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March 2, 2012 in Question of the Week, Spotlight Answers, What is the role of clergy during presidential campaigns? by Harry K. Danziger

In a recent interview, Rev. Franklin Graham questioned the Christian credentials of President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He apologized Tuesday for questioning President Obama’s faith. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, members of the NAACP’s religious roundtable called on Graham and all Christian leaders to “refrain from using Christianity as a weapon of political division.” As we approach Super Tuesday, what do you make of this controversy? Who, if anyone, can define our faith for us? Politicians have always used faith as a weapon of political division, but should clergy be held to a higher standard? What is the role of clergy during presidential campaigns?

First, as a non-Christian, am I mistaken that the judgment of who is saved by virtue of faith in Jesus Christ is made by God? Am I wrong that God’s verdict is unlikely to be announced or proclaimed on a TV news show? Am I naive to think that passing judgment on the sincerity of someone’s professed Christianity is above the pay grade of political commentators and clergy alike? There is a difference between clergy taking a position on issues of substance as against taking a position on a candidate’s religion.

Second, if the issue of a candidate’s being of one’s own faith were significant, we Jews together with other non-Christians could save some time every four years by not voting. I have yet to be presented with a Jewish choice for president. Should I withhold my vote until I get one? How ridiculous is that?

Third, the panelists on Morning Joe did no one any service by pressing Franklin Graham to try to get him to deny the president’s Christianity or that of Mitt Romney. Were there serious issues about which they might have asked Dr. Graham or was he invited solely for the purpose of generating a counterproductive controversy? His apology, while meaningful, only keeps alive a subject which should be a non-issue.

Finally, in America, you are what you call yourself religiously and not what some institution calls you. Our country is unique in that one is not even asked one’s religion in the census. That is a freedom of religion that ought to be defended by liberal and conservative alike.

There are plenty of real issues that confront our society, our parties and our candidates. What one person thinks about another person’s religion is not one of them.