Lately they’ve talked about the economy, foreign policy and tax plans — but where is religion in this presidential race? President Obama is a Christian, and Mitt Romney is a Mormon. How do their religions play into their campaigns, if at all? Does faith affect their views on controversial issues like abortion or gay marriage? And do voters really care what religion their candidate follows?

Show Highlights

On the Absence of Religion in the Presidential Race

"One of the striking things about covering this beat right now during this election is how conspicuously absent God is. I mean, when you look at when President Obama had the chance to talk about his background, his convention speech, basically, the only reference that President Obama made to God was when he said 'God bless America' at the end. Romney, who had the chance to really introduce himself to the national public, mentioned that he was a Mormon only once, and really in an off-hand way, and he almost never says the word 'Mormon.' And so what you see is this kind of stunning difference from 2008…So, in other words, both candidates are kind of playing to the middle, and they're really not talking about religion at all."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On How Discussing Religion Can Hurt Obama

"Both men have a lot to lose and very little to gain, I think, by talking about religion. I mean, let's look at President Obama. In 2008, he had a chance at wooing liberal and moderate Evangelicals. He spoke their language, you remember in 2004 he talked about [how] we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and he gave his testimony or conversion story, and he sounded Evangelical. He had this big outreach campaign to Evangelicals, but there was a downside. If you'll remember, he got hammered with the tape of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, saying, you know, 'God damn America,' and so this time around he's keeping away from religion. And I think another reason is it's not just the Jeremiah-Wright factor, it's also because of his policies — he's supported gay marriage, he wants contraceptives offered in insurance plans, and, you know, Evangelicals just simply don't like that. He can't win them."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On How Discussing Religion Can Hurt Romeny

As to the Republicans, in 2008, you know, the Republicans had Sarah Palin on the ticket — that excited the base of Evangelicals. This time they don't have a traditional Protestant. As you mentioned, Romney's a Mormon, Paul Ryan is a Catholic, and the problem for Romney is that a lot of his base, white Evangelicals, don't think that Mormons are Christians. So he doesn't want to talk about the specifics of his Mormon faith. He talks about his values that were developed at church: family, integrity, hard work, serving others, that kind of thing, and he also doesn't really need to talk about his faith to win his base. I mean, three-quarters of Evangelicals say they're going to vote for him."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On Catholicism and the 2012 Election

We have two Catholics who are vice-presidential candidates, and when you look at those two Catholics, you realize that we are seeing in this election a fight between, kind of, faith values that we've never seen before. We've got Joe Biden, who is a social justice Catholic, working-class and pro-immigration, so a lot of Latinos would favor that ticket. Then you've got Paul Ryan, who is, like Romney, favoring charity, for example, as the way to help the poor. So before he became a vice-presidential candidate, he said that his Catholic faith and, specifically, the doctrine of subsidiarity, was what inspired his budget. And subsidiarity is this notion, in his view, that government shouldn't be helping, but private organizations and charities and churches should be on the front line of helping the poor. And so what you see is Mr. Obama having an attitude that we are our brothers' keeper, we are our sisters' keeper, we need to help those who can't help themselves. And then you've got the other ticket kind of saying no, charity is private, and it should first come from private individuals."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On the Possibility of Having an Atheist President

"How long will it take to elect an atheist, I got to tell you, I think it's going to take a long time. I mean polls show that atheists are the least trusted and least appealing candidates among the American public. Whatever you want to say about that, that may not be very nice, but polls show consistently that they will vote for almost anyone else, including Muslims, before they will vote for an atheist."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

On Why Obama Should Go to Church

"There's a lot of survey data that shows that the American people, by over 75 percent, want their president to be what they call a 'person of faith.' And the Pew Forum did this survey a couple years ago, and most people didn't care what kind of faith, they just wanted him to be a person of faith… Ironically, here we have a situation where both candidates are not talking about their faith, when almost three-quarters of Americans want the person in office to be a person of faith. For the life of me, if I was [an] adviser to the Obama campaign, I would've said for the last five or six months, 'Mr. President, you and the first lady must go to church every Sunday. You really must be seen going in and out of a house of worship.'"

