Editor’s note: Brian T. Kaylor is assistant professor of communication studies at James Madison University and author of “Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics.”
By Brian T. Kaylor, Special to CNN
Rick Perry’s Wednesday visit to Liberty University marks only the latest effort by the Texas governor to reach the White House by confessing his faith.
Even in an election cycle dominated by economic concerns, Perry and several of his Republican presidential opponents have spent the last few months trying to out-God-talk one another in hopes of attaining salvation at the ballot box.
While debate moderators and election commentators focus on economic issues, the religious rhetoric of the presidential candidates appears to go mostly unnoticed - except by the key Republican voting bloc being courted. After being a Republican, the best predictor of someone being a Tea Party supporter is whether a person has a desire to see religion significantly impact politics.
This type of confessional politics, in which candidates invoke God and cite Scripture to win elections, has unfortunately dominated U.S. politics for three decades. Ever since Bible-quoting Sunday school teacher Jimmy Carter won the White House in 1976, presidential candidates have followed his example of using religious rhetoric that is testimonial, partisan, sectarian and liturgical.
Exemplifying the confessional political style, Perry said he felt “called” by God to run for president. He kicked off his campaign with brazen confessional gusto, bringing tens of thousands together in an NFL stadium for a day of prayer and fasting.
In June, Perry secretly met a group of nearly 80 conservative Christian leaders at a gathering organized by evangelist James Robison. The Texas evangelist led a similar secret meeting in 1979 to plot Jimmy Carter's defeat.
That earlier effort culminated in an August 1980 religious-political rally with Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan that helped Reagan mobilize conservative pastors for his victory. At the event, Reagan famously used a line suggested by Robison to win over the crowd: “I know you can’t endorse me … but I want you to know that I endorse you and what you are doing.”
Perry isn’t the only candidate who believes the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue runs down the church aisle.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has also said she felt God was “calling” her to run, won the Iowa Straw Poll last month in large part because of support from conservative evangelicals. Her campaign strategy includes speaking in churches and garnering pastor endorsements.
Now that Perry has entered the race with a similar strategy, Bachmann’s poll numbers are in free fall. As Jesus warned, those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
Even candidates who might not be expected to try their hands at confessional politics have orchestrated come-to-Jesus moments.
Libertarian-leaning Ron Paul may idolize thinker Ayn Rand (even naming his son after her) but he is rejecting her atheistic worldview as he hopes to become the GOP’s standard-bearer. In July, Paul’s campaign launched its “Evangelicals for Ron Paul” initiative.
The website for the effort prominently features a quote from Paul: “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior, and I endeavor every day to follow Him in all that I do in every position I advocate.”
Even Mormon candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, whose faith makes them suspicious to many evangelicals, work references to Jesus into their speeches.
In the last presidential campaign, Romney proudly confessed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the Savior of mankind.”
At the June Faith & Freedom Conference run by former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed, Huntsman attempted to endear himself to the evangelical audience by crediting Jesus with bringing his adopted Chinese daughter into his family.
These candidates may not have the same natural religious swagger as Perry, but they're clearly seeking faith-based voters in hopes of not being left behind.
Romney has spoken at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, as has Paul, while Bachmann is speaking there in a couple weeks. Then-presidential candidate John McCain spoke there in 2008, even after labeling Falwell an “agent of intolerance.”
Sometimes the political conversion experience on the way to Washington seems even more dramatic than the spiritual conversion of the biblical Paul on the way to Damascus.
Not to be outdone, President Barack Obama also employs the confessional political style. During the 2008 campaign he spoke of God and cited Scripture with more eloquence and ease than McCain. Obama continues to weave biblical themes and divine references into his speeches, including in remarks last weekend at the September 11 anniversary event in New York.
Voters should ignore attempts by candidates to out-confess one another and instead focus on what really matters.
John F. Kennedy declared in a speech to Protestant pastors in Houston: “I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign … the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms - an America with too many slums, with too few schools.”
These same issues demand our attention today. When religious confessions crowd out critical issues, we all lose. We are not electing an evangelist-in-chief.
When political elections come down to who can claim to love God the most, we all lose. Religious devotion and piety does not inherently equal governing competence.
When religion becomes merely another political trick, we all lose. The politicization of faith profanes the sacred.
My prayer is that candidates and voters will move away from confessional politics. As a committed Christian and former Baptist pastor, I do not wish to see religion excluded from the public square. However, giving religious beliefs too much weight in electoral decisions undermines the basic democratic values that have guided our nation for over two centuries.
