By Catherine O’Grady
Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies hosted a panel discussing the relationship between religion and politics in Keane Auditorium in McGivney Hall Wednesday night. The event was held as a conversation between the three panellists— Kenneth Woodward, Thomas Reese S.J., and Peter Wehner— and mainly focused on the role which religious affiliation plays in presidential election, both of the voter and the candidate.
“Religion is no longer a significant factor in presidential politics,” said Woodward, who worked as a religion editor for Newsweek for thirty eight years, author of the recently published book Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from the Age of Eisenhower to the Assent of Trump, and is a recipient of multiple notable awards including the Pulitzer Prize of the Magazine Industry. The first part of the event consisted of Woodward presenting his argument with information from previous presidents to support his claims.
“Religion, it seems to me, would be important in presidential politics if it could be shown that any policy, foreign or domestic, of any president bore a direct relationship to any president’s beliefs,” said Woodward. “I really do think for a lot of engaged Americans, partisan politics has absorbed the kind of passion and commitment to group identity and social boundaries that were once characteristic of american religion.”
There was some disagreement between Woodward and Wehner on the importance of religion in the political sphere.
“A President’s faith can affect their moral sensibilities, their view on human anthropology genealogy, the idea of inherent human dignity,” said Wehner, American writer and Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He also served presidents Reagan, Bush, Sr., and Bush, Jr., in their administrations and is a strong opponent of Donald Trump’s presidency. Wehner emphasized the statistics that supported his claim. He accredited Trump’s victory to his ability to persuade Evangelical Christians to vote for him.:
In Wehner’s presentation, Wehner discussed the role religion played in the election of Donald Trump not only to the presidency but the Republican Primary. Wehner spoke of the variety of the conservatives represented by the candidates running for the Republican Primary, as every strand of conservatism was represented by the the candidates in the Primary.
“There was somebody that was light years better than Donald Trump and yet Donald Trump won the nomination easily,” said Wehner. “I think part of what was going on was the sense that Donald Trump embodied, the way nobody else did, the resentment, the grievances, the frustrations, fears of the white evangelical world.”
Wehner expressed his hope that future generations of Evangelical Christians will support a candidates of a more gentle nature that uphold Christian values.