Faith and the GOP

24Feb07

John McCain practices his faith privatelyIf the GOP is to select the best leaders for tomorrow, it’s essential to separate media-invoked values from the party’s true foundation. Alarmingly, faith has been among the causalities.

Faith has long been a darling of the media. However, in recent years media coverage has increasingly focused on Republican leaders who are openly religious, who practice proudly and publicly. And, why not? Worship is emotional, picturesque, reverent…it is the quintessential photo-op. It is a ratings magnet.

The result, however, is less than reverent. Through the eyes of the media, faith and public displays of devotion are now synonymous. The new normal means: publicly religious = religiously correct, especially if you’re from the GOP.

Do not misinterpret the intent here. This is by no means a condemnation of individuals who are openly religious. Far from it. Most public displays of faith are a genuine, external expression of inner beliefs.

Rather this is a reality check against a media onslaught (intentional or not) which narrowly defines acceptable Republican candidates as being publicly, fervantly religious. It is a false portrait that not only grossly mischaracterizes GOP religious values, it also short-thrifts great leaders like Senator John McCain, who practice their faith privately.

We are a pluralistic nation where faith takes many forms. Where millions, conservative and moderate Republican alike, follow their beliefs without fanfare. The relationship with their Maker is personal and often solitary. They may or may not go to church on Sunday. They may or may not pray at night. But as sure as the sun will rise, these unassuming believers take their faith into their everyday and live it with their every action. And, so it goes for Senator McCain.

The senator describes his quiet brand of faith in this excerpt from a CNN interview on February 28, 2000.

Many years ago, a scared American prisoner of war in Vietnam was tied in torture robes by his tormenters and left alone in an empty room to suffer through the night. Later in the evening, a guard he had never spoken to entered the room and silently loosened the ropes to relieve his suffering. Just before morning, that same guard came back and re-tightened the ropes before his less humanitarian comrades returned.

He never said a word to the grateful prisoner, but some months later on a Christmas morning as the prisoner stood alone in the prison courtyard, the same Good Samaritan walked up to him and stood next to him for a few moments. Then with his sandal, the guard drew a cross in the dirt. Both prisoner and guard stood wordlessly there for a minute or two venerating the cross until the guard rubbed it out and walked away.

This is my faith, the faith that unites and never divides, the faith that bridges unbridgeable gaps in humanity. That is my religious faith and it is the faith I want my party to serve, and the faith I hold in my country. It is the faith that we are all equal and endowed by our creator with unalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the faith I would die to defend.

The take home message is simple: faith is ominiscient. It can not be pigeonholed nor narrowly attributed to the high-profile few — despite efforts to the contrary. As such, private faith is as much a part of Republican values and leadership as the public variety. The clearest example of this is Senator McCain’s lifelong legacy of honest, sincere and quietly faith-driven leadership.

Listen to Senator John McCain talk about his faith.

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