New Yorkers have a highly selective pallet for citywide candidates espousing “faith” in politics, sometimes it’s a positive and other times it’s the equivalent of developing political leprosy.
While the race for Mayor heats up, the contrasts between each candidate becomes clearer. Often times the starkest differences come to light in campaign rhetoric – when opponents vet one another, whether in debate or in the press. Republicans do it, Democrats do it, but how will professing faith affect their chances at election? The answer depends on whom you ask.
According to one Democratic source, when a candidate uses faith as a talking point in citywide elections for Mayor, Comptroller, or Public Advocate it’s the equivalent of developing political leprosy. The theory holds that professing faith in God or religion will turn voters away especially in Manhattan. Such candidates can write off any chance of winning over secularist Manhattan Democrats because they link faith to being anti-women. Yes, anti-women. It’s not exactly an intellectual leap, but rather an intellectual chasm that can polarize a candidate. So the lesson is clear (at least according to this source) candidates beware: faith is linked to being pro-life, and thus anti-women.
But not everyone agrees. “I don’t think it’s anything wrong with that; it’s the person’s beliefs” said Glenn Nocera, a former Senate candidate and President of the Brooklyn Young Republican club.
“Look, 90% of people believe in God, so when you have a person coming from that perspective I don’t think a lot of people would feel that’s just a bad thing, some people feel there’s a place for that,” said Nocera, adding, “A lot of people still believe that whatever faith they come from, they still feel it’s a big part of their lives and I don’t think it detracts too many people.”
However, the issue is not so cut and dry according to Eric Mingott, a Queens-based Republican and former Assembly candidate. He believes having faith is one component, but professing faith and belief of God on the campaign trail is a separate issue with it’s own ramifications. “I believe having faith is a positive thing. It shows character and judgment abilities,” he said. “[But] I believe using religion as a propaganda is a cynical act, having faith in god is a personal and private relationship.”
Espousing faith is a double-edged sword for citywide political candidates. Mingott draws a contrast between having faith and using religion as part of political rhetoric. “I just don’t think a persons campaign should be based on God. It should be based on the desires of the community and humanity.”
But in a social media driven world that demands to know every detail both personal and private of political candidates, it would prove to be quite difficult to ignore the issue outright. After all, who would elect a “faithless” candidate?
“The religious and political winds are changing,” wrote E.J Dionne in Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.
“Tens of millions of religious Americans are reclaiming faith from those who would abuse it for narrow, partisan, and ideological purposes. And more and more secular Americans are discovering common ground with believers on the great issues of social justice, peace, and the environment.”
But selecting candidates based on their religious preferences is wrought with peril. In a perfect world, voters would evaluate candidates based on their policies, their character, their values, not on how they choose to worship. According to David Saperstein and Oliver Thomas in 5 Rules For Faith In Politics in 2012, candidates for public office should avoid divisive religious rhetoric to make them more inclusive. “No candidates — or their supporters — should suggest that they deserve votes (or that their opponents do not) because of their religious beliefs or practices.”
Meanwhile some candidates have the advantage of using faith and religion as a podium for expanding their electoral clout, just ask Reverend Rice — a mega church minister who uses the pulpit to influence his congregation going so far as to make political endorsements from the altar. And the same goes for Reverend Floyd Flake, a south Queens pastor that endorsed Melinda Katz over Councilman Leroy Comrie for Borough President, in between his sermon.
How many times have we seen members of the clergy standing side-by-side with candidates or lingering around a political event? Chances are you have and from numerous denominations — it’s a common practice especially among conservative leaning Democrats and Republicans. Does their presence suggest God endorsed that candidate? Probably not, but appearances and lip service seem to go along way with voters.
You might ask, what about the oft-quoted separation of church and state? Well, it doesn’t always apply on the campaign trail. Questions of morality may have their moments in politics, but they will not overshadow politics despite this trend: evangelism tends not only to bring a congregation (of voters) closer to God, but closer to political candidates, and those espousing their faith on the campaign trail could be said to have the moral compass to guide their decision-making lacking in “faithless candidates.”