The Political Relevance of Religious Leaders

The New York Times is reporting that President Obama made fairly significant efforts to placate various religious leaders almost immediately after he announced last week that he now supports same-sex marriage (see this post by my colleague, Mark, in which the President explained that his position on same-sex marriage was informed by his Christian faith).  One of the people whom the President contacted expressed concerns that this policy shift might have implications for religious liberty.  The President is reported to have responded: “Absolutely not.  That’s not where we’re going, and that’s not what I want.”

What is most interesting is not the wide range of reactions that the President received from religious leaders, all of whom are otherwise aligned with the President politically, but that the President believed it to be crucial as a political matter to reach out to so many religious figures only hours after he made the announcement.  That alacrity speaks to the continuing political importance of these religious communities, whether for the right or the left.

The President, Faith, and Same-Sex Marriage

An interesting point that may be overlooked in President Obama’s announcement yesterday that he supports same-sex marriage. According to the President, his faith as a Christian helped lead him to this position. Referring to his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, he said:

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.

But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

Of course, as the President suggested, not everyone agrees with his assessment of what Christianity requires in this respect — the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example. Still, in stating that his religious faith helped determine his position, the President is well within the American tradition of political leaders who explain their policies in religious terms.

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