[Washington National Cathedral] Following a weekend during which presidential candidates President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney marked Sunday by attending respective church services, the candidates discuss their views of faith in public life in unprecedented interviews in the midsummer issue of Cathedral Age magazine, the quarterly flagship publication of Washington National Cathedral. These interviews, in which each candidate answers a set of identical questions about his individual faith and the place of religious beliefs in the political process, are the most transparent look yet into the faith of the two candidates.
Cathedral Age asked the candidates eight questions including: “How does faith play a role in your life,” and “What does a political leader’s faith tell you about him/her as a person?” as well as how each responds to those who question the sincerity of his beliefs. In their revealing answers, the two candidates discuss their personal beliefs, address those who have questioned their faith, and explain their vision for how faith communities can work together with government for the public good.
In answering these questions and others, both candidates reaffirmed their beliefs and spoke about how religion should not be the singular measure of a candidate.
“First and foremost, my Christian faith gives me a perspective and security that I don’t think I would have otherwise: That I am loved. That, at the end of the day, God is in control,” said President Obama. “Faith can express itself in people in many ways, and I think it is important that we not make faith alone a barometer of a person’s worth, value, or character.”
Governor Romney said, “I am often asked about my faith and my beliefs about Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”
Romney also said, “A political leader’s faith can tell us a great deal or nothing…Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office is whether he or she shares these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty. They are not unique to any one denomination.”
The complete interviews may be downloaded at www.nationalcathedral.org.
With its first issue dating back to Easter 1925, Cathedral Age is produced four times a year and seeks to offer its readers an indispensable, thoughtful resource for Americans of all faiths and perspectives. Recent editions of the magazine have included an interview with former First Lady Barbara Bush, a reflection by Pastor Rick Warren, and coverage of the ongoing effort to restore the Cathedral following the damage incurred from the earthquake that hit the East Coast in August 2011.
One unifying theme between both candidates’ answers was a dedication to the “other” as an expression of the Christian faith. Governor Romney said that he was inspired by the words in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus said that those who cared for the poor, hungry, the naked and the “least of these,” cared for Christ.
Romney said, “My faith is grounded in the conviction that a consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another—to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God.”
President Obama discussed a similar theme in his response to a question about the role of faith in public life. “We face big challenges in this country, and we’re coming to the point where we will decide if we’re truly in this together or if each individual ought to just fight for what serves them best,” the president said. “Faith tells us that there is something about this world that ties our interest to the welfare of a child who can’t get the health care they need, or a parent who can’t find work after the plant shut down, or a family going hungry.”
Both candidates also addressed the sacred principle of religious freedom and the role that faith can play in unifying the nation and in promoting the common good.
“Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Bill of Rights,” Governor Romney said. “And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action.”
President Obama said, “This country has a rich tradition of seeking to create an environment where people of different beliefs can live together and share common goals. As Americans, I think we understand that—in protecting our ability to advocate for our own positions—we must protect the ability of those who come from different backgrounds and beliefs to do so as well. Faith demands that we see the image of God in one another and respect it.”
Washington National Cathedral is called to be the spiritual home for the nation. It aspires to be a catalyst for spiritual harmony in our nation, renewal in the churches, reconciliation among faiths, and compassion in our world. In promoting interfaith understanding, the Cathedral is a leader in convening people of all faiths to examine and respond to important issues. The theme of “faith and the election” for the midsummer issue of its magazine is one example of how the Cathedral lives out its role at the intersection of faith and public life.
“Our presidential candidates have been molded by their faith communities as they have been shaped by educational institutions, families, and work experiences. The sources of their convictions and assumptions are proper inquiries in an election year,” said the Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, interim dean of the Cathedral. An essay by Wade—“The Search for Understanding: Claiming (and Reclaiming) Faith’s Constructive Force”—introduces the interviews with the candidates in the magazine. “We are not called to common conclusions but to common paths, principles, and hopes. People of faith are bound to a given set of questions, even if the answers will vary.”
Washington National Cathedral has been the location of funeral and memorial services for nearly all the 21 presidents of the United States since the Cathedral’s founding. There have been three State Funerals (for Presidents Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford), one official burial service (President Wilson), and seven memorial services for U.S. presidents. Beginning with President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985, presidential inaugural prayer services have also been held at the Cathedral. The exception was President Bill Clinton, who chose Metropolitan AME Church, the historic black church in downtown Washington, for both of his inaugural prayer services.