more than half of Americans are actually in favor of LGBT rights. That could explain one reason he’s been consistently low in the polls.

Bachman, while tied to extreme Evangelical beliefs, has tempered her talk about gay issues and reparative therapy after it was exposed that her husband ran a clinic to try and turn gay people straight. She’s distanced herself from that and refuses to answer questions about it in the mainstream press, while she panders to the religious right with her homophobia all the time.

And Romney, a Mormon, faces his own uphill battle among fellow religious conservatives in his own party who have accused him of not being – of all things – Christian.

The problem here isn’t whether Romney is or isn’t a Christian, but that his (or any candidate’s) religious beliefs should matter. By placing such an emphasis on religion at the ballot box, we are eliminating the chance for, say, Jewish or even atheist candidates from joining the conversation. In a country where the separation of church and state allows for freedom of all religions, this pandering to religious extremists is dangerous. And it seems to be in opposition of the very core of both the Republican and Democratic parties that for decades have valued intellectual solutions to political problems – and not prayerful ones.

For as much opposition as there is to something like sharia law in Islamic countries (several of the GOP candidates signed a contract to outlaw it if elected), the the powerful Evangelical movement would like to see the same system in the U.S. – only in terms of Christian beliefs guiding national law. It’s echoed whenever anyone bemoans how the U.S. is becoming less of a Christian country. But since when were we ever an exclusively Christian country?

In the recent debate, Cain was perhaps the most surprising “Christian” as he welled up when he spoke about overcoming cancer and why God “leads” him – this as allegations of sexual harassment are mounting. Interestingly, we haven’t heard much from Cain about religion up until now. Is he merely using it to gain more votes from Evangelicals? Does he feel as if he must endorse religion in order to even be considered a viable candidate? Either way, it’s unfortunate that select voters could overlook his lack of experience, his admitted ignorance about foreign affairs, and shady past simply because he says God told him to run for president.

In fact, this year two Republican candidates have said that they decided to run for the most powerful seat in the country… because of a conversation with God. And that’s disturbing. No matter what one’s political affiliation, it would be much more comforting to know that the important decision isn’t being made because of a supposed religious calling, but rather, because of a platform, a decision to lead, and support from real constituents who believe in a proven record.

If we expect to be a world leader capable of mending problems, we need to take religion out of the political discussion.

Giving only Christians the opportunity to take part in the political system undermines everything the founding fathers sought to avoid when they promised freedom of all religion. We will be smarter, more effective and successful if we start basing our political platforms on facts and not Bible verses.