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Stick to the Facts: '08 Candidates and Religion

• E-mail Lauren Green

The New Hampshire primary is now in post-mortem and political pundits across the country are weighing in on what this could bode for the presidential hopefuls.

What's apparent in this election is how powerful a role religion is playing. Each candidate’s position on religion is incorporated in his or her overall strategy, forcing them to state faith and values to a constituency. Mike Hucakbee has captivated Evangelicals, Barack Obama's inspirational Godspeak has attracted the young and impressionable who are in search of a savior, while Mitt Romney's Mormon mantle hangs more like an albatross, thwarting his stellar record as an executive. Hillary Clinton's seemingly nonreligious persona continues to baffle her campaign team — she polled as the least religious candidate according to the Pew Forum on Religion.

Religion is a very misunderstood term in the secular world. We call someone religious without really knowing if faith plays a part in how they live their lives. A person can go to church or temple once a week, participate in all the high holy days and even be tight with their pastor or several members of the clergy — but it doesn't always manifest itself in daily life activities.

Theologian Ravi Zacharias talks about these aspects in his book, Can Man Live Without God?: Origin, Meaning Morality and Destiny . Zacharias investigates the life-long questions: Where do we come from? Why am I here? How do I treat the people in my life and the environment in which I live? And, where do I go when I die?

Every religion's doctrine has answered these questions. In fact, according Dr. Timothy Keller in his new book The Reason for God, everyone has answered these questions whether implicitly or explicitly. Even an atheist or an agnostic. It's simply a set of beliefs by which we can operate in this world.

So when a politician talks about their faith, what are they really saying? Are they saying they hold to their particular religion's doctrines? Or do they have another set of beliefs that's operating as their real faith? Are they more influenced by the teachings of the Bible? The secular culture world view? Or, do they pick and choose from the cafeteria of ideas?

I decided to take a look at the frontrunners' position on certain hot button topics, and then compare them to the stated doctrines of their church affiliations. And remember, many people who attend a particular church don't live by church teachings either. But comparing the candidates' stated religion's set of beliefs with their politics can shed light on who they are personally, versus what they are politically.

Just on the issues of abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty, there's quite a bit of non-alignment among the candidates and their particular professed faiths. I chose these categories because this is where the “rubber meets the road” so to speak, for most churches. This is where their most sacred held beliefs about whom we are as human beings in relation to God are held. This is where the basics of human existence, hold their greatest weight: Who are we? And, where are we going?

I would encourage everyone to view the candidates' position under the microscope of true belief stated in their platforms, professed in their agendas, and shown in their actions.

Below is my brief research. There'll be more as the campaign kicks into high gear.


* THE DEMOCRATIC FRONT-RUNNERS *


I) United Methodist Church

Clinton and Edwards' stated religion is the United Methodist Church . It's considered a liberal, mainline church — the second largest Protestant church after the Southern Baptist Convention.

>> Church Beliefs:

Abortion: Officially, the church upholds the sanctity of unborn human life and condemns abortion as morally wrong — except in the cases where the well-being of the mother is threatened.

Gay Marriage: The United Methodist Church believes marriage is between one man and one woman only and prohibits the celebration of same-sex unions.

Death Penalty: The church condemns capital punishment and says there's no reason for taking human life as retribution or social vengeance.

>> Hillary Clinton:

Abortion: Clinton has said abortion is protected by the Constitution, but there is "an opportunity for people of good faith to find common ground in this debate." She has praised religious groups for promoting abstinence and opposed the Supreme Court's March 2007 decision to uphold a ban on late-term abortions.

Gay Marriage: She opposed same-sex marriage and favors civil union, but said she would not stand in the way if New York passed a law legalizaing same-sex marriage.

Death Penalty: Clinton is a long-time advocate of the death penalty and lobbied for President Clinton's Crime bill, which expanded the list of crimes subjected to the federal death penalty.

>> John Edwards:

Abortion: Edwards supports abortion rights and has won support of a prominent abortion rights advocate, Kate Michelman.

Gay Marriage: During the 2004 campaign, Edwards said he personally opposed gay marriage, but supported both civil unions for homosexual couples and each state determining its own policy.

Death Penalty: He supports the death penalty, saying some crimes "deserve the ultimate penalty."

Source: Pew Forum on Religion


II) United Church of Christ

Sen. Obama is a member of the ultra liberal United Church of Christ, which is not to be confused with the conservative Church of Christ. He belongs to Trinity UCC in Chicago, an 8,000 plus member mega church that calls itself on its Web site "unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian," and is pastored by the controversial Jeremiah Wright.

