If nothing else, Bill Keller's stunning column for the New York Times last month raised the issue of what kinds of religion questions we should ask candidates. Many reporters fail to break new ground in their questions or sometimes they try to catch the candidates on some theological disconnect. Rarely do we see how the questions end up relating to policy, which is kind of the point, right?
Robert Crosby poses a new set of questions to candidates in a column for Patheos on On Faith's website. By all means, read the full column, but let's check out this list of questions.
1. How does your faith inform your public service? 2. In what ways has your faith experience helped you become a better citizen? A better leader? 3. Can America truly be “great” apart from God and a belief in God? 4. What role might your faith play in the event of a national emergency (i.e., terrorist attack, nuclear war, etc.)? 5. Should Mayor Bloomberg have been allowed prayer at the 9/11 Memorial event this month in NYC? How would you have handled this? 6. Has your faith changed you as a person? In what ways? 7. Does your faith experience cause you to be more accepting of other people’s belief systems or less? 8. After 9/11, the song “God Bless America” was often sung at public events (i.e., sporting events, etc.). In what ways do you believe God has “blessed” America? In what ways do you pray God will continue to “bless” America? 9. Do you view your entrance into public office as a means for advancing your particular faith group or denomination? 10. In what ways do your commitments to faith and family help qualify you for public office?
This seems like a fairly good starting point to me, but what do you think? There is no one-size-fits all for each reporter, but it gives at least a general sense of where to begin thinking about the questions. For instance, I'm guessing The Tennessean might ask different questions than the L.A. Times.
Earlier this month, Amy Sullivan tackled this subject for Time magazine, giving a general list of guidelines. I have pulled out her bolded phrases, but she goes more in depth in her column.
Ask relevant questions. Keep the focus on policy. No Margaret Mead questions. Allow degrees of separation. Ask about Jeremiah Wrights. Even so, context always matters. Learn the language. Know the difference between a dog-whistle and a turn-of-phrase. Stop calling candidates “devout.” Thou shalt not discriminate.
Sullivan just did an interview with NPR's On the Media about these ideas, which I plan to listen to very soon. A friend wrote a note saying, "Bob Garfield seems awfully distressed that there's an unofficial 'religious test' for political candidates." I'm usually a big fan of "On the Media," so I'll be curious how they handle these questions. If you get a chance to listen, let us know what you think about the segment.
Okay, you get one question to ask a candidate: Go.