Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Late last week, the Washington Post published a photo essay entitled Liberty Through the Lens: Faith. This piece was the third in a series discussing liberty. The first lens concerned women and the second the economy. This article on faith was more than simply photographs. The Post asked a few dozen Virginians: "Do you think a political leader should rely on his or her religious beliefs in making policy decisions? How much does it matter to you that a candidate shares your religious beliefs?"
Given Virginia's connection to Thomas Jefferson and his thoughtful but complicated relationship with religion and Christianity, I found this to be an interesting exercise. Moreover, Virginia's identity as a "critical state" in the upcoming election, as well as our current national dialog regarding religious freedom, provide an interesting backdrop to the responses. While the questions posed have obvious shortcomings (For example: What is meant by "rely?"), the sample of participants small, and the answers limited in length, the piece can provide some food for thought.
I offer some observations, but suggest MOJ readers look at the piece themselves. First, my read of the responses was that the majority of participants are comfortable with or affirmatively favor political leaders drawing on religious beliefs or moral codes which the political leaders authentically hold. In other words, while there may have been a preference for some level of morality or faith, labels were an insufficient substitute for many. Second, many also underscored the importance of tolerance or respect for plurality from leaders. Finally, I observed something that continues to defy the "party operatives" and media. People are complex. When one looks at the brief description of the profession and religious identity of the participant, one might expect a certain answer. Often, the reader may be surprised by the response. Here at MOJ many have commented on our collective resistance to the media's label that "women voters" think one way or "Catholic voters" think another. This provides an anecdotal confirmation that religion and morality are complicated issues when they intersect with policy making, and many citizens understand that…even if the media and political pundits refuse to give the electorate that much credit.