The Washington Times is running an interesting article today. Here’s how it begins:
Don’t expect any public testimonies of faith from presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, who is not demonstrative about his religion but who embraces a Baptist faith that is based on salvation.
The religious intentions of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama were dissected after he publicly explained his decadeslong relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., but the senator from Arizona likely will talk little about the details of his own spiritual path other than to acknowledge that he is on one.
“The most important thing is I’m a Christian,” Mr. McCain told reporters in September on the campaign trail when asked about his religious affiliation.
Terry Mattingly has flagged the piece, asking, “What kind of mainstream Christian body is not, to one degree or another, ‘based on salvation?’” That is a fair question, but I’m not sure it’s as unanswerable as Professor Mattingly seems to think. I’ve been exposed to a number of churches where there was little, if any, mention of how to be saved. I suppose that technically such churches are Universalist — even if they call themselves by other names — but I’m not sure you can call your church “based on salvation” if you basically assume that everyone is saved and don’t make it a point of focus.
Another interesting issue, just in those three paragraphs: We’re not to expect “public testimonies of faith,” but isn’t one then quoted? Perhaps this gets down to how you parse the word “testimony” — certainly I can’t see Senator McCain delivering an account on the campaign trail like the one I was asked to deliver before I was baptized — but I must say I don’t find “The most important thing is I’m a Christian” to be an unappealing kind of public statement for a would-be president.
There is also a mention in the article of James Dobson’s loud denunciation of Senator McCain. I must confess — I haven’t thought a great deal about this, but I am humbled thinking of how we noted that outburst here, as well as the similar “Heck, no” statements Dr. Dobson issued about other presidential candidates. Reading them now, in that wonderful 20/20 hindsight, I’m not sure I agree with the tone of them or that I feel great about having highlighted them.
Another snippet from the Times:
Mr. McCain’s near silence also indicates that he is “wary of phony outward display,” said Wilfred McClay, a professor of humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He added that such an action could be simply generational for the 71-year-old lawmaker. In his day, public discussion of the details of one’s personal faith was considered inappropriate.
“The evidence suggests that his true religion is kind of civil religion, a religion of American patriotism and of sacrifice for the nation in the name of living for something larger than yourself,” Mr. McClay said. “That general idea — that you find your greatest fulfillment and purpose in dedicating your life to something more than yourself — is in some ways very Christian, but McCain always expresses it in the secular terms of country.”
You know what? I’m fairly amenable to that line of thinking. I do not think that “dedicating your life to something more than yourself” per se makes you a Christian — I don’t mean that. I mean the idea of a president who expresses his faith in a unifying way, not a way that only gets one particular sect excited. That’s what George Washington did — if you want to read a great book on that, check out Michael and Jana Novak’s Washington’s God.
I also think the article hits on something in pointing to “phony outward display.” I for one am sick of tired of candidates who quote the Bible left and right because they know it’ll make people like me vote for them — but then disappoint us bitterly once they get into office, both with their morality and their governance.
Anyway, I don’t have any really refined thoughts on this, but the article is fascinating. Take a look.