House of God vs. House of Government

October 13, 2011

Political Theory


With the presidential elections around the corner, most thought the economic status of the country would be the main focus amongst voters.  However, there has been an immense amount of recent negative activity regarding the religion of a presidential candidate.  Mitt Romney abides by the Mormon religion.  A Mormon has never occupied the resolute desk.  This being said, only Catholics and Protestants have been elected president, excluding an abundant amount of religion including members of the Jewish and Mormon faith.

As a form of campaigning, pastor Robert Jeffress, proposed that Romney was a member of a “cult”.  Robert Jeffress, a firm supporter of Republican Rick Perry, tried to spark disgust toward Romney by Evangelical voters through sly tactics.  The United States was founded upon the beliefs of freedom and equality.  Colonists wanted to branch off from English rule, in order to be granted the freedom of religion, one of the first amendments promised in the constitution.  This said, how could religion be a form of negative campaigning in the most important election in America.  Shouldn’t it be important that our country candidates are more focused on economy than the religion of their opponent?  If religion is the most important criteria for a future president, then how do the values instilled when the constitution was first written still apply today?  If Rick Perry were elected President, would all Mormons be treated differently based on their religion?  Our country is in the midst of slowly trying to creep out of this economic disaster.  A presidential candidate would be a lot more productive in campaigning, if he were to design a plan to boost the economy, rather than to have his supporters bash the other candidate’s religions.

Romney, the presidential candidate being bashed by several conservatives over being a Mormon, responded in a more gentlemanly manor by stating, “We should remember that decency and civility are values too.  One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think poisonous language doesn’t advance our cause”.  With the use of “mudslinging”, negative campaigning; playing a larger role in elections these days, what is the effect it is having on the American people?  It causes more confusion between the American public on whose arguments contain ethos and whose don’t.  This is the effect of the confusion that negative campaigning causes.  Instead of candidates focusing on their own beliefs, they use a mixture of their own beliefs and combine it with thrashing at the beliefs of their opponent.  Thus making it difficult for voters to grasp the actual beliefs that the candidates stand for.

John Locke writes, “This is the unhappy agreement that we see between the church and state.  Whereas if each of them would contain itself within its own bounds; the one attending to the worldly welfare of the commonwealth, the other to the salvation of souls; it is impossible that any discord should ever have happened between them” (A letter concerning toleration).  This political conflict involving religion does not separate church and state, one of the principles our government was based on.  Instead campaigning is directed at combining the two entities, and as Locke preached, state and church do not blend well.  Separating church and state can lead to more peace and toleration within the society.  I would agree with Locke that church and state should not be handled as a whole.  This leads to the conclusion that Romney’s religion has absolutely nothing to do with the presidential election.

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7 Comments on “House of God vs. House of Government”

  1. namin91 Says:

    Unfortunately, this has just become the climate of political communications and advertising. Multiple studies have shown that political advertising and campaigning has become more increasingly about personally attacking opponents, their religious values, and so forth. While I agree that it does nothing in terms of educating the people on a particular candidate’s political views, policy, etc., that’s just, for lack of a better cliche, the name of the game.

    I do believe that it’s up to voters to actively research candidates on their own time though. One cannot assume that these sort of campaigns against candidates are the only way the people are getting their information on the election. It is up to as, as individuals, to educate ourselves on the important issues and try to align ourselves with a candidate who sees the importance in those issues as well.

    And while I think most of us would agree that the separation of the church and the state is a good thing, I would argue that religion has always played a huge, maybe underlying, role in political elections. Have we ever had a non-Christian president? This depends on what you views as Christian, but I would say no, we have not. This nation is predominantly Christian and people’s religious views often, if not always, get in the way of their political views. So while we technically do separate the church and the state, I would argue that they have always been intertwined and we have yet to see a break in that.

    While I think it is irrelevant, stupid, and disrespectful for Pastor Jeffress to negatively campaign against Romney being a mormon, I do think it was a very smart, strategic move on his part. His arguments appeal to and are important to many people who blur the line between religion and politics. This would lead me to say that I have to disagree with your conclusion of Romney’s religion having absolutely nothing to do with the presidential election. I think it has a large part to do with this election, because religion, as well as other personal attribute, is often a deciding factor in how people vote, even though it shouldn’t be.

