Tonight the Republican candidates for president will appear in another debate held here in Orlando. In this presidential cycle there are more diverse faiths represented among Republicans than ever: Mormon, Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, and main-line Protestant.
The role of faith is dissected by the media more often than addressed by the candidates themselves, unless, of course, they are speaking to their own faith constituency. Many will argue that faith commitments, or none at all, are off limits and unworthy of consideration. Others, like the evangelical right, make it a primary filter through which they evaluate candidates.
The evangelical voting block of the last twenty-five years will be further solidified or broken during this Republican primary contest. Already I hear long time evangelical voters preferring one of the two Mormon candidates for a policy or leadership reason. Mormon blogs debate whether their allegiance should be towards Romney or Huntsman simply because of their faith. The debate itself shows a diversity within Mormon circles that is a far cry from the monolithic image commonly put forth by the media. I hear Roman Catholics split over whether they reject or accept Newt Gingrich’s conversion. They ask: did he convert to atone for past moral infidelities? Or is it an honest conversion bringing with it commitments to certain issues that both Roman Catholics and evangelicals share?
President Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, represents the most liberal, progressive branch of American Christianity ever to hold the Oval Office. The UCC embodies a very different view of the church, doctrine and faith practice apart from global Christianity, even mainline American Protestantism. His own roots in the liberation theology movement were a political road block at one point during his campaign which he skillfully managed. John F. Kennedy’s commitment as a Roman Catholic affirmed for many Americans that our president does not have to be White, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. President Obama again has stretched the bounds of acceptability, not just with his race, but with a progressive version of Christianity that shapes and guides his decisions.
It remains to be seen how the Republican Party will unite or divide due to the faith diversity represented in tonight’s candidates. Either way, the exercise itself will be interesting to observe, and further establish the breadth and buoyancy of the American political system.