Senator John McCain’s recent declaration, “I’m not Episcopalian, I’m Baptist,” would seem to be not only well scripted but carefully calculated. After all, a presidential candidate who throws out the fact that his religious affiliation is not what almost everyone in the country believed it to be is inviting scrutiny and its bedfellow, publicity.
The Associated Press (AP) asked McCain on Saturday how his Episcopal faith plays a role in his campaign and life. McCain grew up Episcopalian and attended an Episcopal high school in Alexandria, VA.
“It plays a role in my life. By the way, I’m not Episcopalian. I’m Baptist,” McCain said. “Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No.” But he does apparently use it to gain political momentum and publicity.
This is one of the reasons I think that religious faith should not be a question we are allowed to ask a political candidate. A cynic (as I obviously am) would say he’s using his faith for votes. We’re obviously using faith as a litmus test in this case; Episcopalian is acceptable with a ph of 5 but Baptist is better with a ph of 7.
According to the Associated Baptist Press the AP story was picked up by scores of newspapers and on several national television news programs. McCain even got air time on CNN to explain that he had been raised an Episcopalian but had attended North Phoenix Baptist Church “for many years.” And then he got to bring it all home: “And the most important thing is that I am a Christian, and I don’t have anything else to say about the issue.”
He doesn’t have to. He’s already indicated he’d give the religious right every thing they want—overturning Roe v. Wade, restrictions on gay marriage, alternatives to evolutionary theory in the curriculum, vigilance on Islamic radicalism, school vouchers, and so much more. The only thing he isn’t right on for the conservative is stem cell research. As Jacques Berlinerblau says, “McCain delivers like no other first-tier Republican. Even if he were Wiccan, Evangelicals would have to put aside their revulsion for skyclad pagans and consider his candidacy very seriously.”
We can’t ask a job candidate their religion before hiring them, so why can we talk so freely about a political candidates religion? This is an unfair practice and yet we as the American Public revel in it. How as Humanists can we condone this practice? Or better yet, how can we best lead the public away from this practice?