President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney provided a rare glimpse into their personal experiences with religion in an interview with Catholic Age magazine.
In the interview, both men answered the same questions about faith, politics and everyday life, providing an interesting juxtaposition in a year when most Americans said religion will not skew their vote.
The most interesting answers from the two men came in questions geared toward the public perception of their individual faiths. Some polls still show surprisingly high numbers of Americans cannot name Obama's religion or believe him to be Muslim; for Romney, many - especially Evangelical Christians - feel uncomfortable with his Mormon faith.
"There's not much I can do about it," the president said when asked about those who doubt his belief in Christianity. "I have a job to do as president, and that does not involve convincing folks that my faith in Jesus is legitimate and real."
Romney's answer was similarly interesting. "Every religion has its own unique doctrines and history," he said, after pledging his belief in Jesus Christ. "These should not be bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance."
Both men also gave enlightening answers to a question regarding the separation of church and state.
"The constitutional principle of a separation between church and state has served our nation well since our founding - embraced by people of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our history — and it has been paramount in our work," the president said.
"I have also had the approach that partnerships are a two-way street," Obama added, saying faith-based organization can help the government root out problems and solve them in ways it cannot on its own.
Romney's answer took a slightly different track, stating that some may be taking the idea of separation of church and state too far.
"Clearly the boundaries between church and state must be respected," the former Massachusetts governor begins. [But] in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning."
"They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God...The Founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square," he concluded.
The interview in the Catholic Age, a magazine published by the National Cathedral in the nation's capital, although enlightening, still provided little real insight into the men's deeper religious beliefs.
All in all, Romney mentioned his faith - the Church of the Latter Day Saints, or Mormons - only once and indirectly when he mentioned he used to act as a lay priest for "his church." Romney focused instead more intensely on faith writ large and its importance in American life.
Obama, on the other hand, more frequently brought in the idea of general - non-Christian - American values. "I think it is important that we not make faith alone a barometer of a person's worth, value, or character," he said when asked what a political leader's faith can tell about him.
While the interview provides some insight, most pundits believe neither man's faith will have much effect on voter decision-making this election cycle. While 55 percent of Americans say religion is important in their everyday life, not many will vote solely on this issue.
What is clear is that Mitt Romney will receive the majority of the two percent of Americans who describe themselves as Mormon, but might lose some of the 26 percent of Protestants who describe themselves as evangelical (2011 Gallup poll).
Evangelical Christians have been one of the only religious groups to poll as having suspicious views of Romney's faith.
However, "white evangelicals overwhelmingly back Romney irrespective of their views of his faith," according to the Pew Research Center. In fact, Romney had a five point lead among Protestants in April, according to Gallup.
Additionally, only a small percentage of voters want to learn more about Romney's faith, representing a general comfort level with his Mormon identity. The same Pew poll also found 17 percent of Americans still believe Obama is a Muslim.
Overall, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of Americans who believe religion's role in American life is dropping, from 59 to 66 percent between 2006 and 2012. And those who characterize themselves as religion generally skew right.
"In the practical world of today's presidential politics, religiousness continues to translate into Republican voting - a pattern that, to this point, does not appear to be changing," a Gallup release from April said.
"At the moment, Obama does so well among less religious Americans that he leads Romney among all registered voters," the April poll added, saying "For Romney to be successful this November, it appears he will need to make further inroads into the ranks of Americans who are not highly religious."
by RTT Staff Writer
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