Monday, October 18, 2010

Voting and religious beliefs...

Election day is rapidly approaching.  And pretty soon, it'll be time for the new presidential candidates to start campaigning in earnest.  Seems like whenever it's time to start voting, people start asking personal questions about religion and politics.

A couple of years ago, I actually lost a friend over this issue.  Back in 2008, we had a couple of very religious candidates bucking for the White House.  I had decided I wasn't going to vote for either of them.  When my ex-friend asked me why, I told him that I didn't want someone in the White House whose actions were going to be influenced by a church.  I don't have a problem with all religious candidates, just the ones whom I perceived would be expected to kowtow to members of their faith.

Mitt Romney, as a devout Mormon, would absolutely be expected to follow his prophet, because that's what all Mormons are expected to do.  Mike Huckabee, as a devout Baptist, would be expected to follow his church leader's edicts as well.  They would be expected to support laws that their churches support.  And that could have far-reaching consequences in matters that I care about, like gay rights, women's rights, capital punishment and medical research.

Very religious candidates would also be expected to help other people in their faith to move ahead politically.  You can't tell me that Romney or Huckabee wouldn't have considered the religious beliefs of any of their appointees to cabinet positions.  Like anyone else, they would choose those who would be on their side.  And people who embrace the same religious beliefs are more likely to agree politically, as well.  Once you band a bunch of powerful representatives together that agree on the same things, they start voting to make their views public policy.  It's only natural that they'd do so, so why is it unnatural for me to choose to vote for people with whom I agree?

Now... when I tried to explain these concerns to my ex-friend, he immediately accused me of being a bigot, a term that initially really offended me.  But, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have been offended.  Because I think we're all bigots, really, and people should have the right to vote for whomever they want for whatever reason they please.

In 2008, we had a woman, a black man, a white man, a Mormon, and an evangelical Christian all trying to win the White House.  They all had the indisputable right to run for office.  And I do agree that anyone who is eligible to run and wants to should have that right.  But I should also have the right to decide how I want to vote without having someone accuse me of bigotry because I happen to consider a person's religious background when I make my choice.  The simple fact of the matter is, everybody discriminates.  It's part of life.  It's part of survival.

Incidentally... I think a lot of people pay lip service to the idea of being "blind" when it comes to religion or any other aspect of a candidate.  Some say they would vote for an atheist or a Muslim if that candidate's values matched theirs.  But religion is so tied to politics these days that I think it would be difficult for a conservative Christian to consider voting for a Muslim or an atheist, because that person's views would probably not align with those of an atheist or a Muslim.  My personal views do not align with those of an evangelical Christian's or a Mormon's.  I support gay rights.  I support a woman's right to have a safe abortion.  I don't support the death penalty.  I could simply say I'm not voting for devoutly religious candidates because I don't agree with their stance on those issues, but the major reason I don't agree likely has a lot to do with their beliefs.  What's wrong with simply saying so and not being a hypocrite?

Back in 2008, you better believe some people voted for Obama simply because he was a Democrat.  Some people voted for him simply because he was a black man.  Some wanted Hillary Clinton because she's a woman and Bill's Clinton's wife.  Some folks would no doubt vote for Mitt Romney because he's LDS and for Huckabee because he's a Baptist.  And some would vote for McCain because he's white and Republican.  Other people voted based solely on the candidates' platforms.  And others chose not to vote at all.

So, maybe religious beliefs, or lack thereof, shouldn't matter... but I think they do.  And for a job as important as the the U.S. President's, I don't think it's out of line to consider a candidates' religious beliefs, because that value system is sure to influence how they make decisions and what their decisions will be.

What it all comes down to, is that I'm going to vote for the person I think will best represent my interests.  And I support anyone else's right to do the same.  If you prefer a devout Christian for a president, by all means, vote your conscience.  I would never tell you not to.  And I would hope you wouldn't presume to tell me how to vote, either.  Let the chips fall where they may.  It's the American way, isn't it?

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