As I’ve said ad nauseam, the Christian litmus test for U.S. presidential candidates has gotten way, way, way out of control. The latest lit bit of evidence comes courtesy of Time magazine, which this week, as part of a religion-and-politics package in advance of the Aug. 16 forum at Saddleback Church that Barack Obama and John McCain will attend, runs separate first-persons under the heading “The Candidates on Faith.”
Both show pieces show the candidates’ need for religion. For the cynic like me, it is not because they want to emote some deep passion and purpose for life, but because they see its language as useful to connecting with the masses. Public policy framed loosely in the parlance of the faithful. It’s a cheap trick that I’ve used before to write about Undie Run, the Montauk Monster and UCLA basketball, among other ungodly topics.
“I began my Christian journey over 20 years ago, as a young man fresh out of college. And since that time I’ve been serious not only about deepening my relationship with Christ but also about the way that all Americans can live together in our diverse, pluralistic society.
“I think there are some lessons that Americans from all political persuasions might learn in this regard, lessons that I take to heart each day. We have to start by remembering the role that values play in addressing some of our most urgent social problems. As I’ve said many times, the problems of poverty and war, the uninsured and the unemployed aren’t simply technical problems in search of a 10-point plan. They’re rooted in societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man.”
As for McCain, he opens with the Good Samaritan prison guard in his POW camp and then shows that he might be interested in resurrecting the term “compassionate conservative”:
“In the life of our country, faith serves the same ends that it can serve in the life of each believer, whatever creed we might profess. It sees us through life’s trials. It instills humility, calling us to serve a cause greater than ourselves. At its best, faith reminds us of our common humanity and our essential equality by the measure that matters most.
“A living faith calls us as well to care for the most vulnerable members of society. The poor, the hungry, the stranger seeking shelter and the child waiting to be born — all are in need of our compassion and protection. Faith shows us that the weak and defenseless are not a problem but rather a priority, and a chance for us to live out the message of the Gospels.”