The expectation that candidates talk about God and their personal religious beliefs shifts attention away from critical policy concerns, creates a de facto religious test for office and essentially disenfranchises those of minority faiths or who have no faith. Confession may be good for the soul, but it is not always good for democracy.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian T. Kaylor.
Seriously...Do you really think God gives a damn about the marketplace? Perry is such a tool. What happened to love thy neighbor and feed the hungry?
Not one cotton-pickin' thing has happened to "Love thy neighbor and feed the hungry." We Christians are doing this and other good things every time we find ourselves with such an oppertunity. I have been hankering to tell a few of the Liberal folks for a while about a passage of Scripture that I think probably describes their belly-aching to a "T". Jesus told some people once: "You are like chidren sitting in the market place, saying We have mourned for you and ye have not wept, we have piped for you and ye have not danced. For John the Baptist came not eating or drinking and ye say'he has a devil'. The Son of Man came both eating drinking and ye say'behold a glutton and a wine-bibber." Seems we have a similar generation to deal with in our day and age.
Dave, those passages happen to describe exactly what the Republicans are doing. You are accusing liberals of being "wine-bibbers" and all the rest, yet it is a very liberal thing to allow you to live beside us, you narrow-minded sap-sucker...
If we weren't liberals we'd chop you up and feed you to the sharks, like you guys keep doing to the poor and sick.
In short, your partisanship combined with your skewed religious outlook make you totally suck.
supposed Xtians ignore Matthew 19:21. xtianity is merely a lip service custom, not a true belief or way of life .. except for the Amish.
Ok first of mormonisum is not a religion its a cult agin mormonisum is a cult.if americans want to vote for men that worship brigham young and J.smith who r we as americans who r real christein and don't belong to any cult we have the right to vote for whom ever.I pray they the mormons won't win.evil is evil so they will go to hell ask a mormon how many times they have been babtized most have been dipped in a tub a lot.this adds to there large gRoup of cult members.repuplicans.want to but more money in there pockets not the people they lie cheat ,steal have women or in some cases men on the down low and they have the balls to bring God into there agenda shame on all of u.you all suck as humans and u will go to hell for all the hurt u cause people.
Any religion is a cult to someone else, in case you haven't noticed.
A 'Religion" is simply a very popular cult. If you're honest with yourself, you'll know it to be the truth.
"real" christians don't read the bible. If they did, they'd be atheists.
The book completely negates itself.
Christianity is the biggest cult of all in America.
Oh yeah, I will gladly go to hell so I don't have to be with idiots like you for eternity. To me, THAT would be hell.
Even though I'm not Mormon anymore & have not be in over 12 years I needed to point out how wrong you are, Members of the Mormon church are just SUPER STRICK Christains who believe that Jesus came to see the Native Americans after he was reserected... thats it that the only major Difference between Mormonism & Christianity.
Jesus was the leader of a brand-new cult in his day.
Every religion spits out cults / sects. Every single one is also a cult in itself.
Mormons should have been wiped from the earth along with every other religion as soon as they appeared, but somehow all people tend to be liberal enough to let them exist in relative peace.
Jesus simply interpreted Jewish laws a different way and other Jews agreed with him, forming a cult.
If Jesus hadn't found anyone to listen to him, he would have been just another religious whack-job to everyone, because that's what he was. He just had some followers, just like the Bagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Get followers and you have a religious cult. Die and you become a martyr to your followers no matter how crazy.
Religions without followers, like Mithraism, are dead religions. They lost all their followers to other cults.
Mormons are just another cult, just like Christianity. Judaism is another cult, as is Buddhism.
If you don't like the word cult, then get out of religion, for they are all cults of one stripe or another.
Maybe spend a little less time trying to get schools to teach nonsense like Creationism and more time teaching spelling and punctuation. I can't believe how much illiterate drivel I'm reading here!
You are clueless about the Latter Day Saint faith.
Sadly more and more this nation which was founded on the rock of Christian beliefs is becoming more secular. Rejoice Libs.
You got it backwards, stop trying to co-opt history.
This country was founded by slave owners.
I am, thanks! Can't be soon enough.
I am certainly rejoicing, but unfortunately it isn't happening nearly as fast as I would like to see it happen.
Perry to God – Please God make it rain in Texas
God to Perry – I wouldn't p1ss on you if you were on fire
I've been wanting to ask how that 'hopey, prayey" thing's been working for 'em. Doesn't seem to be doing so well.
And what happened after Perry's prayer? The east coast ended up getting the rain that Texas desperately needed by way of a hurricane, along with a massive earthquake, and then the stock market tanked. F-you very much Rick Perry.
