By John Blake, CNN
He called himself a “life-long Quaker and a church-going Christian,” and at first there was no reason to doubt him.
He played piano in the church, taught Sunday school, and praised Jesus at revivals. His mother thought he was going to be a missionary. His friends said he would be a preacher.
We now know this former Sunday school teacher as “Tricky Dick” or, more formally, President Richard Nixon. He was one of the most corrupt and paranoid men to occupy the Oval Office. Nixon gave us Watergate, but he also gave presidential historians like Darrin Grinder a question to ponder:
Does a president’s religious faith make any difference in how he governs?
“I don’t think so,” says Grinder, author of “The Presidents and Their Faith,” which examines the faith of all American presidents.
“If I asked George W. Bush what he thought about torture, I think outside the presidency he would say he hates it,” Grinder says. “But he’d do it for the country if he thinks it’s right in terms of American security.”
We elect a president every four years, but perhaps we also elect a high priest. Ever since George Washington spontaneously added “so help me God” to his inaugural oath, Americans have expected their presidents to believe in, worship and publicly invoke God.
A presidential candidate who doesn’t meet these religious expectations won’t go far, Grinder says.
“It’s going to be a long time before anyone who openly admits that he or she is an agnostic or an atheist is elected,” Grinder says. “We tie character and religious beliefs together.”
Piety and presidential greatness don’t always mix
History suggests, however, that piety and presidential performance don’t always match. Some of America’s most religious presidents have been its most brutal. And two of its greatest presidents wouldn’t even be considered Christians today, scholars say.
Consider Abraham Lincoln, who is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s three greatest presidents, along with Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Lincoln, who never joined a church, was not a Christian, says Niels C. Nielsen, author of “God in the Obama Era.”
“Lincoln believed in an active God, he believed in providence. But if you asked Lincoln if he believed in the deity of Jesus, he would have said no,” Nielsen says.
Or look at Roosevelt, who is virtually a national saint. With his perpetual grin and a cigarette holder perched jauntily in his mouth, he guided the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. His legacy is built on his New Deal, an array of programs that protected the poor and elderly from the abuses of unrestrained capitalism.
But Roosevelt was no saint in his personal life. He rarely talked publicly about his Episcopalian faith, preferred golf over church (before he was stricken by polio), and likely cheated on his wife, scholars say.
Yet few presidents embodied the biblical concept of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” as much as Roosevelt, who once called the heartless business tycoons of his day “the money changers” in the temple.
Nielsen, the historian, suggests that it was Roosevelt’s suffering that drove him to look out for the most vulnerable, not his faith. According to his wife, Eleanor, polio taught her husband “infinite patience and never-ending persistence.”
“I think it made him more sensitive to the feelings of people,” Eleanor said, according to Nielsen.
Another contemporary president’s concern for others seemed to be driven more by his exposure to suffering than his faith.
Lyndon Johnson plunged America deeper into Vietnam. Yet his “Great Society” programs displayed a concern for “the least of these” in America. Under Johnson, the government launched programs to protect the civil rights of minorities, improve the educational chances of needy children and protect the environment.
Johnson saw poverty as a sin, something that should be attacked and defeated.
But Johnson never seemed to have any problem with a little personal sin. He grew up in Texas, where he affiliated with Disciples of Christ and Baptist churches. But he is widely believed to have stolen one of his earliest elections. He was a womanizer, historians say, and his speech was filled with such vulgarity that reporters had a difficult time quoting him on the record.
“He didn’t have any morality,” says Nielsen.
But he did have the experience of teaching in a poor, rural, immigrant school in Texas, Grinder says, where Johnson once said he learned “what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.”
One of Johnson’s domestic advisers says in Grinder’s book that Johnson’s commitment to racial justice and eliminating poverty came from his teaching days in Texas.
“Equal opportunity became for him a constitutional obligation, and he pursued it with messianic conviction,” said Joseph Califano Jr.
Our first ‘infidel’ president
Some American presidents didn’t just seem indifferent to religion. They were accused of being hostile to organized religion and dismissive of Jesus.
Washington, the nation’s first president, was not a Christian but most likely a Deist, someone who believed in a divine, beneficent being who ordered the world. Clergy would often try to goad him into publicly stating that he was a Christian, but he refused to do so, Grinder says.
Thomas Jefferson, though, aroused the hostility of more religious leaders than any other president, except perhaps for President Obama.
The nation’s third president once said that he didn’t care if his neighbor worshiped one God or 20, and argued for the separation of church and state. His opponents called him a pagan and an infidel. New England farm wives buried their family Bibles in gardens because they heard Jefferson would confiscate them, Grinder says.