>> Church Beliefs:

Abortion: The UCC has strongly supported the legalization of abortion since 1971.

Gay Marriage: In 2005, the UCC became the first mainline church to endorse and support same-sex marriage.

Death Penalty: The church opposes the death penalty as a means of restorative justice.

>> Barack Obama:

Abortion: Obama supports abortion rights and voted against a bill to ban late-term abortions.

Gay Marriage: Obama says that he believes 'marriage is between a man and a woman" but he wrote in The Audacity of Hope that he remained "open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided ... I may have been infected with society's prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God."

Death Penalty: He says the death penalty "does little to deter crime," but he supports it for cases in which "the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage."

Source: Pew Forum on Religion


* THE REPUBLICAN FRONT-RUNNERS *


I) Mormon Church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints , otherwise called the Mormon Church, is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah and has temples worldwide with about 13 million members. "Adherents refer to themselves as Christian but are not part of the Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant traditions.

(A discussion on the difference between Mormons and mainline Christian churches is for another blog and another day.)

>> Church Beliefs:

Abortion: Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church stated in 1999, "The church opposed elective abortion for personal or social convenience. The church teaches that, subject only to some very rare exceptions, they must not submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for an abortion."

Gay Marriage: The Church of Latter Day Saints has strict laws on chastity, and the church believes that homosexuality is in violation of those laws, and a serious sin.

Death Penalty: The church is opposed to the death penalty. Resolution of the Church of Jesus Christ LDS, April 20, 1995: "...the standing High Council affirms that it is a faithful reflection of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, whom we proclaim to encourage society not to use capital punishment as a penal response to crime."

>> Mitt Romney:

Abortion: Describes himself as "firmly pro-life." Believes abortion should be banned — except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Gay Marriage: As Massachusetts governor, he actively opposed a decision by the state's Supreme Judicial Court to permit same-sex marriage.

Death Penalty: Romney supports the death penalty for deadly acts of terrorism.

Source: Pew Forum on Religion, Wikipedia, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints


II) Baptist

John McCain attends a Baptist Church and has for years, but hasn't been baptized into the faith. He had been known officially as an Episcopalian, but recently stated that he was in fact a Baptist. So in that, he shares his faith with political rival Mike Huckabee.

The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Baptist group in the world and the largest Protest denomination in the United States.

>> Church Beliefs:

Abortion: The Southern Baptist Convention opposes abortion.

Gay Marriage: The church opposes same-sex marriage as a violation of the Biblical understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman.

Death Penalty: It generally supports the death penalty as a Biblical position.

>> John McCain:

Abortion: McCain supports overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or threat of the life of the mother.

Gay Marriage: He says marriage should be between a man and a woman and opposed a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

Death Penalty: McCain supports the death penalty for federal crimes.

>> Mike Huckabee:

Abortion: Huckabee is anti-abortion and said Roe v. Wade should be overturned but that its reversal would not eliminate abortion laws.

Gay Marriage: He opposes gay marriage — when asked if he believes that homosexuality is immoral, he said, "That’s their business but doesn't agree with it."

Death Penalty: Huckabee supports the death penalty.

Sources: The Southern Baptist Convention


III) Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic church is the largest group of Christians in the United States and makes up the largest Christian denomination in the world with more than one billion members. Officially "it is a Christian church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, currently Pope Benedict XVI.

>> Church Beliefs:

Abortion: The Roman Catholic Church has continuously and steadfastly opposed the legalization of abortion and has supported virtually all meaningful pro-life legislation and public policies.

Gay Marriage: The church opposes gay marriage and the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships but teaches that homosexual persons deserve respect, justice and pastoral care.

Death Penalty: It opposes — Pope John Paul II declared in his 1995 encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," the Church's near total opposition to the death penalty.

>> Rudy Giuliani:

Abortion: Giuliani says he hates abortion, but adds "I believe in a woman's right to choose."

Gay Marriage: He opposes gay marriage and has stated "marriage should be between a man and a woman." He also does not support a federal amendment banning gay marriage. As NYC mayor, he signed legislation recognizing domestic partnerships, marched in gay pride parades and actively supported gay rights.

Death Penalty: Giuliani favors the death penalty and has advocated for capital punishment for those who commit treason against the U.S.

Source: Pew Forum on Religion, Wikipedia, Vatican


>> E-mail Lauren Green

Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.

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Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.