Good one, Joe!
Religion is the true terrorism. The only reason people buy into it is fear that they will 'burn for eternity" if they don't believe. Now THAT'S real terror. Enjoy your lives of fear.
you nailed it.
Religion is, and always has been, the root of all evil. Politicians are annoying to begin with, but watching them profess their faith to obtain the confidence of voters is sickening. I say, Come on the rapture! I wish it were really just that easy to pluck all the self-righteous, pious, bigoted Christians – politicians or not – off the face of the earth and leave those of us behind who can still reason and aren't hindered by the guilt and fear that all relgions use to control the masses. I'm amazed how many gullible people there are in this world. I'm proud to be a non-believer and proud to have raised my children to be non-believers. Someday humanity will be brave enough to accept reality without gods.
I have been aChristian since I was nine years old. I have heard enough preaching to save a nation if people would obey what they hear from God. Very little is ever said concerning "HELL". I know of very few Christian believers who fear hell the way you claim they do. Most of our people think mostly on the love of God and of Heaven.
Dave, you're deluding yourself. The fear of hell is implicit in the whole 'loving God' bit. You do it for rewards in heaven. There is no other compelling reason to 'love' a deity unless they're either giving you something or punishing you for something. None. Being kind to your fellow humans requires no religion, no deity and no dogma. It's simply the best way to operate a group of social beings. I hear many religious folk say that anyone who's an atheist or agnostic would just be running around murdering, robbing and raping because they would have no moral guidance, but that is a lie. One that I'm really sick of hearing about. We are social beings and those activities run counter to being social, therefore we know they are not right. Where you have attended church may not rant about 'fire and brimstone', but that fear is always there....
America needs to know that all the civilized countries are laughing hard at this. How do I know? Because I'm there, laughing too. The USA has become a parody of democracy.
Yes, I think most countries view the US as adults do kids that still believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. They think it's cute, but kind if silly.
Perry prayed in a stadium, to be seen of men, as the start of his campaign. He had never put together a similar event before. He knew it would be easy to pull the wool over theeyes of the evangelicals, and they have fallen for it – hook, line and sinker....
But maybe.....maybe if we all pray hard enough, Jesus will come down from heaven and solve all of our political, health, and economic woes!
christians have supposedly been doing that for centuries and still nothing...what does that tell you....knock...knock....is a super deity out there.....silence....and the woes and misery continue...hey look it's the worse poverty in the US since they started keeping track...maybe if you all stopped praying and worked together for viable solutions we might get somewhere!
Amen! Politics out of religion! Religion out of politics! As a Christian, I am dismayed that sub-groups of Christian fundamentalists claim that they have a mandate to be elected because only they interpreted God's Writings (Christian Scriptures) correctly and everyone else who doesn't see it their way surely must be wrong. This is no different than the Taliban, who claim because they have interpreted God's Writings (Koran) correctly and everyone else is wrong then they have a mandate to rule. The word "fundamentalist" and all it's evil applies to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and any other religious group who claim only they have the inspired word of God understood properly and so everyone else will going to hell unless they come around to their views. This convenient self-placement allows these fundamentalist fanatics to dehumanize everyone else as "beneath them" since they're going to hell anyway, and justify any form of injury. to the "non-believers" as "God's will." Ironically and sadly, it closes them off to the very God with whom they profess to be on intimate speaking terms. Every oppressor since the dawn of man has first dehumanized their victims. Our best defense against this in America is to never vote for a fundamentalist – of any religion.
More and more are waking up to the fact that god is pretend ... like dragons and leprechauns.
Dragons are far better than god too.
Ya, way cooler!
Mat 6:33 "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
Jhn 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."
1Cr 3:9 “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.”
1Cr 3:16 "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"
Luk 17:21 "Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is inside/within you."
1Cr 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
1Cr 3:17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which [temple] ye are
1Cr 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
These "hidden things of darkness" are of INNER SPACE and OUTER SPACE things, They are one and the sameness. Fractal Cosmology is yet at its’ infancy of theoretical science but I stand firm in that this theory will find for itself that INNER SPACE things are the 1st order and OUTER SPACE things are secondary. We who are of Celestial based Life gives shelter to that which lives upon the INNER SPACES of things. When we die we are returned to the place(s) we once fled or were transfixed and vexed to be extolled and committed apart from the God and His subjects who rules our embodiment’s cellularized universes. We are the mechanized life-beings that are God’s buildings.