Grinder wrote that one pastor who campaigned against Jefferson’s election warned:
“If Jefferson is elected, the Bible will be burned, the French Marseillaise will be sung in Christian churches, and we may see our wives and daughters become the victims of legal prostitution.”
Most presidents, however, didn't speak out against organized religion like Jefferson. Some took on the high priest role of the office, and few did it as eagerly as our nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was a devout Presbyterian who read three to five chapters of the Bible daily, built a chapel in his Tennessee home and publicly attended two Washington churches while in the White House. He is known as one of the most devout presidents.
Yet he was also known for his violent temper (he killed a man in a duel) and for being a rich slaveholder. Jackson’s claim to infamy, though, comes primarily from his treatment of Native Americans. Some historians describe it as genocidal. He slaughtered Seminole Indians and their families in Florida, and he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Cherokees, who he forced from their homeland in Georgia.
How could Jackson reconcile his fervent religious beliefs with the mass killings of Native Americans? Grinder thinks he knows:
“He was brutal because he did not believe the persons he was being brutal to were human.”
Obama and his faith
Anyone who doubts that a president’s faith remains important to the American people has only to look at the experiences of Obama.
Obama has declared his Christianity in his biography, and in many speeches. He evoked it recently when he came out in support of same-sex marriages. But arguably no president has had his faith so aggressively questioned. Many Americans still believe he is a Muslim.
Stephen Mansfield, author of “The Faith of Barack Obama,” is a political conservative who has written about the evangelical faith of President George W. Bush. He became curious about Obama and spent time talking to Obama’s spiritual cabinet, a collection of ministers who counsel Obama.
Mansfield says he has no doubt that Obama is a devout Christian. His belief has angered some fellow conservatives so much that he says he has had speeches canceled and received angry e-mails.
“I take him seriously as a Christian,” Mansfield says. “He’s a politically liberal Christian man who is making a deeper journey of faith all the time.”
Mansfield says Obama’s health care law is an expression of faith: his belief that Christians are obligated to look out for the most vulnerable.
“Barack Obama believes that the mechanism of the state ought to be used in service of the biblical idea of saving the needy and the poor and the oppressed,” says Mansfield.
For some, though, Obama’s faith will always be associated with the angry sermons of Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor. Yet Mansfield says Obama has embraced a more traditional form of Christianity since becoming president.
In his book, Mansfield tells a story about Obama ministering to a pastor who had experienced a death in the family. Mansfield says he was stunned that Obama could draw so easily from a deep well of scripture to minister to a minister.
“He is serious about his faith,” says Mansfield, also author of “The Mormonizing of America.” “He’s absolutely not a Muslim.”
Nielsen, author of “God in the Obama Era,” has a theory why some Americans believe Obama is a Muslim.
“They hate him so much,” Nielsen says. “He’s polarized the country.”
Nielsen says Obama’s unconventional religious background may arouse suspicion, but it’s an asset. Obama was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, where he was exposed to Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and other religions. When he lived in Chicago, his Christianity was shaped by the black church’s emphasis on social justice.
“He knows more about world religions than anybody that’s been in the White House,” Nielsen says.
The persistent scrutiny of Obama’s faith, though, has helped his presidential opponent more than the president, says Grinder, author of “The Presidents and Their Faith.”
“If [Mitt] Romney had almost any other opponent than Obama, I think we’d be hearing a lot more about Mormonism,” Grinder says. “He would be in the same place that Obama has been in the last five years.”
Once Obama leaves the Oval Office, don’t expect the religious scrutiny of presidents to fade, Grinder says. We still want our presidents to act like a politician and a priest.
“The religious rhetoric gets louder each year,” he says. “That’s not going to change anytime soon.”
We are a SECULAR nation founded by men who feared the ignorant, religious, unwashed masses.
The earth is 4.5 BILLION years old, NOT 6000 years old.
Dinosaurs existed, just not with man.
Evolution, and Global Climate change, are scientific facts and our ancestors are over 6 million years old.
No, the world won't end concurrent with the Mayan calendar.
The whole "god" & "jesus" thing: myths invented by man and is no more relevant or accurate than the Greek/Roman gods, Hinduism, Mithrasian faiths, etc. 98% of all christianity is LIBERALLY lifted from preceding "pagan" faiths (oh, the irony!).
There is NO peer reviewed, legitimate academically accepted proof that "jesus" ever existed and you'd think the most important "person" in christianity would have proof of life.
The parting of the Red Sea, Noah's Ark, "jesus" rising from the dead, etc......all myths.
Abortion? That issue was decided with Roe vs. Wade, get over it.
