Tomorrow afternoon, most of the Republican presidential candidates will come together in Iowa for the latest in a seemingly endless series of debates as they try to prove to the electorate that they are qualified to be the leader of the United States.
Unlike previous debates, which have been sponsored primarily by news organizations, this one is a “forum” sponsored by an Iowa Religious Right group called The FAMiLY Leader, CitizenLink (an affiliate of the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family) and the National Organization for Marriage.
The confirmed participants are former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.). Conspicuously absent are the two Mormon candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
The event is being billed by FAMiLY Leader President Bob Vander Plaats as an opportunity “simply to learn about [candidates’] worldviews and to listen to their hearts on key family issues. The discussion will allow us to see a more personal side of the candidates.”
Oh, and the “forum” is going to take place at First Federated Church, a fundamentalist Christian congregation in Des Moines.
Tom Minnery of CitizenLink elaborated on both the forum and its purpose recently on the Janet Mefferd Show. (H/T to our friends over at RightWing Watch.)
“We have decided,” said Minnery, “that, wouldn’t it be wonderful for at least one presidential debate to have the candidates respond to questions of the heart, questions of the soul? For example, I’ll just give you one of the questions we’ll be asking them: ‘If you are elected president you will be taking the oath of office, the last words in that oath of office will be ‘so help me God,’ what will that mean to you?’”
Minnery went on to say the White House hopefuls will also be questioned on same-sex marriage and other social issues near and dear to the Religious Right.
So bottom line: this event is about fundamentalist Christians grilling the candidates about their personal religious beliefs and whether they are willing to impose those beliefs on all Americans through government action.
Where have you gone, John F. Kennedy? As a candidate in 1960, the future president addressed concerns that as a Catholic, he would answer to the Pope.
“I believe in an America,” he said, in a famous address to Protestant clergy in Houston, “where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
Today, too many candidates use their religious faith as a selling point to convince voters that they are qualified to lead this country, but last time I checked, these candidates are running for president of the United States, not senior pastor of the local church. Candidates for office should not devote large amounts of time (the upcoming Iowa forum is scheduled to last two hours) to politically charged professions of faith.
Religious Right leaders spend an awful lot of time ranting about how America is going down the drain. Yet when they sponsor a forum where the candidates get an opportunity to speak, the White House hopefuls are not asked to offer solutions to any of the issues that are truly harming the United States, like the economy and foreign policy.
Instead, as usual, Religious Right zealots just want to do everything they can to impose their religious beliefs on all of us through the political process.
As JFK also said in 1960: “These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues – for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.”