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October 19, 2011

GOP Presidential Contenders Face Religious Test Questions at Debate


The question of faith and its influence for determining a presidential candidate came up Tuesday night in a GOP debate that was marked by heated verbal battles.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who are both Roman Catholic, argued that faith says a lot about a candidate.

“It's a legitimate thing to look at as to what the tenets and teachings of that faith are with respect to how you live your life and how you would govern this country,” Santorum said. “With respect to what is the road to salvation, that's a whole different story. That's not applicable to what the role is of being the president or a senator or any other job.”

Gingrich offered a similar view. “None of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God,” Gingrich said. “But I think all of us would also agree that there's a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life. And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I'd wonder, where's your judgment -- how can you have judgment if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don't pray?”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry simply said his faith is ingrained. "I can no more remove my faith than I can that I'm the son of a tenant farmer," he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, faced public resistance to his religion during his 2008 run for the nomination. The issue has only recently haunted his candidacy this cycle, highlighted again with comments made by a Southern Baptist pastor--and Perry supporter--Robert Jeffress’ that ignited a controversy at a summit hosted by the Family Research Council.

Romney argued for tolerance of religion.

“I don't suggest you distance yourself from your faith any more than I would,” Romney told Perry. “[But] the founders of this country went to great length to make sure -- and even put it in the Constitution -- that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there's a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths.”

Romney took advantage of the topic to criticize “the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to,” which he called “very dangerous and an enormous departure from the principles of our Constitution.”

Romney added, “With regards to the disparaging comments about my faith, I've heard worse, so I'm not going to lose sleep over that.”

Jeffress, introducing Perry at the Values Voter Summit Oct. 7, called Mormonism a “cult,” clarifying after the comment became a controversy that he meant a “theological cult.”

In an op-ed for the Washington Post published Tuesday, Jeffress said critics were attempting to eliminate a discussion about religion from political discourse, arguing that “our religious beliefs define the very essence of who we are.”

Perry, asked during the debate to respond to Romney’s previous call to repudiate comments made by Jeffress about Romney’s Mormonism, said he “didn’t agree” with Jeffress’s statement but indicated he would not condemn him for making it. “I don't agree with [the comments]. I can't apologize any more than that,” he said.

The candidates' exchange over religion was only slightly less unruly than the night's previous heated interaction over the topics of healthcare and immigration, both of which resulted in candidates talking over one another and ignoring the moderator, CNN's Anderson Cooper, when he attempted to intervene.

During one such exchange, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney put his hand on Texas Gov. Rick Perry's shoulder as though to restrain him from continuing to speak.

“You have a problem with allowing somebody else to finish speaking. And I would suggest that if you want to become president of the United States you've got to let both people speak," Romney told Perry.

Despite high expectations of his ability to appeal to both conservatives and evangelicals, Perry's campaign has appeared to struggle in recent polls following a quick succession of debates right after his August entrance into the race. In the last three weeks, former Godfathers CEO Herman Cain surged to join Romney as one of the frontrunners in national polls.

Comments

I'd like to see someone at these debates actually ask the candidates how their belief in the Bible conforms to their unveiled hatred of immigrants, gays and the poor. There is nothing Christian about a single one of the debaters who profess Christ, yet everyone seems too cowardly to call them on their hypocrisy. If a man of faith doesn't live his faith out in public, he's not a man of faith and should quit using religion as a campaign button.

TSJ, you proclaim the typical liberal line. All conservatives hate immigrants, gays and the poor, according to liberals and Democrats. And when you say that "There is nothing Christian" about the debaters, you set yourself up as a judge, and yet "judgmentalism" is one of the epithets you liberals (pseudo-liberals, really) most often hurl at conservatives. There's hypocrisy in the house, all right, but it isn't necessarily coming from the debaters. * That being said, I do agree that candidates should quit using religion as a campaign button, but for vastly different reasons from yours. Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world, and it won't be brought about through political means.

The religious test that TSJ is so anxious to apply to Republican candidates shows his misunderstanding of the Word of God. He confuses the Kingdom of God (comprised of believers only) with the nations of this world (comprised of both believers and unbelievers). He also confuses law with gospel. With respect to life in this world, Scripture enjoins conservatism: obey those in authority; if a slave, do not seek to become free; give to Ceasar the things that are Caesar', to God what is God's.

As I ask myself, why have none of the presidential candidates that profess to be evangelical Christians stood up and stated that Mormonism is not the gospel, I also ponder why did Jesus have to come down to earth and die for our sins. If all he wanted his people to be moral and to keep the laws in the Bible, he would not have had to look further than the Sadducees and the Pharisees of the day. They were more passionate about the letter of the Word of God than the vast majority of Christians today. If all he wanted was for his people to be religious fiscal conservatives, he would not have had to look further than the same 2 groups of people. After all they promoted buying and selling at the temple. Jesus said "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27. I wonder what he thinks of evangelical Christians today.

Will the "loosed faith" democrats be willing to stand this test. For they too represent(supposed to) millions of Christians.

As a Mormon convert, I am very perplexed by the hairsplitting I hear from some Christians about being good moral people vs being "born again". I've heard many say that most Mormons they know are good people but because their beliefs are wrong, they are going to hell. That is very much against what the scriptures say. Jesus was arguing against people who made a public show of piety while secretly doing things contrary to God's laws. On several occasions, he commended the Samaritans, a despised minority with quasi pagan origins and "incorrect" beliefs, for doing the right thing when the occasion demanded it. He not only wanted people to have good morals but to lift other people who made mistakes, suffered misfortune, or who had offended them. I happen to think that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church) does a really good job of articulating and implementing what Jesus Christ actually taught. I don't say that to boast but I do appreciate the fact that most critics of the Church recognize that Mormons tend to be good people. I just wonder by what criteria they then decide what to label as good or evil if they feel they must discount the evidence of how people actually behave toward one another.

Ben-

Good and moral is something that anyone is capable of choosing to be - regardless of their religious bent. "Born again" is a phrase Jesus used to describe the person who has trusted into Him for salvation and who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to do good works. The difference is the source of the actions. I can choose to do good works in my own efforts and God views those efforts as filthy rags. He views it this way because the effort is coming from a person who is simply trying to be good. God says there is no one who is good in their being because everyone has sinned. We have to believe into Christ for our righteousness and our good works must come from a person who trusts into Him for salvation and sanctification (holiness). He is the source of the good works. That is the basic difference that confuses you. I hope this answer helps and that you find true answers to your questions. - JEB

I actually consider myself "born again", in that I had a conversion experience that convinced me of the reality of Jesus Christ and totally changed my outlook on life. My siblings however reject my experience as tainted by my becoming a Mormon. This is what I find perplexing. We do not think that we merit the grace of God by virtue of our works. However, we do think that works are important in order know that our faith is real (faith without works is dead). A Mormon apostle explained it this way: A farmer tills his fields, plants and tends his crops, and reaps his harvest seemingly by his own efforts, yet he cannot take credit for the sun, the rain, and the seeds which are gifts of God without which his efforts would amount to nothing. Yet if he did nothing but pray, he would reap nothing as well. As the Book of Mormon puts it, "We are saved by grace after all we can do."