I don't care what you believe provided you keep ALL religion out of public schools, science & academia, foreign and domestic policy, laws & jurisprudence. KEEP IT OUT OF OUR LIVES. FOAD.
Your chaotic rant is exactly why we do have and need religion!
Thank you for your "chaotic" rant. It hits the nail on the head. Perhaps its time atheist of the world unit and put an end to this religious madness. How many people need to die over religion. It's ripping the world apart.
People have wanted to put an end to it throughout all time. That's why so many of them have died.
When a Xtian says the words "fact" or "truth" what they really mean is opinion. It is even worse when they capitalize the word, like that makes a difference.
I must admit that I whole-heartedly prefer that the ruler of the most powerfull nation on this planet, "NOT" believe in ancient myths and fairy tales...just saying...
My apologies if this has been posted before, but I don't have time to read 2,400 posts.
There can be only one answer to the question of whether a candidate for president's faith matters. It is clearly outlined in the Const.tution of the United States in Article VI:
"no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
We follow our Const.tion. No religious test (essentially meaning the adherence to a particular faith) is required, at all.
They can profess whatever personal beliefs they like – they should be measured by their actions. I understand that when electing a President it is important to understand as much of the person as possible to predict their likely actions. Whatever church they claim to attend is not a reliable indicator of future behavior.
I pity you people.
@Cindy, which people?
The people who don't believe as she does, silly!
If Romney wins, will we all be allowed to have Mormon harems? And can I write off all my wives? Cuz I would be super into that.
Hate to break the news to you but polygamy (multiple wives) was repealed by the Mormon church in the 1890's. Maybe a small amount of due diligence on your part would help you avoid looking ill informed and basically stupid.
Absolutely NO way will I ever vote for a mormon. Made up by a crook to swindle others and grew exactly as any cult would.. No basis Can you say evil?.
The only reason polygamy was removed as a central tenet of Mormonism is becuase the Gov't of the US made criminalizing polygamy a requirement for entry into the Union. Utah was denied entry because the LDS admitted to practicing "the twin relics of barbarism" – slavery and polygamy.
After Brigham Young died, the next LDS prophet, Willford Woodruff, reluctantly said "my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriages forbidden by the law of the land."
5 years later, Utah's 6th application for statehood was accepted.
Mormons have such divine revelations whenver it becomes economically necessary.
Won't be long and you will all be wishing we had a God fearing "True Christian" president! Wait and see!
Blah, Blah, Blah
Why should someone fear "God"? I thought he was all loving.
Ah but you forget. He'll condemn us to eternal agony BECAUSE he loves us. Work that one out.
No thanks, I have a no aneurysm policy. Any self-contradictory statements get farmed out to someone else for consideration; I don't want a headache this early in the morning.
Good policy, although it must make interaction with Christians virtually impossible. Mmm, maybe I should take it up.
You're tactics are designed to scare little children, but this is an adult blog site, and we're not afraid of your boogy man.
And see or hear what? Your imaginary friend going to talk to you again? You need mental help! You listen to burning bushes talk. You are psychotic.
Don't listen to all the naysayers, AH.....jeebus is waiting....do you have tall buildings where you live, or a sidearm? Jeebus is only a step (or a click) away
"True" and "Christian" rarely go together.
There is no value in unjustified love ... If god truly loves us unconditionally, then there must be some reason to justify his love ... If he loves us but doesn't care what we do or how we treat him or respond to him, thats not love that's just apathy ... so the question for those who believe in a loving god is ... how is god's love for all of us "sinners" justified?
Hello, everyone is welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com
Apart from maybe Jimmy Carter, the other Presidents found religion as a way to get into the White House. Hypocrites for using religion that way, delusional for believing religion.
So our Presidents are hypocrites and delusional. That sounds about right.
what high office or importance do you hold?
Someone has to hold a high office to voice their opinion? Kebos is right. In the photo, George Bush is thinking about baseball or fishing, Jimmy Carter is praying, and Bill Clinton is thinking about the waitress he saw at lunch.
Thanks for the reply it proves you are both hypocrites and delusional
Why does that creep Carter get away from your assessment?
That's exactly what it proves, o' wise one.
Prayer changes things
Religion retards a childs ability to reason.
Science creates knowledge, for those with an open mind.
The gods are among the dead and dying..
The Higgs Bozon will be discovered right soon, creation myths will be defunct.
God created science
Religion did every thing in its power to bury scientific study when it did not agree with their dogma. Why would they do that if science was a creation of god, pray tell? The more you post, the less sense you make?
Prove it then. Go Ahead, we are listening. What is truth is that two working hands will ALWAYS do more than thousands of clasp hands in prayer. You are delusional. You need mental help!
You're a proven liar. Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!!
