The Danger of Prayerful Candidates

Rick Perry leading "the Response" prayer vigilin Houston (Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images)
Rick Perry leading "the Response" prayer vigilin Houston (Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images)

Lawd, have mercy upon us!

There's not a religious bone in my body, but the field of Republican presidential candidates has me crying out to Jesus for relief.


If the Creator intends to punish America for its multiple transgressions, it might be by inflicting one of these bozos upon us. That would truly be a curse of biblical proportions. It's all the more thinkable because of the parlous state of the economy.

If joblessness persists at its current high levels, making Barack Obama more vulnerable, our next president could conceivably be a person who believes that the U.S. is in danger of being overrun by Shariah law and that localities have the right to prevent Muslims from building mosques in their communities.

Or it could be someone who believes that using the word "gay" to refer to homosexuality is "part of Satan." Or one who led a prayer rally for "a nation in crisis" before deciding to get into the race.

I refer, of course, to businessman Herman Cain, Minnesota Rep. and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to throw his ten-gallon hat into the ring on Saturday and become an immediate challenger to Mitt Romney, the uninspiring current Republican front-runner.

Perry has a habit of dragging religion into politics. In April he declared a three-day prayer vigil to bring rain to his drought-stricken state. And he has met with self-anointed prophets who confirmed that the Almighty has chosen him for a "leadership role" in the creation of a godly government in America.

Nonreligious voters may be impressed with Perry's strong record of job creation in Texas. But a certain band of fired-up fundamentalists are more likely to be swayed by his openly sectarian appeals. "With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry preached in a message posted on the website maintained by the groups who backed his Aug. 6 prayer vigil. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did and as God called the Israelites to do in the Book of Joel."


As an article in the Texas Observer pointed out, Perry's mention of the Book of Joel was aimed at a certain breed of biblical literalists who find in its description of drought and economic crisis in ancient Judah a parallel for our times. I don't know whether Perry agrees with this stuff, but it certainly keeps him in tune with a significant segment of the Republican-primary electorate.

The same is true of Bachmann, whose religious and political evolution was chronicled in a recent New Yorker profile. "Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared," notes the writer, Ryan Lizza. More extreme than Palin? That's scary stuff. And I have little doubt that Bachmann really believes it.


The dangers of mixing politics and theology are too obvious to need pointing out. They are exactly what the Founding Fathers were worried about when they included the separation of church and state in the Constitution.

Obviously, people of faith have a role to play in public affairs — look no further than Martin Luther King Jr. for confirmation. But Perry, Bachmann, Cain and their ilk are not merely people of faith; they're extremists claiming that some special relationship with the divine gives them the right to impose their spiritual views on everyone else and make those beliefs the basis of government policy.


In that, these politicians have more in common with the Taliban and other Islamist fanatics than they do with the American patriots they claim to revere. The possibility that one of these fanatics might make it to the Oval Office is enough to drive even a dyed-in-the-wool agnostic like me down on my knees in prayer.

Spare us, our Lord, from politicians who claim to speak in your name.

Jack White, a frequent contributor to The Root, is a longtime observer of national politics.


is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.