“At the risk of heresy, let it be said that setting up the two presidential candidates for religious interrogation by an evangelical minister—no matter how beloved—is supremely wrong,” Kathleen Parker writes in her column in today’s Washington Post. “It is also un-American.”
Since Barack Obama and John McCain appeared on stage at Saddleback Church on Saturday, the discussion has centered around who gave the most meaningful answers to the Rev. Rick Warren’s questions about good and evil, and whether McCain had an unfair advantage by speaking second.
It’s natural by now for someone to take the contrarian’s position and indicate a fundamental flaw in the whole process. But Parker has a very valid point. As I’ve said over and over again, the religious litmus for presidential office that developed during the past eight years is a very bad thing for American politics.
Randall Balmer, editor-at-large for Christianity Today writes about this evolution in “God in the White House,” which he discusses on NPR’s “Fresh Air” today. (Audio and a book excerpt here.) And Parker gets it right when explaining why this should make us uncomfortable, and in indicating that we shouldn’t trust what we hear. She continues:
The past few decades of public confession and Oprah-style therapy have prepared us perfectly for a televangelist probing politicians about their moral failings. Warren’s Q&A wasn’t an inquisition exactly, but viewers would be justified in squirming.
What is the right answer, after all? What happens to the one who gets evil wrong? What’s a proper relationship with Jesus? What’s next? Interrogations by rabbis, priests and imams? What candidate would dare decline on the basis of mere principle?
Both Obama and McCain gave “good” answers, but that’s not the point. They shouldn’t have been asked. Is the American electorate now better prepared to cast votes knowing that Obama believes that “Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him,” or that McCain feels that he is “saved and forgiven”?
What does that mean, anyway? What does it prove? Nothing except that these men are willing to say whatever they must—and what most Americans personally feel is no one’s business—to win the highest office.