Please try not to be blatant and vigorously bombast these verses and my word. I am only human and I try really hard to bring to light that which haunts me daily. Please just meditate upon these verses which condemn no one except those who defame the bodies which are God's Buildings and He and His people live within us much like the "midichlorians" of the Star Wars Saga.
Akira 6:13 "For he who spammeth Bible quotes shall suffer the terrible wrath of the Internets."
That jesus guy is never coming. You see... he's late. REALLY late. By about 2000 years. According to his own words.
"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled." –Matthew 24:34 (KJV)
"And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." –Mark 9:1 (KJV)
"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." –Matthew 16:28 (KJV)
"According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, we who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep." –1 Thessalonians 4:15 (NIV)
"Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'" –John 21:22 (NIV)
"When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes." –Matthew 10:23 (NIV)
And then, jesus never showed up. So, what happened? In Peter, we can see excuses being made. It is believed this was one of the last additions to the bible. They realized that jesus lied.
"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.... But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." –2 Peter 3:3-8 (KJV)
Get your god out of my Government.
Riiiight. Hey, quick, grab your camera – isn't that the face of Jesus on your napkin?
I always get a chuckle when people quote the bible. It's just a stone age book of violent, demented fairy tales. The only people who believe the stories are true have either been brainwashed beyond repair, are ambulatory schizophrenics, or have profound cognitive impairments.
Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Bible quotes are such gibberish! They aren't even complete thoughts, especially when taken out of context as they are here. Not to mention, you can barely wade through all of the ye's and thou's and thus' to get to any tiny kernel of meaning. It dumbfounds me that people base their lives on a book written by a nomadic desert tribe from the bronze age and still consider it relevant in any way. Mind boggling...
"be nice to each other" by Gary The bible has some nice ideas, but is folklore and myth. God is pretend.
How is it that the Republicans consider themselves to own Christianity in American politics? I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't say "Screw everyone over as long as you've got yours.".
Sounds like a perfect slogan for most of the Republican candidates this election though!
it's pretty easy to see why politicians do this, people that think snakes can talk and that a man can turn water into wine are easily manipulated.
Back to the candidates God talk, if they feel a personal conviction towards Christianity and profess Christ's teachings, then 1) Love God with all your heart (God is all) 2) Love your Neighbor as yourself (your neighbor is anyone you come into contact with via any device) It seems that some advocate other then these two tenets and Jesus also said, "by their fruits you shall know them," that is, their actions have had a positive impact or negative. People have to realize that in years of his ministry, he spoke out against the church of the day and today would be no different.
jesus also told his followers that they wouldn't die before he returned. So... why are we still preaching about what jesus would do?
This is to Kyle: Careful study of the verses that are being parroted by non-believers here are being used to try to dis-prove the very truth they proclaim. A more careful examination of said verses would disprove the notion the Jesus or His followers "said" any such thing as Jesus WILL come back before this generation dies. That is NOT what is being said. Granted, I do not have the time to elaborate on every verse, but if you will study with an OPEN heart there is a chance that God will allow you to see HIS Truth.
@Dave Davis You are wrong.
Why do so many conservatives feel the need to parade their religious beliefs?
Religious right (not necessarily correct)
Because then gullible people will vote for them because they think it's a good thing
Well, that's really what the article is all about. Unless you proclaim your beliefs loudly while admonishing sinners like gays, you won't get the nomination, even if you are the absolute best choice for President in the history of our nation. The bible thumpers will vote in a less qualified person before him, if they bleat their bible verses loud enough.
They also like to parade their genitals in front of young boys.
That is a fair question. One good turn deserves another: Why do so many Liberals feel the need to parade their unbelief? We all get so tired of your atheistic, irrational foolishness.
Irrational? Good one. (face palm)
Frankly, anyone who professes a deep devotion to a god, and has to continually tell people about it does NOT get my vote. It's kind of like the quote "doth protest too much" – the more you talk about it the less it's believed.
What ever power God is, I don't have any problem with belief. I can't take the syrupy self- righteous Bible thumpers who think theirs is the only true path, and my path is wrong. I wonder if Perry prayed as loudly for those souls executed in Texas – guilty or not. Bachman is another self righteous thumper. She touts her rep as a foster mother. Doen't the county or state pay a stipend to foster parents?
How anyone of any intelligence can actually believe all this fairytale crap is beyond me, let alone try to use it to get elected to a public office of great importance. Americans simply haven't got the guts or smarts to elect an atheist. Too bad...we get "leaders" whose lives are governed by lies and fantasies.
One can be rational and a person of faith. Most people seem bound and determined to act as if the two have something to do with each other, though. It's unfortunate.
Get god out of politics. I say Amen.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.