The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
– Article Six of the Constitution of the United States
Both the 2008 and the rapidly approaching 2012 presidential election offer clear evidence of just what a great country the United States of America really is.
In 2008, we elected as our president an African-American Christian with an Arabic name and a Muslim father.
As we all know, there were people who believed then and there are people who believe now, all evidence to the contrary, that President Obama is in fact a Muslim.
Some folks who accepted candidate Obama’s long-term participation in a Chicago Christian congregation as evidence enough – as if his own testimony was not sufficient – of his Christian faith nonetheless used the preaching of his pastor as political ammunition against him.
My point is that, while the U.S. Constitution prohibits any religious test for an office holder, that’s not going to stop pundits and voters from applying one.
In the mid-1970s, I asked my now late, great father, who would these days be considered something akin to a Blue Dog Democrat, for whom he had voted in the 1960 presidential election.
He looked sheepish as he said, “I’m not ashamed that I voted for Nixon but I am ashamed of why; I was afraid if Kennedy got elected, the Pope would be running the country.”
I find it interesting, given the Cold War in which we were engaged at the time, that my father and others did not find Nixon’s Quaker religious affiliation equally or even more troubling, given that faith’s belief in pacifism.
Of course, President Nixon was not a pacifist, was he?
And President Kennedy was not, when it came to his policies, beholden to the Vatican, was he?
As my father and many others have shown, voters tend to pay close attention to the religious affiliations – even though those affiliations may or may not reveal much about the candidates’ actual beliefs – of some candidates and not so much attention to those of other candidates.
Put simply, we tend to analyze closely the religion of those candidates whom we oppose on other grounds in the hope that we can find further reason to oppose them.
It will be interesting to see if the left-leaning media examines Gov. Romney’s Mormonism as closely as the right-leaning media examined Sen. Obama’s Christianity.
Regardless, this fall folks down here where I live are going to have to choose between two candidates of whose religious affiliations many of them are suspicious.
One option is President Obama, of whose Christian faith many of them are doubtful and whose particular type of Christianity, at least as seen in the church he attended in Chicago, makes them uneasy.
Let me hasten to add that many of the African-American Christians here in the rural South do not share that uneasiness.
Their religious and cultural experience allows them to identify with the president. And, there are white Christians here in the rural South who are not uncomfortable with the president’s brand of Christian practice, either.
Still, many folks in my neck of the woods don’t think that President Obama is “their kind” of Christian, meaning that he is not evangelical enough or conservative enough or traditional (as they define tradition) enough.
The other option is Gov. Romney, who is at least three things the vast, vast majority of rural Southerners are not: (1) wealthy (2) northeastern and (3) Mormon.
I’m not a pollster, but I can say with much confidence that as far as most Christians of the standard variety around here – Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and non-denominationals – are concerned, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult about which they know little, understand less and fear some.
So that is our choice this November: on the one hand, a liberal Christian with an Arabic name whom many suspect is actually a Muslim, and on the other hand, a Mormon.
That such is our choice is a clear indicator of what a great country this really is.
We grew up a lot when we elected an African-American Christian as our president.
This year, we will grow up some more as we choose between that African-American Christian and a Northeastern Mormon.
The 2012 presidential contest is one that honors Article Six of our Constitution.
It is cause for celebration.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.