– Michael Cromartie

On Romney Bringing Mormonism Into the Presidency

"He doesn't surround himself with Mormons in his inner-circle, and so I would have a hard time believing that he's actually going to bring his particular faith agenda, you know, have a particular faith agenda. I think that he'll bring the values that he develops in his faith to the office if he's elected, but I don't think he's going to bring his specific faith doctrines."

– Barbara Bradley Hagerty

It didn't happen when he was governor. Key point.

– Michael Cromartie


Barbara Bradley Hagerty, religion correspondent for NPR
Jim Donahue, president and professor of ethics at the Graduate Theological Union,
Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he directs the Evangelicals in Civic Life and Faith Angle Forum programs

  • Slappy

    The fact that religion is a strong guide to many individuals is alarming. Religions warp the reality of those who believe, because religion is not based purely on fact; the various forms of Christianity and its derivatives take it a step further and at times promote needlessly violent behavior. Christianity is a classic example of how religion can be and is often used as a weapon, both physically and intellectually. Religion thus has no place in politics.

    Mr. Romney is a Mormon. Mormons believe that Christopher Columbus came to America to fight the Native American Jews, that black people are black because they sinned in a past life, and that their religion is factually sound simply because someone “said so”. Do you really want someone like that, quite literally OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY, to be Commander-in-Chief of the STRONGEST MILITARY IN THE WORLD?

    • Fep

      Do you really want the person who signed the NDAA into law, which lets the government detain Americans indefinitely without cause, to become president either? Obama offered a touchy-feely claim that he didn’t really want to sign the NDAA, but when it was challenged in court his lawyers were more than eager to defend it.
      Obama is a first rate büllshitter who conceals a blatantly fascist agenda.
      We have two corporatists on offer, and each is a monster in his own way.
      To keep voting for corporatists expecting democratic change is by definition insanity.

      • Bob Fry

        Hear, hear! I’m voting Green this election, as I’ve done for several. Ralph Nader had it right many years ago. Dems and Reps are just tweedledum and tweedledee.

      • Slappy

        I agree, the level of stupidity in such logic is amazing.

    • Chemist150

      As an atheist, one issue with religion is that people hang their belief system based on weak information and thus believe on faith rather than facts and information or simply chose to ignore facts that violate their beliefs/faith. In my mind, this makes an religeous person potentially dangerous. But who else do I have to vote for. I’m actually voting Ron Paul and myself for assembly.

      • Fep

        Modern finance is the new religion.
        All praise the holy markets and derivatives!

  • Annabelle

    As an aside, why does Ms. Hagerty refer to President Obama as “Mr.” Obama and Mitt Romney as “Governor” Romney? Inaccurate and perhaps biased?

    • Guest

      I noticed that, too.

    • JohnMcQ

      It was ‘Governor’ Romney, ‘President’ Bush, and ‘Mr.’ Obama. I think her bias was definitely showing.

  • John

    I have to agree with Thomas Paine, a man that believed in
    God but considered all religious texts to be pure mythology created by man,
    when he wrote “……All national religions……are inventions to ……………monopolize
    power and profit”

    As a country that claims a separation of church and state
    then candidates religious views should not be an issue unless those views and beliefs
    are counter to the Constitution and or civil laws.

    • Bonnie


  • Sean

    Unless you are a Mormon or a Catholic how could you ever vote for one as President? If they are a true believer they MUST follow instructions from the head of their church, if not they are hypocrites and can’t be trusted.

    • Sean
    • chrisco

      Because most people just adopt the religion of their parents, they are born into it. And they (most people it seems) need religion. So I think most people just respect that and don’t care to get into specific beliefs. Because in all major monotheistic religions, the beliefs are really silly and not subject to logic. So it is a hands-off policy among the co-religionists. And us atheists/agnostics are monsters in their eyes so they don’t listen to us.