Two hands working without a plan are totally useless prayer provides the plan. A good man prays, a great man acts on prayer
Religion does not create, cause, or improve morality.
Ok, guy-who-uses-the-Lord's-name-in-vain-as-his-screen-name, you post EXACTLY the same paragraphs over and over on every religious story. It's getting a little old.
I guess you haven't noticed that he only does that in response to every instance of @Atheism is not healthy...'s interminable pap.
I could really use the name of your god in vain if you want LinSea.
What if they believed in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? (may his noodley appendage touch you).
only a card carrying moron would do that
Bobby Henderson for President, perhaps? It has been quite some time since we have had a living breathing prophet in our midst, political office rather than shilling for some casino maybe a step down in prestige but I am sure he would make that sacrifice to serve his fellow citizens.
RAmen...blessings from the FSM.
If Romney wasn't a Mormon, we would be buried under negative ads about Rev. Wright and Obama's "Muslim background." Put Karl Rove is smart. A religious battle would bring a lot of scrutiny into the Mormon church. And that would be the end of Romney's campaign.
Does it matter that Bush appears here? tinyurl.com/72xj9st
Hi everyone. All are welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com
Christ never participated in politics. He said on John 17:16 " They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world." the result of doing what christ never told is expressed in 1 Peter 2:3,4 "2 Furthermore, many will follow their acts of loose conduct, and on account of these the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. 3 Also, with covetousness they will exploit YOU with counterfeit words.
I need more work!
I know you better than most UK Dave! :)
Capture the Universe UK Dave! :)
I can no longer recommend corruption! :(
Corruption has destroyed me already! :(
Capture the Universe UK Dave! :)
Get your many houses in order UK Dave! :)
Set your sights on the Universe UK Dave! :)
I must thank you for such positive advice Mafia Don! :) :) :)
Uk Dave- I have a suggestion: 1- go to a evangelical church and start screaming saying u have the "holy spirit", and start asking people for money. 2- pretend ur a catholic priest and say that u charge for praying for blessings. There's some ideas!
You just took the crown UK Dave!
Amen at last!
I'm Presbyterian Muslim.
I've no need of catholic advice ever.
I use much stiffer discipline than you can possibly imagine.
I'm into eye-catching beauty & I can just about afford it.
God has always been kind to me.
Has God always been kind to you?
I guess He has.
Stay glorious Brampt.
Uk Dave- ur presbyterian muslim. If you told that before I wouldn't give you those ideas. like these religions, I'm sure you know how to take full advantage of people!
Since they took advantage of us, it's our turn to take advantage of them!
Let's take advantage of them since we're the smarter.
Focus on results & rewards & you'll focus on God!
Expect better dimensions Brampt!
Religious people ficus on piety though spiritual men focus on charitable love!
Focus on results & rewards & you'll focus on God.
"Charitable Love" as in choosing to judge others leniently or favorably?
Excellent! Someone on my time zone at last! Cud u explain what u mean by results and rewards! I love my neighbor as myself cos God says it is the only way I can prove I love Him with all my life. I LOVE U AS MYSELF!
Charitable love means I judge without favouritism but then i extend mercy to those who fall short. Charitable love does not delight in wrong-doing.
Righteous judgement is God's judgement, mine is to agree! He then asks me to be merciful and loving to those who fall short too! Love is merciful! You cud read 1 Corinthians ch. 13. It is not knowing but practise which wud help u understand.
Yet, God is not here to tell you what his actual judgment is, so it's left to your discretion how you think God would rule, right? Even the Bible isn't a final say. Jesus said nothing about gay people or and it's unclear what it's stand regarding abortion is, so people can read the Bible and still end up on either side of this issue very easily. I suggest, then, that you are judging with favoritism.
Charitable love, according to the second definition of being charitable in one's judgment, implies being liberal in your evaluation of others, making allowances for behavior, and not judging harshly. If this does not fit our definition then I suggest you use a term another than "charitable".
Prayer changes things .
actions change things; prayer wastes valuable time.
Action without a plan is useless, prayer provides a plan. God bless
Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.
The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!! .
Actions change things, prayer only proves laziness and a mental problem talking to yourself.
Never has, never will.
Prayer will not heal the sick. Medicine will.
Prayer will not put food on your table. Work and/or money will.
Prayer will not stop a car from running over you. An attentive driver will.
In every situation where you could possibly pray...it does absolutely nothing.
Prayer is narcissism on display.
The religion of the POTUS doesn't matter because all politicians lie.
If they don't really believe, they'll say they do.
If they are religious wackos , they'll play it cool.
They will tell their voters what they want to hear regardless of what they really believe.
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.