Review of Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity from Our Presidential candidates

Ask the Question: Why We Must Demand Religious Clarity from Our Presidential Candidates by Stephen Mansfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was one of the best political books I’ve read in awhile. Its thesis is that it does NOT violate the separation of church and state for citizens to ask a political candidate, especially for the office of President of the United States, about his or her religious convictions. On the contrary, that it is our responsibility to do so.

As with any book like this, your first question is, “Well, what’s the author’s bias?” And in this case, it is hard to find one. His previous books include both “The Faith of George W. Bush” and “The Faith of Barack Obama.” The appendix provides the text of three political speeches which Mansfield presents as the best modern examples of the intersection between religious faith and the presidency. One is from John F. Kennedy, one from Ronald Reagan, and one from Obama. It’s hard to see any bias other than the fact that religious convictions matter. They matter in determining how a president will govern. And I have to be honest, even though its hard to admit as a conservative evangelical: Mansfield makes a compelling case for why Mitt Romney would have been a great President, not in spite of his Mormon faith, but because of it. His chapter on Mormonism as a uniquely American religion convinced me that Mormon values would make a positive contribution to the character of a President, regardless of whether or not I believe Mormons are going to heaven.

The book was published in 2016, and has nothing to say about Donald Trump. It seems to anticipate Hillary’s candidacy, because it devotes an entire chapter to how she was shaped by her religious convictions. I wonder what he would have to say about Trump’s acceptance by the religious right, despite the fact that he is utterly unable to articulate any religious worldview whatsoever. Or maybe I don’t have to wonder. A quick search told me that he has written about Trump. I’ll have to check that out.

What was most interesting to me was the argument that a President doesn’t just need to articulate a religious viewpoint; he or she needs to have a grasp on what other religions believe, and how those beliefs shape geopolitics. Because no matter how much Trump tried to make it so, it is impossible for America to be isolationist. And because religion matters even more to our enemies than it does to our allies, it is crucial that American voters “Ask the question” to any aspirants to the highest office: What do you believe, and how will that impact how you lead?

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