  • Guest

    Physician heal thyself. It is striking how many media outlets are doing these “what we’re not hearing” stories. Are journalists interested in how candidates integrate their religion into their political vision? It is also curious how there is in this discussion an apparent frame that only evangelicals are interested in candidate’s religiosity. This is surely not the case.

  • Michael, you just asked the listeners to call in and tell Forum how THEY feel. I posit that this is not very relevant at all. The majority of Forum listeners are NOT white, working class women with no college degree (polls say that is the majority make up of the “undecided voters”).

    What I want to know is what the polls have to say about what swing voters and undecided voters feel about faith and politics. Their leanings are what is going to make this election.

  • Peter

    Mitt Romney has been going around the country excoriating the president for creating “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel — in other words, for not agreeing with the Israeli government on everything. The media may talk about Jewish votes in Florida and the influence of pro-Israel billionaires such as Sheldon Adelson, but Romney wouldn’t be speaking about this so overtly and so loudly unless it had some popular resonance in some larger demographic. Millions of American Christian Zionists genuinely believe, from the Bible, that those who bless Israel (which they read as the current state of Israel) will in turn be blessed by God; is there any other way to understand Romney’s “no daylight with Israel” slogan as an appeal to them?

  • mary

    Does the Mormon church give only to Mormons, or does their charity extend to people outside of the church? Some religions administer only to their “believers” and leave others to fend for themselves (or get govt assistance).

    • Donna


      The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has donated more than $1 billion in cash and material assistance to 167 different countries in need of humanitarian aid since it started keeping track in 1985.The Church does not discriminate based on religious affiliation, ethnicity or nationality. A separate entity, LDS Charities, has access to the resources of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which include food production and processing, donated used clothing, employment and social services, and the ability to purchase goods locally in many parts of the world. We sponsor relief and development projects in 179 countries. As the wife of a former bishop (lay pastor serving without pay) I can testify he used local tithing funds to help some homeless and sick who were not members of our church. Joseph Smith taught that we should help all those in need whether they were of our faith or another or none at all.

      • mary

        Thank you, Donna. I was thinking more about in our own country, like if my family needs help paying rent or medical bills.

  • Sarah

    I disagree with Dr Donahue’s characterization of the Republican and Democratic platforms reflecting two different theological strains – one individualistic and the other communitarian. You can believe that all of God’s children are integrally connected and bound to one another in responsibility WITHOUT believing that the government is the forum in which that responsibility plays out. Likewise, the Democratic platform (on choice issues and other social issues) reflects a strong individualism that rejects ANY social norms regarding personal choice.

  • Guest

    Oh good grief, Ms. Hagerty. You’re conflating the unaffiliated and atheists and then claiming atheists are a religious group?? A little rigor in your analysis would be welcome at this point.

  • Bill_Woods

    ‘When will an atheist be elected?’

    When hell freezes over?

  • Susanna

    Mr. Romney has spent more time as a Bishop than as a Governor. Why do we keep referring to him as Governor Romney than as Bishop Romney. The fact they this is not discussed is problematic!

  • Bottom line – Mormon’s are dispensationalists. They believe in literal biblical prophecy and the physical return of Christ to rule over the earth and ‘the chosen’ (Yes you guessed it – Mormons) for 1000 years.

    The new eden will be restored so there is simply no reason for Romeny (or Bush, for that matter) to care about the environment or even not use nuclear warheads – Christ will clean it all up when he returns. Likewise there is no reason for social programs or to care for the marginalised – if they are not ‘chosen, they do not matter.

    Now how scary is that? – and why is this fact not mainline news?!

  • Joan Randall

    LDS in community charity and care seems to be inward focused, toward LDS community members. Social justice Catholics (and others) seems to be inclusive in safety net construction. That has been my experience in forty years of community work when calling on the faith based community to work for the good of the whole community.

  • Bonnie

    I would rather there be no role for religion in government since there are so many different ones and different ways of thinking about it. I see no reason to exploit one’s religion or lack thereof in the presidential elections because your religion, no matter what anyone thinks DOES NOT determine whether or not you are a good person. Your ACTIONS do.

