AMERICANS CARE ABOUT THE religious beliefs of their elected officials. According to a 2000 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of voters want their president to be religious. A more recent Pew poll showed that 41 percent want politicians to talk more about their religion, with nearly two-thirds approving of the way President Bush openly talks about his religious beliefs.
So what about the Democrats seeking his office? What are their religious beliefs? Earlier Democratic candidates-Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and even Al Gore-were comfortable talking about their religion. Today's candidates have tended to be reticent on the subject, but some, recognizing the importance of the issue to voters especially in the Southern primaries, are coming out of the closet about what they believe.
So here, based on published reports, interviews, and a Beliefnet.com study, are where the candidates stand.
The unchurched candidate
Howard Dean does not go to church. He was raised Episcopalian. After marrying a Jewish woman, they considered going Unitarian, but decided to let their children choose for themselves. They chose Judaism. Mr. Dean dropped his membership in the Episcopal Church when the local congregation opposed the building of a bike path through the church's property. He calls himself a Congregationalist, but actually no longer goes to church at all. (Except, he says, for political events, such as the worship service rallies at African-American churches that have become a hallmark of Democratic campaigns.)
Mr. Dean does say that even though he doesn't go to church, he is still a Christian, that he reads the Bible and prays. This, of course, is a typical line heard by pastors working with the unchurched.
Recently, Mr. Dean has resolved to talk more about Jesus and spiritual issues, especially as he campaigns in the South. But his lack of churchgoing shows. Jesus, he told The Boston Globe, "was a person who set an extraordinary example." His favorite book of the New Testament, he told reporters, is Job.
The liberal magazine The New Republic was more on the mark with its cover story in December titled "Howard Dean's Religion Problem." Quoting him as saying that "my religion doesn't inform my public policy," it concludes that Mr. Dean is "one of the most secular candidates to run for president in modern history."
The New Age candidate
Dennis Kucinich is a devotee of the New Age movement. After he was down and out from being voted out of office as mayor of Cleveland, Mr. Kucinich became friends with Shirley MacLaine, the actress and New Age guru, who helped him attain enlightenment and who has become one of his biggest financial backers.
He is a vegan who is quoted by The Chicago Tribune as wishing that everyone would follow his example in respecting "the sacredness of all species." His speeches are full of references to cosmic oneness, the interrelatedness of the universe, and mystical spirituality.
Here is a sample, quoted by Beliefnet, on the American Founders who, he says, "were immersed in contemplation of a world beyond our experience, one of spirit, of mysticism, one which saw the potential of the country as unfolding in a multidimensional way."
The ecumenical candidate
Wesley Clark was raised Baptist, but his father, who died when he was 4, was Jewish and his mother was Methodist. He converted to Roman Catholicism but presently attends a Presbyterian church. He can click "all of the above" on religious surveys.
His interviews do show him to be a religious man, especially his accounts of how his wartime experiences strengthened his faith, particularly when he was wounded in Vietnam. He speaks about prayer and the Bible and trust in the Lord like someone who knows what they entail.
Mr. Clark said that his move to Catholicism was sparked by his disgust at the anti-military sermons he kept hearing from the Methodist and Baptist churches he was attending while stationed in England. He became interested in Catholicism from his girlfriend whom he would later marry, and he sought out a priest in Vietnam who gave him religious instruction and brought him into the church.
In an interview with Beliefnet, he said that he stopped attending his Catholic congregation, again, because the sermons were too anti-war. Besides, he missed the Protestant hymns. He and his wife regularly attend Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Ark., though they retain their Catholicism and occasionally go to Mass.
His ecumenical sensibility, he indicated, comes from being used to the interdenominational services in the military.
The nominal Catholic candidate
John Kerry is a Catholic. His grandparents were Jewish converts. Nevertheless, he is strongly pro-abortion.
Knight Ridder journalist Steven Thomma quotes one of Mr. Kerry's aides, David Wade, who says the senator is "very private about his religion" and does not actually go to Mass very often.
Mr. Wade then makes it sound as if his boss goes to church purely for political reasons: "If he's in someplace like Davenport or Dubuque, with a big Catholic community, he'll go to church."
The Methodist candidate
John Edwards is a Methodist. He was baptized in the Southern Baptist church when he was 16. He told Jim VandeHei of The Washington Post that he drifted away from religion during college, but that when his 16-year-old son Wade died in a traffic accident in 1996, he started studying the Bible, and his faith came "roaring back."
