Presidents, Religion, & Politics

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, feeling the pressure of religionists and non-religionists alike regarding his Mormon faith, feels the need to explain himself, as did John F. Kennedy in 1960 regarding his Catholicism. In Kennedy’s case, the question had to do with where his primary loyalty lay, to the Pope (remember the 1980 Drinan affair?) or to the U.S. Constitution. In Romneys’ case, the question has to do with cultism (shades of Jim Jones and David Koresh), as well as beliefs that many Christians find sacrilegious, defining some sort of flawed character.

Romney will make his case, though he shouldn’t be judged on the basis of anything other than his oath and ability to uphold the Constitution. His problem calls attention, however, to what some politicians will do – or might do – to use religion in an effort to make something purely political happen. A case-in-point is the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, a convocation of sorts ginned up mostly by former presidents Carter and Clinton to be held in Atlanta 30 January-01 February, just after three African-American Baptist groups hold their annual meetings, also in Atlanta.

The CNBC (what a coincidence, an acronym shared by perhaps the most anti-administration media outlet in the world!) has as its headliners Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Bill Moyers, all good Baptists and among the most far-out liberal democrats in the land. The CNBC Web-site currently, however, features the pictures of (gasp) senators Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, good republican Baptists who will make speeches, but are obvious tokens as one looks at the list of big names connected with the event.

The CNBC was officially hatched last January just as the main presidential contenders were beginning their much-too-soon campaigns, and the main event will be held just as the primaries come on line. The clambake will be held between the primaries in Iowa (caucus), New Hampshire, Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and the tsunami 20-state primary of 05 February. One wonders if a religious celebration might have seemed more credible after at least those primaries were over, and with a delay of maybe one or two weeks, especially as conceived for “religious” rather than “political” reasons by consummate politicians. Coincidence, anyone, especially since Hillary Clinton is anything but popular in the South?

Since Carter, Clinton, Gore, and Moyers are former government officials at the White House level, the affair smacks of the mixing of church and state, something liberals accuse evangelicals of favoring, thus also smacking of rank hypocrisy. Ironically, Senator Grassley is currently investigating at least six “TV ministries” of high-profile, glittery televangelists with regard to their tax-exempt status, but has agreed to speak at a church-sponsored event himself. One wonders if he will check out the CNBC’s tax-exempt status, especially since it’s headed not by religionists but by politicians. A large amount of money – along with appeals for donations – is involved in the enterprise, noted on its Web-site as tax-exempt.

An amalgam of some 30 or so Baptist entities (denominations, media outlets, universities, etc.) are “partners” in the CNBC, representing, according to the site, some 20,000,000 North American Baptists. Notably absent from the list is the 16,000,000-member Southern Baptist Convention, deemed earlier by Carter as portraying a “negative” image to the country, notwithstanding its support of some 10,000 missionaries, half in North America and half throughout the rest of the world. The SBC has undergone a change in the past quarter-century that defines it as far more “fundamentalist” than before, though it has continued to grow during the period. The most high-profile former Southern Baptist is Jimmy Carter, whose doctrinal stands are not upheld in the SBC, making one wonder about his actual incentive. Indeed, the church in which he famously teaches Sunday School is strictly Southern Baptist.

The program outlined for the CNBC includes all sorts of sessions to deal with mostly social problems, though evangelism and preaching are listed, too, giving it the air of being terribly useful. But the entire affair is described as a celebration. One of the main goals involves the never-ending, mind-numbing clamor for the respecting of diversity, the very mention of which reminds everyone of how much they’re different from each other than of how much they’re alike. Another goal is “unity in bringing good news to the poor,” though one suspects that pure water, medicine, food, and jobs would do more good.

Carter’s antagonism toward the Southern Baptist Convention and Clinton’s interest in anything political, especially as it relates to his wife, along with the timing of the CNBC – especially the timing – give one pause with regard to the actual motivating aspects. Without question, the participants will have the highest motives in mind…simply doing good. Most of them will come from groups already carrying out what they consider “good works,” and are not likely to become part of yet another organization to replicate their efforts.

As of now, it seems to be mostly a “meet-and-eat” affair marked by some fine rhetoric, but lacking much hope of substance, since even the liberal/moderate Baptists find cooperation hard to come by in the light of deep-seated doctrinal differences. As for ameliorating racial problems, real or imagined and a prime objective of the meeting (at least so advertised), forget it. The problems will be talked to death, with little or nothing connoting change, human nature being what it is.