Should Faith Determine Whom You Vote For?



Multi-faith panel discussing role of religion in deciding for whom to vote. Photo by Ashwaq Masoodi.

Can faith be segregated from politics? Should your religion decide whom you vote for? A week before the 2012 Presidential elections, a multi-faith panel discussed the relationship between faith and politics and the role of religion in driving people to vote.

A recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 67 percent of the population said it’s important for them that a president has strong religious beliefs.

The three-member panel, including a Muslim activist, a Jewish political analyst and a Presbyterian minister gathered on Sunday afternoon at the Fifth Presbyterian Church on the 7 West 55th Street.

“The post 9/11 era is literally characterized by a resurgence of interest in the role of religion, but that is often a pretty negative conversation in terms of why religion has forced its way into public forum and that it shouldn’t be there,” said J.C. Austin, director of the Center for Christian Leadership at Auburn Seminary. “Religion isn’t something that can be pushed aside. It’s the key of who we are no matter which faith we are coming from.”

A recent poll conducted by Barna Group for the American Bible Society said that Americans are almost evenly divided over whether their religious faith influences their views on political issues. The group also examined how “religious engagement correlates with election priorities.” They found that people who are most engaged in their faith also tend to be more active in social and political matters.

“Religion shouldn’t decide who you vote for. It is not enough of a reason for you to choose someone,” said Irshad Manji, an author and the founder of the Moral Courage Project at New York University.

“Religion has made its way back into politics. It drives people to polls because of the emotional aspect,” said Ari Wallach, the founder of the strategic consultancy Synthesis.

Wallach, who was one of the organizers of The Great Schlep, which mobilized the Jewish vote for President Obama in 2008, has been working with the Jewish Council for Education & Research to convey to the Jewish population in South Florida the reasons that re-electing President Obama is good for the community.

“We are talking to the older Jewish population about why President Obama is good for us. Lot of what we are doing is not why he is good for America but why he is good for Israel,” said Wallach.

About the recent presidential debates, Wallach said, “Somehow we avoid talking of issues like the percentage of people who go to bed hungry every night or the homeless in our country. No one talks about this systemic silent swath of America.”

Seconding Wallach’s point, Manji said, “There is a painful absence of big ideas in this election campaign. So, what I would be looking for is imagination in resolving issues.”

About whether faith should be segregated from politics to protect the integrity of faith, the panelists said they don’t think keeping faith in isolation will make it strong.

“I am puzzled by the Christians who fear the elimination of their faith by involvement with others,” said Austin. “The core of our tradition is sending out. Being engaged in and working for the welfare of the world is essential to being Christians.”

“If faith is kept in the safe box and does not face harshness of the reality – which is politics and the world, it doesn’t evolve,” said Wallach.

Religious organizations, as well as all other organizations exempt from federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, are prohibited from participating or intervening, directly or indirectly, in a political campaign on behalf  of  or in opposition to any candidate for elective public office.