As voters ask questions about religion, some journalists are challenging records for theological illiteracy. For example, on Nov. 29, Chris Matthews complained that a YouTube questioner asked GOP presidential candidates about their views of the Bible: “If there was a Jewish fellow up here, an Arab fellow up here, a nonbeliever, he’d have to say, ‘I don’t believe in the Bible.'”
Way to go, Chris: Three errors in one sentence. Jewish believers would not say that: They trust the Old Testament, which makes up three-fourths of the Bible. Some Arabs are Christians, believing in all of the Bible. Arab Muslims also believe in the Bible, when the Quran does not contradict it.
Religion flummoxes many reporters. Matthews and others complained about questions on faith in presidential debates because the Constitution states that there should be no “religious test” for federal office. That means it would be unconstitutional for a Mormon to be elected and then not allowed to serve because of his religious beliefs or for Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., to be forced to swear his oath on a Bible rather than on a Quran. But it’s fine for voters to take beliefs into consideration.
And that’s apparently what they’re doing. Democrats are trying to tap into voters’ religious interests: Barack Obama is bilingual in “Secularese” and “Christianese,” but when Hillary Clinton tries speaking “Christianese,” she sounds like me speaking French. That’s one reason Obama is improving in the polls.
On the Republican side, conservative evangelicals supposedly are easily led, but this year, the followers are leading and the leaders are playing catch-up. Christian conservative political groups spoke of sitting out the election because none of the major candidates appealed to them, but now Mike Huckabee is on a roll and the “leaders” have to think twice.
Huckabee, like President Bush, is not as fiscally conservative as some would like, but his eloquence is important. He fares well in comparison to Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson, who have organizational clout but little more. When Romney is asked a question, he seems to run quickly through all the computer chips in his brain so as to find the politick answer. (He’s like Hillary Clinton in that way.) Thompson’s mental computer, meanwhile, runs at Atari speed.
The upshot, unless Romney’s late attempt to talk about religion gives him a boost, is that what seemed like an anarchic GOP race is likely to settle down to a traditional city vs. country, social liberal vs. social conservative contest — and it will be heated.
In the city vs. country aspect, Giuliani vs. Huckabee seems a lot like the Democratic race of 1924 between New York Mayor Al Smith and California’s William McAdoo, who had the support of Southern and Western Protestants. Because Democrats then required a nominee to receive two-thirds of the delegate votes, the convention went to 103 ballots and an eventual compromise choice.
The present-day rule of a simple majority means we probably will have only one ballot at next year’s GOP convention, and the winner will be either Giuliani or Huckabee, with the loser perhaps garnering a vice presidential nomination. (But keep John McCain in mind as, ironically, a compromise presidential candidate.)
A question occupying many reporters is whether the evangelical vote, most recently a Republican province, will splinter. Many have predicted that evangelical single- or double-issue voting (abortion and gay rights) will not happen.
Maybe — but if so, that’s because it never was that way. Some journalistic accounts suggest that evangelicals this year are becoming concerned about poverty. That’s nonsense. Compassionate conservatism sprouted a decade ago with widespread evangelical support.
Religious right organizations, always more potent in press accounts than in real life, are losing their grip, but most evangelicals still are eager to vote for a candidate with a biblical worldview — and a presidential election that looked dreary only two months ago is coming alive.