When should someone engage politics as a believer in God? Should it influence our voting? Similarly, what if we are atheists? Christians influencing the public arena has received a lot of attention, but the impact of atheists is just as intense. The reason is goes unnoticed is that it is difficult in an article to describe what someone does not believe in.
John Kerry worked that angle during his attempt to become president, trying to draw Catholics his way. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton speak so regularly about their faith that we forget they are politicians. George Bush, an adult convert to Christianity, was upfront when asked about his faith. Al Gore, Bill Clinton, two Southern Baptists, made no bones about admitting what they believe.
People argued whether or not their acknowledged beliefs were consistent with their faith, but that is another question.
In a recent blow-up at the John Edwards campaign headquarters, two employees of Edwards, presumably otherwise qualified to complete whatever duties Edwards told them do, personally blogged their antagonism towards Catholics, Catholic leadership, and Catholic beliefs. No one ever said they could not believe as they did, but asked whether or not their hatred toward Catholicism was appropriate for staffers in a political campaign.
see: Pandagon & Shakespeare's Sister Against Catholics? John Edwards' Staffers' Offense (or Not?)
What about influencing others? Do we say, "I believe God's view in this matter is --"? Or do we influence (or try to influence) under the radar, like writing letters to the editor, talking with politicians (encouraging the ones we agree with, and hoping to persuade the rest to agree with us)?
If we are in politics as a leader, do we acknowledge our faith as an influence? Do we say, for example, "My vote against the prochoice issue was partly influenced by my belief in God"?
What if we work for a politician?
Should we vote with our faith as a separate matter all together, putting our beliefs in such a personal place that we, for all intents and purposes, vote secularly?
I am not asking the question of legality, as in the United States anyone can believe in the god of their choosing, and publically state this.
George Bush took lots of heat for acknowledging his conversion to protestant Christianity, and for its active influence in his decision making process. Now, as you'll see below, Barack Obama has acknowledged the same thing. The difference? Bush is a Republican, Obama is a Democrat, and, besides their parties, their beliefs - especially on hot-button moral issues, are in direct opposition.
Scroll about halfway down. Obama didn't accidently say this. He knows very well the position of George Bush as a Christian may have helped him win the election over occasional Catholic John Kerry. He also knows that stating his religious perspective might alienate him from nonChristians (Jews, Buddhists, Scientologists [ala Tom Cruise and John Travolta], Muslims and Hindus, etc. ) and atheist supporters.
Whatever someone thought of George Bush, no one questioned his sincerity about his faith. No one, not Bush supporters, Catholics, or even Kerry devotees thought he was on the level when he brought up his supposed Catholic faith. Why? He brought it up late in the game, and there was not one shred of evidence it made a hoot of difference in his personal or political life.
So now, Barack Obama, one of the most immediately popular campaigners ever to hit the soapbox circuit, says he is a Christian. This should get him analyzed by magazines like Christianity Today, and invited to liberally-minded political churches - the same as where guys like Al Sharpton regularly campaigned.
Whether or not he continues in his faith-speak will partly be the result of opinion polls. George Bush, not known as a great responder to public polls, would say he was a Christian no matter what this did to his ratings. For him, it is not a game, it is something he tries to live. I respect that. Whether it is for Obama or not, we will see.
Full Text of Senator Barack Obama's Announcement for President