    The day it becomes irrelevant is the day that the church and the state will truly be separate in my opinion. I doubt this will be the case anytime soon, however.

  2. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I’m glad that someone posted about this (I thought it was going to get overlooked as being too related to American politics). As this will be my first election as a registered voter, I’m even more concerned than usual about this election, and the primaries are no exception.

    As a conservative, I do usually support Republican candidates. I think that all of the men in the race for the Republican nomination have some good things to offer and some bad things to offer. While I’d like to think that religion isn’t an important factor, it really is. Why? Because the United States is a Judea-Christian nation in the western European sense of the word.

    We are very much a nation of immigrants. Please do not get me wrong on that. Even though we have many cultures, languages, and traditions represented in America, the vast majority of our country is Christian. Our policies tend to coincide with those of other Christian countries on many contemporary issues including terrorism, immigration, welfare programs, separation of church and state, and democratic structure. I’m not saying that ALL Christian countries must share these traits; rather, it’s an observation about many of them. Even though the US claims to stand on a separation of church and state platform, religion will inevitably make its way into politics and our state. That’s what is happening here.

    Whether I take issue with Romney or any other candidate’s religion is not of particular relevance. The relevant part is whether or not it is permissible for ANY American to care about his religion, and I do think that it is. As America follows in the Judea-Christian tradition of other nations, if its voters feel that a certain religion from their president is important, then that is how it should be. That’s not to say that the president should rule according to his or her religion, but it should nonetheless be a legitimate criteria when deciding who to vote for.

    I already touched on separation of church and state; I think it’s important to expound upon that slightly. While it’s fine if Americans want to have Christian presidents, it is not fine to allow religion to dictate the policy of a certain administration. Our nation set out to keep religion and the operations of government separate, and to the extent that that’s possible, it should be followed. There are theocracies in the world; they have chosen to govern by religion. As a nation, we have chosen not to do so, and it needs to stay that way.

    While it’s fine if Americans would like the religion of their president to be the same as that of their own, electing presidents who will govern with their religion directing them first does not seem to be a very “American” concept.

  3. brianfrankel Says:

    When I read about this, I was originally shocked. The slandering of a political opponent on the basis of his religion is not only bigoted but also against everything that our country holds itself up to be. While there have been instances in the past where a candidate’s religion has been a roadblock (John F. Kennedy), it seemed that the past election’s slandering about President Obama being a “covert Muslim” would have severed the religion debate from the presidential debate. However, it appears that attacking an opponent still seems to be every presidential-hopeful’s go to approach.

    Even Mitt Romney, who has suffered this at the hands of his own party, is guilty of attacking others–most specifically Obama. One of Romney’s principle arguments is OIW (Obama Isn’t Working). Going through his website (mittromney.com), it seems that he is more intent on criticizing Obama’s failures than on proposing his own solutions.

    I think that an interesting topic we could consider as a class or in section would be when this type of political campaigning first gained popularity. Is it our new information systems that make it so easy for candidates to attack and criticize each other more than create solutions? Or is it just another fault of the democratic political process?

  4. mfriedlander92 Says:

    I do agree with Dkap7 and Locke saying that church and state do not mix. I think that this next presidential race should definitely focus more on economic factors and what the candidate plans to do in the future. I think that it is wrong to vote on a candidate based on what their religion or race. You need to vote based on what the candidate believes in and what they are planning to do for our country.

    It is wrong to bring in Mitt Romney’s religious affiliations into this race as a concern. This is because if you are in charge of a large group of people, your job is to put your own personal beliefs aside and do what you think is best for these people. Your religion may influence your beliefs (for example, morality – abortion vs. pro choice); however, as someone as important as the president, you need to be able to put aside what you believe and do what you think is best. For example, I personally am not a fan of abortion, but I know that I have no right telling someone what they should do with their own body.

