The 'faith factor' in the presidential campaign

For the last three weeks on "Interfaith Voices," we've been broadcasting a series we call the "Faith Factor," looking at the religious preferences and affiliations (or lack thereof) of the major presidential candidates.

The religious diversity of the field is striking. On the Republican side, Donald Trump is a Presbyterian (nominally), Marco Rubio is a Catholic (having experimented with Mormonism before that), Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist evangelical (son of an evangelical preacher) and John Kasich was born Catholic, but later became an Anglican (his church is part of the group that broke off from the U.S. Episcopal Church). On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist and Bernie Sanders is Jewish ... or more accurately, culturally Jewish.  

But the mix goes way beyond denominations. I've completed interviews on the religious proclivities of all these candidates except for Kasich (and if he survives the Ohio primary, he's next). The levels of seriousness about faith are as varied as the denominations.

Donald Trump, for example, has carried a Bible around on a couple occasions, but it's doubtful that he is actually acquainted with what's inside of it. He is getting a healthy proportion of the white evangelical vote, but it's not clear if his supporters are seriously religious, or only nominal, evangelicals. In any event, religion does not appear to be a factor in their support for Trump.  

Ted Cruz is a very strong evangelical, so strong that some fear he might undermine separation of church and state if he were president. He thinks of the U.S. as a "Christian" country ... despite our religious diversity. Marco Rubio went through struggles with faith early in his life, was born Catholic, became a Mormon for a few years and left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to return to Catholicism. By all accounts, he is a serious Catholic.

Support independent Catholic journalism. Become an NCR Forward member for $5 a month.

John Kasich was born Catholic, drifted away from the church as a young man, but returned to church (in this case, the Anglican Church) after his parents were killed in a car crash when he was young.

Bernie Sanders did the usual Jewish bar mitzvah as a young man and now occasionally visits a synagogue. But he's not a "regular" at synagogue, although he is clearly acquainted with the social justice thrust of Judaism.

Hillary Clinton is, by all accounts, a serious "social justice" Methodist, having been influenced early in life by Don Jones, a young justice advocate who came to her church in suburban Chicago when she was a young woman, and organized a trip for teenagers in that church -- one of whom was Clinton -- to meet Dr. Martin Luther King. He emphasized social justice, and his life continued to influence Hillary well into adulthood.

There is a lot more to say about each candidate. This is a list of links to the interviews if you want to listen:

Editor's note: Readers curious about the 2016 presidential candidates' respective faiths should check out Religion News Service's series "Five Faith Facts about the 2016 Presidential Candidates."  


Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here

Advertisement