For most of American history, the conventional wisdom was that religion was too private a matter to ask a political candidate about. But in a political landscape in which we will see Muslims, atheists, Mormons, Buddhists, and Christians of all stripes running for high office, we cannot afford to avoid religious questions. It's within American voters' rights to know what their candidates believe about God and religion, because those beliefs shape policy and thus action. In both small and significant ways, a candidate's religious views (or lack thereof) define political leadership. And the time for skirting the question or giving vague answers is over.
In this rousing call to action, Stephen Mansfield shows readers
- what religion will mean in the 2016 presidential race
- how the media, both left and right, get religion wrong
- the reasons the faith of candidates such as JFK, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama caused issues with both the electorate and even their own advisors
- how to ask the right questions to get honest answers
- what giving candidates a "religious pass" can cost the country
- how religion in American politics impacts America's role in the world
- and more
Frustrated and confused voters across the country and on both sides of the aisle will find here a balanced and essential guidebook to actively and intelligently participating in America's political system.
- A Challenge to Evaluate Our Candidates
Steven Mansfield presents us with a challenge that we know inherently that we should pursue but most often do not because of the effort involved. The challenge is to ascertain the spiritual personality of those who ask for our votes for political office.
For those of us who place moral and spiritual values high on our list as we evaluate candidates for office, it is very, very difficult to peer deep into the inner workings of our candidates. Every candidate (as well all do) places his or her best foot forward, acting and speaking differently depending upon the audience that they are addressing. It is maddening at best and downright deceptive to the voters at worse.
In this book, Mansfield attempts to explore the individual religious backgrounds of various candidates in order to explain their subsequent public lives and the reasoning behind their decisions.
While very interesting and likely accurate in the backgrounds, Mansfield withholds his view of the rightness or wrongness of the attitudes and actions of the candidates that he reviews leaving this judgement to the reader. It was hard to figure out where Mansfield fits on the political spectrum which was refreshing but sometimes frustrating.
The only problem that I had with the book was that it was not current to the current election cycle and therefore did not provide information about the candidates during the primary and upcoming election. Only Hillary Clinton is mentioned in the book giving us some insight into her background and the basis for her political leanings but we are left without any information about the other candidates.
Regardless, the book gives us a challenge to evaluate all candidates by examining their religious backgrounds. This evaluation can give us some insight into what their possible decisions may be should they be elected.
I was given a free audio version of this book for my agreement to review it but this has not influenced my personal impressions of the book.
- Should we ask Presidential candidates about their faith?
This review first appeared on my blog, Jacob's Café (jacobscafe.blogspot.com).
As a psychologist with a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies who works in the public sector and did an internship in the California State Assembly during college, I have a particular interest in the role of faith as a motivator and driver of behavior and decision-making, especially during election season. The 2016 election season has already had some interesting intersections with faith and candidates' appearances of commitment (or lack thereof) to traditions.
Stephen Mansfield argues that the populace should ask every candidate, especially Presidential candidates, detailed questions about their faith in his latest book, Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity From Our Presidential Candidates. I was initially concerned that this text would ultimately argue asking these questions in order to have a religious litmus test for the Oval Office. While I'm sure Mansfield has strong personal faith (which can be guessed by how some things are framed) and political convictions, he stays largely objective, providing a descriptive assessment of both the history of faith and politics in the United States as well as the role of faith in the lives of many Presidents and candidates.
Mansfield observes the religious political history of the United States, noting the ways religion and politics have intersected differently over the decades. He knows his religious and political history well and will probably shock some readers in detailing the more agnostic faith of many of most respected historical leaders. I particularly appreciate that he does not present these facts with any judgment, as might be expected from texts published by Christian companies, rather acknowledges reality, including the historical motivators and benefits of restrained faith.
In exploring the faith of Presidents and Presidential candidates, both historical and current, Mansfield describes the honest depth of people across the political spectrum. He has written religious biographies on several political celebrities of both parties. Sadly, he explained how he received death threats after writing his text on Obama, acknowledging the President's deep Christian faith. But Mansfield drives on, continuing to raise descriptive, objective awareness of how politicians' faith histories impact their current public policy. This is truly a gift.
There are a few times when Mansfield's personal opinions appear to subtly show up. He occasionally makes evaluative comments about some leaders' faiths, stating that their faith hasn't imbued them fully since they still take a particular stance on some topic. With his religious history background and knowledge, he should be well aware that people can honestly come to vastly different conclusions of biblical and theological application. This doesn't mean their faith isn't driving them; it just drives them and has transformed their lives differently than for others. Despite this, Mansfield's descriptions of the role of faith in the lives of many Presidents and candidates left me with a deeper respect and appreciation of these people.
Ultimately, I'm not sure I 100% agree with Mansfield argument that we must ask explicit questions for religious clarity. Mansfield's thesis for asking these questions relates to the fact that religious labels mean less and less over time and individual's unique theological framework needs to be addressed. I agree with the fact that worldview and values clearly drive behavior, decisions, and policy making, although this piece could have been clearer in the book. However, increasingly, worldview and values are not necessarily framed in clearly religious terms even though academically, I would argue that all worldview is religious in a broad sense. Emphasizing religious clarity may actually restrict these conversations, as many people (candidates included) may not be getting the underlying question. We need to ask questions about candidates' values, moral frameworks, worldviews, and the like. Religious language will arise out of that naturally, where applicable for the candidate.
This is one of the most engaging nonfiction books I have read/listened to in quite some time. Granted, I am a nerd when it comes to religious history, but this is a book I'd be quite tempted to listen to a second time. Bob Souer's narration is clear and engaging. However, especially when reading Presidential speeches, there's nothing that could compare to the original intonation, expression, etc.
I highly recommend this book as a thoughtful exploration of the role of faith/religion in the American Presidency. Hopefully it helps reduce assumptions across ideological lines, helping us recognizing the ability of many people to improve our public policy and the honest, if different, faith some people come to public service through.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”