    Therefore, I think that bringing in Mitt Romney’s affiliation is irrelevant. There is so much economic distress in this country right now that the focus of this race should not be on whether someone celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or Ramadan. Like Locke said in his “Letter Concerning Toleration”, state and church should be divided and in this case involving Romney’s religious views with his political position is meshing these worlds. I don’t think Locke would support combining these two worlds. I really think that there are many important issues in the United States that need fixing and if the person who can fix is the best is someone who is Mormon, then so be it, if the person who can fix it the best is someone who celebrates Hanukkah, then so be it. I think that the position of president should not go to someone based on what their religious beliefs are but based on what their political beliefs are and what their plans for the future are.

  5. samyoovpolsci Says:

    I also agree with your conclusion that the church and the state do not mix. And it is true that the substance of debate regarding the next presidential election SHOULD be focused towards the economy. However, the truth of the matter is that negative campaigning, or “mudslinging” is one of the most effective ways to turn a supporter away from a candidate. Furthermore, the outrage should be more about this blatant discrimination of another religion. Freedom of religion is one of the fundamentals of American society and politics, and for a politician to disregard this right is not only disgraceful but also concerning, as his words did indeed hit a market of people who agreed with him in believing Mormonism to be a cult.
    Also, segregating politics from religion is the ideal option, yet it is something that is near impossible to do, especially in a country like America. Although, recently, there are many more atheists and agnostics, American society is still very ingrained with the ideals of religion and it is this religious majority that have the greatest impact on politics. Ergo, religion will always be pertinent to politics unless everyone of the voters are somehow able to segregate the two from each other.
    Hence, i don’t believe that this is a problem of politics, but rather is a societal problem that has consequences politically.

  6. alexwillard Says:

    Like ianbaker2041 this will be my first election as a registered voter. Having always followed politics, albeit sometimes through less than reputable sources (ahem, Fox News) I always felt somewhat educated as to what the campaign trail entailed. However, this election, especially the republican primary, is the first time I have ever noticed religion playing a major role.

    I think it should be noted that I am semi-libertarian in voting philosophy, usually leaning towards the right side of the political spectrum when it comes to candidates I favor. In this sense I am a fan of Mitt Romney’s, and will most likely vote for him at the upcoming Republican primary in Michigan.

    Being a supporter of Mitt Romney one might think that I am opposed to the “mudslinging” about his religion, but I am not. I agree that religion should not be the most important criteria in selecting a president; in fact, I personally think it should be the least important criteria. However, I find it almost impossible for there to be separation of church and state, as our constitution calls for. I have this belief because government is made up of men and women, and we are all subject to religious affiliation. Even professed agnostics like myself are influenced by it in some way.

    Religion is part of what makes us “us”, either through its teachings or our protests against it. Whether your Jewish, Christian, Atheist, or Muslim your religious affiliation has had some influence on how you run your life. Through the mere fact of its existence religion manages to influence aspects of your life, no matter how small the correlation between religion and the particular aspect is.

    When looking at religion through this perspective, it is necessary to view a President’s religious affiliation to give us some insight into some of the beliefs they will most likely have when holding office. While I would like to think that Mitt Romney will be able to separate his beliefs from the way he runs the country, I know that this is practically impossible to do for four years, day after day. So in this sense I vary from some of the previous commenters and Locke’s view, as I do believe that there is some merit in analyzing a president’s religion because true separation of church and state is almost impossible.

  7. zamateau Says:

    Negative campaigning has taken charge of the presidential elections over the last several decades, and in spite of how vulgar and disrespectful this is, society may need to begin to accept these forms of campaigning. In this case, Mitt Romney’ religion, Mormonism, was used as a way to attack his campaign. Over the years, political theatre has overpowered positive political change. Citing the somewhat recent debate on whether to raise the debt ceiling, America had experienced some political gridlock. Politicians were more focused on making their opposition look bad, rather than coming to a consensus concerning the debt ceiling–an issue lingered for months. It seems as if politicians are more concerned with their next election than progressing the state of American politics.
    As much as Mitt Romney is being targeted in this conflict, it is important to state that he has participated in this negative campaigning. Although it may not be true to blame all politicians for negative campaigning, we must publicize the issue and demand more of a focus on political advancement. This has an effect once the president elect takes office, because they focused more on the faults of their opponent and less on their actual viewpoints on the issues haunting America, like the drop off in the economy. If presidents would focus more on these problems and less on the religion of their opponent, maybe our government would be able to resolve our current issues and allow society to progress forward.

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