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The Christian — Protestant — litmus test for American presidents

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

11/18/2011

At 10, I wasn’t today’s news junkie. I did “know” that the POPE IN ROME was going to run the United States and we were going to have to eat fish on Fridays if John F. Kennedy were elected president.

Not being fond of fish, I sure didn’t want that JFK as president. I wasn’t sure who the POPE IN ROME (people always said it like that) was, being the good, little, mainstream Presbyterian girl that I was. But, by gosh and golly, how could any guy in Italy know what was good for Americans?

The fact I remember hearing those kinds of things — at school, church and around, but never at home — meant there was a lot of anti-Catholic noise back in the early 1960s. The American president must be a mainstream Protestant — not just a Christian, mind you. Not just a God-fearing believer. A Protestant, and preferably one who didn’t roll around on the floor, shouting and healing and waving snakes.

Fifty years later and Americans still can’t give up that litmus test. Heck, these days, among some of us, we’re more likely to vote for the snake wavers than a Muslim or a Mormon. I don’t get it. Why does the American president’s religion — or lack thereof — make a dime’s worth of difference?

Don’t even bother to tell me it matters because it’s a good indicator that said president will be morally strong and ethically upright. There are plenty of political and corporate examples to the contrary. Let’s don’t go there today.

Last time I checked, “one nation under God” and “in God we trust” didn’t require a membership card to a mainstream Protestant congregation. God has a pretty big wingspan, covering, as it were, Muslims, Mormons, Jews and Catholics. Feel free to add your own one-God denomination.

Anyone can run for U.S. president. There are no Constitutional restrictions. The Constitution mandates only that the person who serves must be at least 35 years old and a natural born citizen. That’s it. No litmus test for religion, or anything else for that matter.

Gary Gutting is a philosophy professor at Notre Dame. He argues well in a recent New York Times blog post that a “candidate’s religious faith may ground a sustaining core of values, but it may also conflict with meaningful discussion of policy or conflict with the nation’s best interest.”

It will be fascinating to watch some voters squirm as they are forced to choose between Barack Obama (Christian, Protestant, but oops, all those rumors about being a closet Muslim and, gasp, that politically active black pastor who said all those awful things) and Mitt Romney (powerful, steadfast, practicing Mormon; you know, Mormon, the one about the Broadway show, the “cult” religion thing; wonder how many wives he has.)

Personally, I don’t care too figs what pew the president sits in on what day. I care about integrity, wisdom, compassion, smarts. A membership card at the nearest church, synagogue, temple or Stonehenge isn’t required.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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