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Guest opinion: Religion, morality and voting in the 2024 elections

By Richard Davis - | May 10, 2024

Donald Trump should be the antithesis of a Republican presidential candidate. He rarely attends church. He has little knowledge of the Bible. He is twice divorced and is well known for multiple affairs between and even during his marriages. He was successfully sued for sexual assault. And he is now on trial for attempting to hide payments to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Yet, Republicans have chosen him as their presidential nominee three times in a row. Seemingly, they do not care about his immoral behavior. Repeatedly, Republican voters say they only care about what Trump does as a public official.

That is a complete reversal of long-held Republican attitudes about politicians’ personal lifestyles. In the 1990s, Republicans quickly attacked Bill Clinton for moral turpitude because of a personal scandal. In an earlier generation, Nelson Rockefeller’s presidential prospects were harmed by his divorce while Ronald Reagan had to prove his wife divorced him and not the other way around.

It would appear that the personal character of a candidate is not an issue in campaigns. Obviously, it is difficult for voters to assess personal morals through the lens of the media, particularly in an era when social media spews many false messages.

Yet, should there be some personal moral standard regarding candidates that voters can apply in making vote decisions? And, if so, what about a candidate’s character should be fair game for voter assessment? And which should be off-limits or at least irrelevant?

For example, should a candidate, such as Trump, be shunned because he does not go to church regularly? Or if the candidate is not a Christian, such as Green Party candidate Jill Stein, should she be rejected by voters?

Those are not necessarily relevant in determining character. But what is relevant is whether the candidate has a moral core. What are measures of a moral core?

One is integrity. Integrity encompasses honesty as well as humility. One element of honesty is the avoidance of lying. Does the candidate lie repeatedly to voters about themselves — their official acts or their personal life? Is the candidate hypocritical? Does the candidate take issue positions that contradict his or her personal behavior? For example, does a closeted gay candidate promote anti-LGBTQ legislation or does a so-called religious adherent claim a level of religious commitment belied by the lack of awareness of religious doctrines or sacred texts?

As well, does the candidate exhibit humility? Is she or he willing to admit past mistakes — regretted votes or poor decisions? Do they ask for forgiveness from others when offenses are given?

Another measure is transparency. Does the candidate seek to hide his or her past actions? Do they threaten or bribe people who talk about behavior they want hidden?

Another gauge is respect for others. Does the candidate view those who disagree as opponents or actual enemies? Does the candidate use harsh rhetoric to describe others who disagree, or does he or she stick to policy differences?

Related to respect for others is the willingness to forgive others when offended. Does the candidate hold grudges and promise revenge for past actions by others? Or are they able to move on?

Yet another is whether the candidate respects the rule of law. It is easy to become so convinced of the rightness of one’s cause that laws and rules are broken to achieve desired ends. A candidate who respects the law as well as the institutions of government, even when laws don’t go in their favor, has moral character.

Voters can and should judge whether a candidate has a moral core. They cannot necessarily do so by judging a candidate’s religious affiliation or their profession of religious views. Nor can they do so through personal knowledge of candidates, except at the most local levels. But they can glean insights through the candidate’s public rhetoric and behavior — their publicly manifested integrity, transparency, respect for others, and respect for the rule of law and government itself.

Richard Davis is the author of “Faith and Politics.”


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