Religious issues surface in race for presidency

by Robert Koch

DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes ended a recent debate in nearby Johnston with a prayer rather than a traditional closing remark.
“Guided by that sense of humility, we will go into the voting booth not to do what is best for ourselves, but to do, Lord our God, what is best for our country,” Keyes said.
For Iowa voters, Keyes’ prayer was only the last in a series of public professions of faith made by presidential candidates this week.
Associate Pastor Dick Hardy of First Assembly of God in Des Moines said, “I am pleased to see many of the GOP candidates and Vice President Gore making an expression of faith.”
The extent to which candidates’ personal religious beliefs have found their way into this year’s race might be without precedent. Before 1960, when Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy ran and won the presidency, religion was discussed publicly on rare occasions.
But since Kennedy’s landmark election as the nation’s only Catholic president, religion has edged closer toward the public realm, for better or worse.
“I’ve heard people say that it’s good that we have brought religion off the religion page,” said Alicia Claypool, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. “On the other hand, we have to be sensitive to the diversity of religious beliefs.”
During a recent GOP debate, Texas Gov. George W. Bush named Jesus as his favorite philosopher-thinker, an opinion he felt was not exclusionary to non-Christians.
“It doesn’t make me better than you or better than anyone else, but it is a foundation for how I lead my life,” Bush said.
Robert Dunn, a Drake University journalism and political science student, said he and other College Republicans appreciated the republican governor’s forthrightness.
“We should just take him at his word,” Dunn said. “There’s too much trying to read between the lines with candidates’ answers.”
Pastor Hardy continued: “We are not electing the pastor of the United States. But at the same time, (the president) has to have an appreciation for the higher ideal of why we’re here.” Hardy was a Pat Robertson supporter in 1988, but switched his allegiance to Bush.
Those who do not belong to Iowa’s 89 percent Christian majority are less enthusiastic over candidates’ remarks.
Rabbi Neil Sandler of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue in Des Moines commented on his congregation’s reaction.
“I have very good, intelligent, concerned people, who in conversation have expressed, ‘Well, if so-and-so is elected, I’m really concerned about what that person might do,'” Sandler said. “They’re offering that on the basis of what candidates have said in terms of public professions of faith.”