Kenneth Starr, president of the world’s largest Baptist educational institution, Baylor University, is urging voters to choose candidates based on who has the qualifications to be president, rather than on which, if any, faith group they belong to.
Starr addressed the upcoming New Hampshire primary and the question prospective voters may be asking themselves regarding a candidate’s religion, mainly if they can vote for someone who is of the Mormon faith, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Some, like State Rep. Judy Manning (R-Marietta), who have endorsed former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for the Republican nomination, have suggested that Romney’s faith would be a problem for voters.
“I think Mitt Romney is a nice man, but I’m afraid of his Mormon faith,” Manning said, according to The Marietta Daily Journal.
The Rev. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, has unapologetically called Mormonism a "cult."
Furthermore, in a Gallup Poll that asked whether people would vote for a well-qualified Mormon candidate, one-fifth to one-quarter of respondents said "no."
Starr called the issue “an important question in our constitutional democracy” in his editorial piece for The Washing Post titled “Can I vote for a Mormon?” The Baylor University president called on readers to weigh thoughtfully on the nation’s constitutional traditions.
He reminded readers that the United States has the oldest Constitution in history, and that only 27 amendments have been made to the document over 222 years, pointing to the enduring power and importance of the Constitution. The authors of the Constitution made it clear that “no religious test should ever be imposed to hold office," he stressed.
Voters should be juding a candidate purely on his or her ability to subscribe to the constitutional structure and defend the Constitution, and not which faith community, if any, he or she belongs to, Starr wrote.
Continuing with the brief history lesson, Starr pointed to Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson as two “great presidents,” who accomplished a lot despite not belonging to any particular church (Jefferson is even said to have been a Deist). “Yet our nation’s capital rightly dedicates two of its most stately monuments to those two men of unorthodox spiritual worldviews,” he highlighted.
Sharing his personal experience, Starr wrote: “In my own life, I have drawn great strength from my religious practices and, according to the teachings of my faith tradition, I intend to continue to keep in prayer those who are chosen to lead our nation. That said, the litmus for our elected leaders must not be the church they attend but the Constitution they defend.”
Starr concluded by stating that it is “life experience, personal qualities and policy views” that should guide voters for the 2012 elections.