We all remember the controversy over statements made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obamas former pastor. Now Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is under scrutiny for her own pastors views and actions. The role of religion in government has been a matter of debate since before the birth of our republic, but less attention has been paid to the role of religion in campaign politics. Should the religious views of a candidate or a candidates pastor be taken into consideration and, moreover, should those views disqualify a candidate from serving in public office?
If we are serious about adhering to our constitution, the answer to that question should be a resounding no. Article VI of the Constitution states that no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. The clear intent of the Constitution is to prevent the government from requiring an office holder to adhere to a particular religion, but the spirit behind this article has a deeper meaning for all of us. The constitution urges us to examine candidates based on whether or not they can serve our country well, not based on their religious views. We are here to elect a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief.
Of course there are areas in which religion and public policy intersect, and these areas deserve critical examination. Regardless of a candidates religion, Americans have a right to ask questions about their views on issues that are largely shaped by religious discourse. In this campaign we have seen something altogether different. We have seen a candidate criticized because his pastor believes that racism both in the past and present is sinful and because he has stated his beliefs in passionate and sometimes radical ways. We have seen another candidate criticized because her pastor believes in the existence of witchcraft. Whether we disagree with these views is beside the point. We should be asking ourselves why the views of candidates pastors on non-governmental issues should matter at all.
I believe that the views of these two pastors are beyond the pale. I would never sit in a pew and quietly listen to either of them spew their venomous rhetoric. It is truly a good thing that neither of them is running for president and that is precisely what we need to remember. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are running for president and vice president, respectively, on a range of issues, none of which have to do with black liberation theology or witchcraft. There is nothing to stop American voters from taking the views of candidates pastors under consideration, but a voter should ask himself this question before he does that: Do I agree with everything my pastor has ever said from the pulpit and would I want someone to judge me based on what he or she has said? The possibility that we might be judged on our pastors views would make many of us uncomfortable, and it is precisely that discomfort that should drive voters to reject religious tests in campaign politics.