by Rev. C. Welton Gaddy
As a Baptist minister and as a patriotic American, I’m deeply disturbed—although no longer surprised—by the inappropriate use of religion as a political tactic in presidential campaigns. I’m particularly disheartened by former Gov. Mike Huckabee comparing his sudden rise in the polls and his new frontrunner status in Iowa to the biblical miracle of Jesus feeding the multitudes. Even more alarming, his Iowa state chairman claimed on MSNBC’s Tucker that Huckabee’s training as a pastor makes him better qualified to run the “war on terror [because] it’s a theological war.”
In my capacity as president of The Interfaith Alliance, I have written Gov. Huckabee two letters recently asking that he and his surrogates refrain from such statements and that he reexamine his understanding of the Constitution and the responsibilities of the presidency.
Maybe in light of Oprah’s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama, Gov. Huckabee decided that he had to go beyond his own endorsement from Chuck Norris. But there are limits. I asked him to make it clear that while he endorses God, he should make no claim that God endorses him.
Gov. Huckabee told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday on November 17 that the campaign’s recent rise in visibility, fundraising and poll results can be explained by that Gospel story. And he repeated the thought eleven days later at a Liberty University convocation.
"There's only one explanation for it, and it's not a human one," he said to a student at Liberty who asked about his recent surge in the polls in Iowa and Florida. "It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people. And that's the only way that our campaign could be doing what it's doing... it defies all explanation, it has confounded the pundits... And until they look at it from an experience beyond human, they'll never figure it out."
When former Gov. Mitt Romney recently fell far short of the standards of John F. Kennedy's speech on religious freedom and the separation of religion and government, I wanted to paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen's statement to Senator Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debates by saying "Governor Romney, you're no JFK."
And when I hear Gov. Huckabee attribute his rise in the polls to the same power that enabled Jesus to feed the multitudes, I say, "Governor, you’re not Jesus."
From my lifetime in the church, I am certainly familiar with the idea of using a biblical reference to frame a modern-day story. But I advised Gov. Huckabee that claiming the power of God for his political candidacy and assertions that foreign policy should be guided by his theology fall outside the acceptable boundaries of campaign rhetoric.
Gov. Huckabee’s personal history is clear proof of his deep and abiding Christian faith, and there is no reason for him to deny that. But if he is elected president, he will hold executive power over millions of people who place no particular spiritual importance on the New Testament. If his candidacy is framed as one with Christian roots, marked for success and guaranteed as such by a Christian spiritual power, how will those Americans who claim a different faith – or who practice no religion at all – be sure that they will receive from his administration the same rights and freedoms as Christians?
Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Rev. Gaddy is the host of State of Belief, a weekly radio show carried on AirAmerica. He is co-author, with Barry W. Lynn, of First Freedom First: A Citizen's Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, forthcoming from Beacon Press