The Huckabee factor

During the last Republican YouTube debate, the presidential candidates were asked if they believed the bible was the literal word of God. That was followed by a "What would Jesus do?" question. Remarkably CNN included the questions and no one raised his hand and said that the question was completely inappropriate and irrelevant. A candidate's faith (or lack thereof) should be incidental to whether he or she is qualified to be President of the United States.

In fact the framers of our Constitution wrote in Article 6 that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

And yet, in this current election cycle, vetting those running for President regarding their religious views has become standard operating procedure. The question that comes to mind is why? What is going on that makes whether a politician believes in the bible or not of any import? But here we are, right in the thick of it. As if the Age of Reason had never happened and America is not a nation which is predicated on what Mark Lila, in a New York Times Magazine article, calls "The Great Separation."

In recent Iowa television ads, Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, has referred to himself as a "Christian leader," a not too subtle indication that if you vote the religion of the candidate as well as the candidate himself, then he's your guy. The ad seems to be working in Iowa, for Huckabee has surged in the polls, edging out the front-runner Mitt Romney. His lead has been fueled by evangelical Christians who are suspicious of Mormon doctrine, some even regarding the religion as a cult. Many Iowa voters cite Romney's religion as a central reason they would not vote for him.

Huckabee, in contrast, has had no problem stating that his faith "explains" him and effects his decision-making process. "I'm not as troubled by a person who has a different faith. I'm troubled by a person who tells me their faith doesn't influence them." Why is that statement so troubling? Is it because when Huckabee says "faith" he has a very narrow definition of what "faith" means? Absolutely. Push comes to shove, Huckabee means Judeo-Christian faith and nothing beyond. Would he be as insouciant about our Commander-in-Chief declaring that he or she was a Wiccan and would be basing decisions while in office on that polytheistic, nature worshipping faith?

Or try and imagine our President having a crisis of faith and stating that he or she would no longer be seen on Sunday morning walking out of any place of worship. Should that matter even a wit? Recall that Mother Teresa suffered such a crossroads moment and agonized for decades over the great silence and still was profoundly effective in tending the sick and the dying from the streets of Calcutta.

Clearly, voters in Iowa (and how many other states?) are voting the candidate's faith before all else. In a New York Times interview, Barbara Heki, 51, from Johnston, Iowa, became a volunteer for Huckabee and acknowledged that her evangelical faith was central to her choice of candidates. "Mormons spend two years of their lives as missionaries preaching an anti-Christian doctrine," Heki was quoted as saying. "I don't want someone out there, if I can help it, who's going to be acting on an anti-Christian doctrine." In other words, the President's decision making, in Heki's view, should be closely guided by principles of faith which mirror her own.

Keep in mind that Huckabee, according to reports, opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and civil unions. He supports the war in Iraq, is against gun control, and is an avid hunter. He supports the death penalty and has voiced support of creationism while questioning evolution. He has been quoted as saying, "I think students also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism. I do not necessarily buy into the traditional Darwinian theory, personally."

Danny Carroll, Huckabee's Iowa campaign co-chairman and a former speaker pro tem in the Iowa House, said, "I think the Christian would like to know that the person (in the White House) has a strong anchor and prays to the God of the Bible when heavy responsibilities are placed on them."

Is this starting to sound more and more like a theocracy than a democracy? Perhaps our founding fathers meant that when it comes to religion the ground rules, as mentioned above in Article 6, should be "don't ask, don't tell." Isn't that how most Americans conduct themselves in their daily lives?

Maybe there was a reason why the crafters of the Constitution thought it best to keep government and religion separate and all of this focus on who believes what is nonsense, not to mention unconstitutional.

But of course, that's not the trend. In fact, last Thursday Mitt Romney felt obligated to give an address in which he defended his right to have a personal religion while reassuring voters that the leaders of his church would have no influence over his decisions as President. His faith would never be commingled with his duties nor would it ever cloud his oath of office in which he swore to represent all Americans and not some Americans.

Romney, having said all that, finished by insisting, "Freedom requires religion and religion requires freedom." An astonishing statement. One made in complete disregard of our Constitution, and seemingly oblivious to those freedoms granted to Americans who might choose not to believe. It doesn't sound like a statement made by a man who would represent all Americans, regardless. The same could be said of Huckabee. America does not need a spiritual leader. And the document that should be consulted when he or she is tested is the Constitution and not the bible.

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