He joined a Senate Bible study group and co-chaired a national prayer breakfast. Religion, though, as he talks about it, seems mainly to be a matter of being "a good person," as opposed to being a sinner who has found forgiveness.
Voters "want leaders, particularly a president, who they trust and who they think is a good person," he told Mr. VandeHei. "If you are a person of faith, I think it adds weight to that issue of whether you are a good person."
Mr. Edwards is unusually reticent when it comes to talking about his religion. "Most people in this country do not want you to be beating them over their heads with your religious views," he says. And he says that he is "very, very careful" not to allow his faith to influence his policies.
The clergyman candidate
Al Sharpton is an ordained Pentecostal minister. If he is elected, he would be the first clergyman to become president.
Some might question his credentials. According to his autobiography, Go and Tell Pharaoh, he started preaching at a 1,000-member Pentecostal church in New York City when he was 4 years old. The minister of that congregation ordained him when he was 9. WORLD has found no evidence that he ever attended a seminary or Bible college. Nor does he ever seem to have pastored a congregation. He does have a radio program featuring him preaching, but this is in a studio, not a church.
When Mr. Sharpton was 13, he joined the entourage of Adam Clayton Powell, the Harlem minister/politician, so he seems to have been a political activist for his whole career.
African-American churches tend to be liberal politically but theologically and morally conservative. But Mr. Sharpton has said that he not only believes in gay marriage; as a minister, he would perform a gay marriage.
As for his advocacy of abortion, here is how he explained it in an interview with Rolling Stone: "[Former New York archbishop] Cardinal O'Connor once asked me how I could support a woman's right to choose abortion. I told him, 'God didn't say you have to go to heaven-he gave you the option of hell. I think you may go to hell, and I defend your right to get there.'"
The Episcopalian candidate
Carol Moseley-Braun, who withdrew from the race last week, grew up a Catholic but is now an Episcopalian. Once again, personal suffering seems to have been a catalyst for faith. She says that in 1986-after her brother died of a drug overdose, her mother had a stroke, and she went through a divorce-she became a born-again Christian.
This did not make her any less liberal. In an interview with NPR, she said that the key to America's spiritual renewal is improving the economy.
The delinquent Baptist candidate
Richard Gephardt is a Baptist whose church helped pay for his education, who once considered the ministry, and who was once pro-life. Now, his theology sounds more like the mainline liberal social gospel. He says that his religion is "to care about the poor first." With his current pro-abortion stance, that must not include the poor aborted children.
He told Bill O'Reilly on Fox News that "the government has to divorce itself" from religious beliefs. Again, reporter Steven Thomma discovered the truth from a helpful aide. Although Mr. Gephardt is "a religious person," said aide Erik Smith, "he does not regularly go to church."
The Jewish candidate
Ironically, the Democratic candidate who sounds most like an evangelical is not a Christian at all. Joseph Lieberman is not just Jewish but an Orthodox Jew, the most conservative branch of Judaism. He holds to the Jewish law. He only eats kosher food, and he refuses to work-or even campaign-on the Jewish Sabbath.
He talks openly about God and how his religion does shape his work as a lawmaker. He was one of the few Democrats who excoriated President Clinton for his sexual immorality.
Mr. Lieberman believes that religion should not be banished from the public square. He says of some of his Democratic colleagues, "They forget that the constitutional separation of church and state, which I strongly support, promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."
He has worked with Christians to protect religious rights and to combat religious persecution throughout the world. "And incidentally," he told Jewish journalists, "the group that is probably discriminated against most in the world today on the basis of religion is Christians."
And yet, he is less than Orthodox when it comes to abortion. Believing in abortion has become the Democratic shibboleth, their one moral absolute, the limit to their tolerance. The most conservative Jews are pro-life, though some find in Talmudic lore about "quickening" an excuse to believe in early abortions.
Recently, Mr. Lieberman commented that new medical technology that is allowing ever-younger babies to live outside their mother's womb may mean that the viability provisions of abortion law may need to be revisited. Fellow candidates and Democratic activists seized on this mild rethinking of Roe vs. Wade as heresy, and he quickly recanted.
It seems that the dogmas of the abortionists make up the one true faith for Democratic candidates. This trumps even their personal religions, forcing them to either set up a wall of separation between their souls and their work, or causing them to revise their theology so that it does not get in the way of their politics.