In a letter to the presidential candidates, a progressive Baptist minister warns that religion is being manipulated and misused in the 2012 race as a political tool.
The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, told President Barack Obama and GOP candidates that he is "deeply disturbed by the disproportionate role religion has played during recent election cycles," in an open letter dated June 16.
While Obama, a Democrat, was named among the letter's recipients, Gaddy makes clear that the Republican candidates who participated in the Monday CNN debate are the source of his concern.
He wrote, "Watching the first debate between the Republican candidates for president, I could not help but be concerned with the extent to which religion will be used as an electoral tool."
Campaigns should be about policies and issues that will affect how a candidate would govern and shape the lives of his or her constituents, not religion, Gaddy asserted.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, doesn’t hold the same concerns. He stated that a candidate's religion likely shapes his or her policy decisions and governance style.
"If [a candidate's] worldview is informed by his faith, I think it is his right and obligation to make it clear to the American people," he said.
Gaddy contended that candidates are entangling religion and politics in a way that threatens the integrity of religion. He urges them to abide by the constitutionally-imposed separation of church and state.
Several of the GOP candidates have expressed their faith in interviews and campaign appearances in recent months.
During the Monday night debate, candidates Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Sen. Rick Santorum said very little about their faith. They did, however, reinforce the pro-life, pro-traditional marriage stances.
"I didn't see anything in the debates that should concern Americans,” Land commented.
Land believes Gaddy's concerns are motivated by "his radical separatist ways."
Gaddy's biography on the Interfaith Alliance website reveals that he is a dedicated advocate for Separation of Church. His Interfaith Alliance promotes that tenet as well.
Land noted that it is unreasonable to separate faith discussions from politics when so many Americans believe faith is important in their own lives.
"He (Gaddy) wants to pretend that 61 percent of Americans don't think that religion is important in their lives and he wants us to pretend that 85 percent of Americans don't identify with some form of the Christian faith," Land said.
The prominent Southern Baptist, however, does believe that religion can be misused during elections.
"I don't believe people should say 'you should vote for me because I'm a Christian,' or 'you should vote for me because I'm a Baptist.' I don't believe people should say ‘you shouldn't vote for that candidate because he is not a Christian," he said.
Businessman Cain ignited religious indignation in March when he insinuated that he wouldn’t employ or appoint a cabinet member who is a Muslim.
Cain said he would not be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet or as a federal judge because "there is this creeping attempt ... to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government," according to Think Progress.
During the New Hampshire debate on Monday, he explained, "You have peaceful Muslims and you have militant Muslims – those that are trying to kill us. And so when I said I wouldn't be comfortable I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us."
Gaddy vented his displeasure, saying, "Demonizing, disenfranchising, and questioning the patriotism of the American Muslim community has become all too frequent in our nation, particularly during the last election cycle; Monday night's debate was no exception. I was deeply disturbed by Mr. Cain's comments on Muslims serving their country in a presidential administration."
Land agreed that Cain's March comment unfairly demonized the entire U.S. Muslim community. He called the remark "un-American," but said it is up to American Muslims to show themselves as a peace-loving community that is ready to work alongside the government to fight radical Islam.
Nevertheless, Land insisted that candidates of any faith should not be forced to censor themselves and should rather be able to publicly discuss their faith with voters.