  • Jaime

    I am an atheist who was raised Mormon. I personally never thought of my former religion as a cult and could not understand why outsiders viewed it as such until the day, as a twenty year old on the eve of my wedding, I went to the temple for the first time. On that day I was horrified by what takes place in Mormon temple. I am far more concerned by Mitt Romney’s death oaths that he took in the temple that his underwear. Religious beliefs do matter. Religious beliefs guide thoughts and ultimately actions. A Mormon president scares me.

    • John

      I agree.

  • John

    Don’t all religions start out as cults?

  • Clairette Rose

    I am frankly shocked at discussion I’ve been listening to. Why is NPR fostering the misguided notion that we should calmly be evaluating the presidential candidates in terms of their religious beliefs, and deciding how to vote on the basis of which beliefs seem more suited to our concepts of charity and social justice? This is all wrong. The only “right” position on religion in this election — or any other — is the one articulated by Vice President Biden in his televised debate with Paul Ryan. When the two men were queried about the role their personal religious beliefs might/would play in the next administration, Vice President Biden said clearly that his personal faith had no place in his public life and would have no influence on his actions and decisions. Period. That is the question every candidate for public office should be asked. If we are to cling to whatever shreds are left of the constitutional concept of separation of church and state, there can be only one right answer to that crucial question, and it’s the one Joe Biden gave us. Paul Ryan got it all wrong, and since we have no idea from one day to the next what Mitt Romney believes, I would take the position that he has it all wrong as well.

  • Educate Yourself

    After reading people like FEP, I must offer a LOGICAL explanation. First
    of all, the reason RELIGION is not acceptable on the political stage is
    this: there is a KNOWLEDGE system and a BELIEF system. The first is a
    mathematical statement, which can be proven or negated, whereas a BELIEF
    (Emotional) system can NOT and is based on what one BELIEVES. For those
    who have not studied logic you may not know how to convert a written
    statement into a mathematical statement but IT CAN BE DONE!!!!

    So, please, go back to the Constitution where NO ONE RELIGION is stated.
    Learn to keep your beliefs to within your homes and your churches and
    leave it out of politics. Study Philosophy where you may learn the rules
    of debate like the founding fathers knew so well. Learn The Square of
    Opposition so you can prove a valid or invalid statement, as well as,
    the art of thinking.

    We ARE talking about PARTY PLATFORMS; NOT PERSONALITIES. Reserve that for cheerleaders or class favorites but NOT politics.

  • Joshua Armstrong

    I think that religion can bring the best out in people or the worst. By judging what they have done in the past, I believe it to be a very valid indicator of what they will do in the future.

    • chrisco

      Along these lines, I thought of this quote by Steven Weinberg: “With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

  • Steve Decker

    This spot asks a legitimate question about Romney’s faith that seems have been dismissed since the Repub primaries:

  • RabbiCaudill

    As a rabbi in Mormon Country for many years, I found the Mormons to be mostly honest and hard working people who took care of their own. They were often subject to anti-Mormon crusades by the more Fundamentalist Christians. To Jews, Mormons were Christian and Republican Conservatives, for the more part. Many of us Intermountain (Mormon Country) rabbis joined together to sign a petition to allow the Mormons to build a BYU Education Center on Mt Zion, in Israel, which they did after promising not to proselytize in Israel.

  • Relevant to the discussion is this disturbing and rather controversial video:

  • Susan

    Mr. Krasny, Ms. Hagerty, Mr. Donahue and Mr. Cromartie, Mormons are Christians. A caller on your program attempted to make that clear. I had to do a little research myself. This is what I found: Followers/disciples of Christ were first called “Christians” at Antioch around 43 AD. Possibly, it was a name given contemptuously, but it stuck. (see Acts 11:26 KJV Bible) The Merriam-Webster dictionary reads: “One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ.” On both accounts, “Mormons” are Christians. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I could write a discourse on “why” we are Christians. However, hopefully, the next “Mormon” you meet will be living and acting in a way that it will be evident that he is a follower of Christ– a Christian.

    • chrisco

      They have some extreme and major modifications of Christian doctrine.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor