Monday, August 18, 2008

Pullin' Out My Handy Dandy Pocket Constitution

I wasn't in the mood for politics on Saturday night. Despite how that topic used to fire me up, I now only engage when I feel like it. Which is admittedly more than the average person, but drastically less than my former levels of immersion. I really used to just about drown myself in it.

But last Saturday I was tired. Watching political shows requires engaging your brain and I didn't think I could handle it. So when my mother-in-law called to remind us that the Rick Warren interview with Obama and McCain would be on, I told Michael he could watch it upstairs if he wanted, but I was veggin' on the Olympics.

After we put the kids to bed, I won the race to the remote and started flipping channels. Non-stop through all the espn-types, followed by the news stations. As the set box paused to catch up with my thumb, I caught a question being asked of Senator Obama on C-SPAN.

I was hooked. Just that quick.

We missed a good portion of Obama's interview, but we did see all of McCain's. I have to say, I really liked the format a lot. Debates can be so frustrating with their timed answers and rebuttals. Sometimes I end up more confused than ever. I thought the conversational format was much easier to watch. Since both candidates were asked the same questions, without hearing the other's answers, we really got to see where their priorities lie, not just how they disagree with the other person.

As the interview ended, the major news stations began commentary. However, we had stopped on C-SPAN, and they began taking viewer reactions by phone. I listened to two before hitting the channel button, but one of callers made a point I couldn't forget. She identified herself as a democrat and began by saying that she found the whole forum disgusting.

And with that, she had my attention.

But it wasn't the answers or the format that upset her. It was the venue and thereby, the implied purpose of the event. She was appalled that either candidate had agreed to participate. She said article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test for any candidate. I, of course, immediately googled article VI. It says in part:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Was the event at Saddleback church a religious test? In a way it was. Being held at a church and moderated by a pastor, it drew an audience of Christians who likely wanted to know a bit more about these two candidates. No doubt most of them were interested in the faith of these men. I believe a question or two even directly addressed that issue. Furthermore the questions asked in the domestic section were largely hot button republican issues - abortion, stem cell research, and the like. For some who watched, I think this event may have been a religious test in their minds.

However, if you read article VI carefully, you'll see an important phrase that I think makes a big difference in this discussion. "required as a qualification" Simply put, we don't require candidates be a certain religion in America. Many of us prefer Christian leaders, but there are no official tests in place to force this preference. And that is as it should be.

Sometimes in their zeal to protect the ambiguous line between church and state, people begin to strip the rights of Christians and the church to have any say at all. That's not what the constitution, or the separation concept, are about. Though it's not an easily defined idea, it is really about balance. All Americans have a right to know about the religious and political views of the presidential candidates. Based on that knowledge, they have the right to vote how they see fit. In balance to that, though, we have laws protecting us from a religious state. We seek to keep religion from being a required qualification for office.

The key concept is really balance. Not too far one way or the other. I think that caller had a good point. But in this case, she swung too far. We can follow the constitution and still hold a presidential interview at a church. We can ask religious questions and not be administering a required test. All in balance. All in America.


gail said...

i really liked the format too. it was much better than a debate or reporter interview. i thot pastor rick had great questions too.

i hope more pastors and churches engage in this kind of venue and forum. i feel like i'm more informed now about the candidates and am able to make a better informed choice on who to vote for.

Jennifer said...

Great post Julie! I was so bummed I didn't get to see it because I had to work so I appreciated your input!

Oh....about my comment section, maybe our background isn't loading right. It's been slow recently. The comments are white but the background is supposed to be green so it usually shows up. I'm not trying to hide it from you!! :) You're usually one of my only comment-leavers anyway, so I need to keep you around! :)