Republican presidential candidates take the stage for the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. 
Photo by John Minchillo/AP

This Week in God, 8.8.15

First up from the God Machine this week is an apparent first at the intersection of religion and politics: a national debate for presidential candidates in which participants were asked to comment on possible messages from God.
 
In Thursday night’s Republican debate, towards the very end of the debate, Fox’s Megyn Kelly came back from a commercial break and said the following:
“In our final moments here together, we’re going to allow the candidates to offer their final thoughts. But first, we want to ask them an interesting closing question from Chase Norton on Facebook, who wants to know this of the candidates: ‘I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first.’”
I can find no evidence of major-party candidates ever being asked anything like this question during a televised debate, at least not since 2004, when Democratic candidates were asked during a CBS debate, .”Is God on America’s side?” Since we’re electing a president and not a preacher, arguably these questions are less than ideal.
 
But, one by one, several GOP candidates answered anyway. None was overly specific about receiving divine messages about White House policy priorities, but many of the Republicans seemed to relish the opportunity to address the issue of faith – and family upbringing – more generally.
 
Ted Cruz reminded the audience that he’s the “son of a pastor and evangelist,” which he then parlayed into a summary of why he’s further to the right than his rivals. John Kasich answered by telling people – again – that his “father was a mailman” and the governor intends to lead a movement to “provide economic growth.”
 
Scott Walker was more explicitly theological: “I’m certainly an imperfect man. And it’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed from my sins. So I know that God doesn’t call me to do a specific thing, God hasn’t given me a list, a Ten Commandments, if you will, of things to act on the first day. What God calls us to do is follow his will.”
 
Marco Rubio, meanwhile, took the opportunity to take the religious discussion in a most partisan direction: “First, let me say I think God has blessed us. He has blessed the Republican Party with some very good candidates. The Democrats can’t even find one.” He went on to use the word “bless” a whole lot: “I believe God has blessed our country. This country has been extraordinarily blessed, and we have honored that blessing, and that’s why God has continued to bless us.”
 
Whether the question was appropriate for a candidates’ debate is open to debate. Whether social conservatives who make up much of the GOP base were paying close attention to the answers should not be in doubt.
 
Also from the God Machine this week:
 
* In the earlier debate for the other Republican presidential candidates, former New York Gov. George Pataki was asked by Fox’s Martha MacCallum whether he’d be willing to spy on mosques in the name of national security. The candidate didn’t answer directly, though he said that “encouraging a fellow American to engage in violent jihad and kill an American here” is not protected by the First Amendment. He added that radical Islamists need to be “shut down whether or not they’re in prisons preaching or in mosques preaching.”
 
* The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer wasn’t pleased that Kasich said in the prime-time debate that he’s attended a same-sex wedding. Fischer said attending a gay friend’s wedding is like attending the “grand opening celebration” of a friend’s “new crack house” because you are simply “enabling” that friend’s behavior.
 
* An interesting controversy is brewing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where a teacher is being sued for allegedly upbraiding a second grader who told another child he doesn’t go to church and doesn’t believe in God. The child’s family is seeking damages, but the teacher said the child’s atheism hurt other students’ feelings.
 
* And in Milwaukee this week, leaders of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese said they reached “a $21 million settlement with hundreds of victims of sexual abuse by clergy members, though the agreement is still subject to approval by a federal judge.” The Archdiocese has also been “entangled in bankruptcy proceedings since 2011” as a result of alleged crimes.
 

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This Week in God, 8.8.15