A New York Times column by outgoing executive editor Bill Keller poses some tough questions about the faith held by GOP presidential candidates that has caught the attention of online religious bloggers and conservative activists.
Keller, who frequently makes waves with provocative columns, waded into the GOP presidential candidate debate with his column this week centering on the "mysterious" religions held by the candidates.
In the past, Keller has compared religious believers to folks who think that space aliens are residing on Earth.
His column, “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith,” argues that the crop of candidates competing for the White House in the next election cycle should be grilled harder on their religious beliefs and how those beliefs form their political views.
“I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country,” Keller writes in his column.
“I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.”
Keller does not stop at just the controversial column, he has sent a very specific questionnaire to some of the Republican presidential candidates and expects an answer.
He poses questions like: “Is it fair to question presidential candidates about details of their faith?,” “If you encounter a conflict between your faith and the Constitution and laws of the United States, how would you resolve it? Has that happened, in your experience?,” and “Do you believe the Bible consists of literal truths, or that it is to be taken more metaphorically?”
Keller also asks other, more sensitive questions, that politicians are quite savvy at avoiding, such as topics on gay marriage, hiring an atheist or Muslim to the cabinet, and evolution.
The controversial editor says he wrote the column and submitted the questions because many of this year’s GOP contenders “hail from churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans.”
“Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a ‘cult’ and that many others think is just weird,” Keller says.
“Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity – and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism – which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.”
Those who support Keller’s column say the questions and analogies are fair, “it’s about time someone asked the hard questions,” writes one blogger.
Others who are criticizing Keller's point of view say the column is a precursor to religious discrimination and that Keller “went over the line.”
“When I read Bill Keller’s bizarre piece in the New York Times yesterday morning, where he proposes a loaded religious quiz for potential candidates, I actually gasped,” writes Mollie Ziegler, a blogger at the site Get Religion.
“There must be some deeper meaning here. There’s no way that the Times would openly display such bigotry or destroy its credibility so thoroughly."
Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt writes this week that “Keller's naked appeal to prejudice is startling to me. Can he not know – really not know – how his lines of inquiry play out and how they have always preceded the worst sort of religious intolerance?”
CNN editors say the other big gripe is that Keller’s questions are reserved for the Republican candidates; he doesn’t offer a single query for President Barack Obama, even though the electorate remains confused about Obama’s religious faith.
"Most Americans can't correctly identify the president as a Christian," writes another religious blogger.
The Times was late to covering the controversy over Obama’s longtime preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in 2008. At one point, the controversy about Wright almost sank Obama’s candidacy.
Keller responded with a tweet saying “…when my column went up online….yes. Dems should be asked about their faith (and influences) too. We were late to Rev. Wright in '08, but we got there, and did it well.”
The question to Americans now is whether or not Keller’s questions will be answered honestly by the pool of candidates and if his column is covering news that has not been touched by the national media.
Here’s the general questionnaire Keller sent to the candidates:
Bill Keller became Op-Ed columnist and senior writer for The New York Times Magazine as well as other areas of the newspaper in September 2001. Previously, he served as managing editor from 1997 to September 2001 after having been the newspaper’s foreign editor from June 1995 to 1997. He was the chief of The Times bureau in Johannesburg from April 1992 until May 1995.
In a sudden move this summer, the New York Times announced executive editor Bill Keller is stepping down from the post he's held since 2003 to become a full-time writer at the paper.
While the move came as a surprise to many, it may not have been entirely unexpected. Keller has been making waves since he began writing a column for the redesigned magazine earlier this year, and would have had to step down in another three years when he turns 65 per the Times' age-limit on executive editors.