The Hauenstein Center gathered 25 scholars from across the country to discuss religion and the presidency

Gleaves Whitney
Director, Hauenstein Center
Religion and politics -- each by itself is a combustible topic. But combine them and you get explosive political debate in our nation. After an election season in which the faith of both candidates became a central issue, the outcome was influenced largely by "moral values." The Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies hosted a path-breaking conference that featured 25 scholars from across the nation who could explore this hot topic. The first-ever conference on religion and the presidency, a two-day event, was broadcast nationally on C-SPAN.

Paul Kengor, the New York Times best-selling author of God and Ronald Reagan and God and George W. Bush, delivered the keynote address.

"As president, Thomas Jefferson did not practice church-state separation. He used public funds to distribute Bibles and to establish Christian missions among the Indians. But he was very private about his personal faith. Even his family did not know until after his death that he had edited his own version of the New Testament."

Thomas Buckley, SJ
Jesuit School of Theology-Berkeley

"President Truman was secure in his faith as a Baptist, and he claims he never lost any sleep over dropping two atom bombs on Japan."

Elizabeth Spalding
Claremont McKenna College

"Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only president to write a prayer for his inaugural address. He was the first president baptized in the White House, and the first to hire an advisor to handle faith-based issues."

Jack Holl
Kansas State University

Pictured from left to right:
Phillip Munoz, N. C. State, Thomas Buckley, SJ, and Lucas Morel.

"Many feared that President Kennedy's decisions would be influenced by the Vatican, when in fact his religion played a very small role in his presidency. He was once quoted telling his speechwriters, 'You Unitarians keep writing me Catholic speeches.'"

Thomas Carty
Springfield College

"Senator Kerry waited too long to talk about his religion in the 2004 presidential campaign, and when he finally did, he had already lost the Catholic vote."

William D'Antonio
Catholic University

"Of the handful of prominent presidents in the first century of our nation's existence, Abraham Lincoln was the most recognizably Christian."

Lucas Morel
Washington and Lee University

"In modern times, Democratic presidents have invoked God every bit as much as Republican presidents, and historically presidents of all political persuasions have made God central to their presidencies. Franklin Roosevelt gave personally inscribed copies of the New Testament to soldiers leaving to fight in World War II."

Paul Kengor
Grove City College

"While President Bush would not have won the 2004 election without the support of the Christian right, he also won the moderate Christian vote."

Mark Rozell
George Mason University

"Jimmy Carter will be remembered as one of the most religious presidents. Yet Carter's faith could not overcome his deficiencies in cultivating Washington political relations. His faith could not stave off energy crises, stagflation, and the Iranian hostage crisis. And church-state separation could not win over evangelicals on school prayer, busing, family issues, or abortion."

Jeff Walz
Concordia University

C-Span televised the 2-day conference.

"Despite perceptions to the contrary, Bill Clinton's faith deepened considerably while he was in the White House particularly as a result of his impeachment. In public, he spoke more about God than George W. Bush would."

James Penning
Calvin College

"President Bush's religion is popularly misunderstood. He is much less the candidate of the Christian Right than he is portrayed, and while he has a deeply felt religion that is evangelical in its orientation, it is not theologically rigid, nor does he connect it to all policy areas."

Clyde Wilcox
Georgetown University

"In the past, Evangelical activism has focused primarily on domestic policies, but with the rise of neo-conservatism -- and with it, increased interest in the spread of American values to the rest of the world -- Evangelicals have taken more and more interest in foreign affairs."

Kevin den Dulk
Grand Valley State University

Barbara Elliott
Author of Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities.

Page last modified July 20, 2011