The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Religion mirrors political identity

When the nation’s founders created the constitutional baseof America, they aimed to create a political structure separated bythe church. But the bond between religion and politics has drivenpolitical elections and decisions since the beginning of politicaltimes.

The 2004 presidential election is of particular importance. Thetwo candidates, Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush, havetalked about religion in many instances to appeal to particularreligious groups. Issues, such as abortion, embryonic stem cellresearch and gay marriage draw a dividing line not only amongRepublicans and Democrats but also among religious voters.

Generally, conservative religious groups tend to voteRepublican. A poll released by the Pew Forum on Religion and PublicLife shows that 69 percent of white evangelicals want Bushreelected. But the Catholic groups, which in the past have votedDemocratic, are now shifting to the Republican Party.

Issues drive voters to support the Republican Party. MatthewWilson, assistant professor in the political science department,sees this year’s moral subjects a fundamental way to bringreligious people to the Republican Party.

“Gay marriage is an issue that Republicans can useeffectively to rally religious people to their side. Republicanslike to talk about partial birth abortion as opposed to moregeneral issues because that’s the one where there’soverwhelming support for their position,” he said.

But religion also finds a connection with the personal faith ofthe candidates. John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Instituteof Applied Politics in Akron, Ohio, said, “Bush and Kerry arequite sincere about their faith, and their faith is part of theirbasic philosophy of government.”

Wilson perceives religion as a relevant component ofBush’s life. “For him to deemphasize religion in acampaign trail would be artificial,” Wilson said.Bush’s moral identity becomes visible in his language. Hisfrequent use in public speeches of the word “evil”referred to the terrorist nations is viewed by Richard Mouw,president of Fuller Technological Seminary in California, as anelement of moral language.

For Kerry, the relationship with religion is more complex. Thecomplexity, Wilson explained, derives from an existing conflictbetween Kerry’s religious beliefs and his political agenda.Kerry’s hardest task is to reassure voters that votingdemocratic does not express an abandon of faith.

The relationship between religion and politics is mutual. ClydeWilcox, professor of government at Georgetown University, saidreligious groups seek politics to affect public policy, andpolitical candidates seek religious groups to attract them to theirside.

But religious issues today benefit the Republicans more than theDemocrats. The Republican Party is believed to be friendlier towardreligion by 52 percent of people interviewed by the Pew Forum onReligion and Public Life. This friendly-religious view comes fromthe common belief that the Democratic Party has become secular.

Wilson said the level of benefit that conservative religiousgroups gain from the Republicans is debatable. He explained:”A lot of people believe the Republican Party is using theconservative Christians as part of their coalition withoutresponding to the values of conservative Christians. Much in theway, people say that the Democratic Party uses African-Americanswithout trying to help them.”

The sphere of influence between candidates and religious groupsis tolerable until it reaches some boundaries. Wilson criticizedthe political speeches addressed by Kerry in churches that had asermonic overtone. He said, “Churches that facilitate eventslike that should lose their tax-exempt status.”

As candidates try to gain religious votes, religious groups tendto persuade and guide voters in their decisions. The consistentvoice comes from the Roman Catholic Church. In an article publishedin The New York Times, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput stressedthat the only way a Catholic should vote is Republican.

Voting for a candidate who supports abortion rights andembryonic stem cell research would be a sin, according to Chaput.Green said that in the church’s view it is “immoral fora Catholic to violate church teaching, and supporting a politicianwho supports abortion is violating church teaching.”

In Wilson’s view, while the church shares with theDemocrats issues like health care, war and peace, Catholics feelthe need to draw a dividing line on abortion because they think theimportance of the topic has not been fully addressed in thepast.

But people’s religiousness, Wilson said, can predict howthey would vote in the United States. He made a distinction betweenobservant Catholics and nominal Catholics. Observant Catholics whoattend church every Sunday would vote for Bush, while nominalCatholics who don’t attend church very often might not agreewith church’s view on abortion and vote for the Democraticnominee.

Wilson also said morality could subsist without religion in thepolitical arena but in reality, voters act differently. Heexplained, “Overwhelmingly, people who are going to givemoral reasons for their votes are going to be religious.”

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