the religious test

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Jan 11, 2008

As I have noted before, the media have trouble dealing with the religious beliefs of Mike Huckabee. It's happening again-- or perhaps I should say still.

[Disclaimer: In what follows I do not intend to imply my support for Huckabee. The fact is, I don't support him-- as a presidential candidate. As an unabashed Christian confronting the media, however, he has my sympathy.]

In last night's debate among the Republican hopefuls in South Carolina, Gov. Huckabee was singled out for a question about Christian beliefs. His response was remarkable. Let's go to the transcript:

CAMERON: Governor Huckabee, to change the subject a little bit and focus a moment on electability. Back in 1998, you were one of about 100 people who affirmed, in a full-page ad in the New York Times, the Southern Baptist Convention's declaration that, quote, "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." Women voters in both parties harshly criticized that. Is that position politically viable in the general election of 2008, sir?

HUCKABEE: You know, it's interesting, everybody says religion is off limits, except we always can ask me the religious questions. So let me try to do my best to answer it.


And since -- if we're really going to have a religious service, I'd really feel more comfortable if I could pass the plates, because our campaign could use the money tonight, Carl.



The whole context of that passage-- and, by the way, it really was spoken to believers, to Christian believers. I'm not the least bit ashamed of my faith or the doctrines of it. I don't try to impose that as a governor and I wouldn't impose it as a president. But I certainly am going to practice it unashamedly, whether I'm a president or whether I'm not a president...

Right on target. With a little joke tossed in to soften the blow, Huckabee makes the relevant point: that he, and only he, is subjected to questioning about his religious beliefs. Why? Maybe because he makes no bones about the fact that his beliefs influence his public stands. More likely because those beliefs are sharply at odds with those of the comfortably secular media establishment.

Mr. Cameron wonders whether some voters might be worried by Huckabee's professed beliefs, as indeed they might. But why not apply the same standard to other presidential hopefuls? Mitt Romney might be asked whether he really expects to ascend to an equal status with Jesus and rule over some distant planet. Fred Thompson could be asked why he never goes to church. John McCain could be questioned about the intense disputes among his Episcopalian confreres over same-sex marriage and homosexual bishops. Rudy Giuliani could be asked to reconcile his multiple partnerships with the Catholic teaching on indissolubility of marriage. But those questions are not asked; only Huckabee faces the theological quizzing.

Then again, maybe Huckabee shouldn't complain-- as a matter of fact you'll notice that he didn't complain, merely made a salient point-- because the questions give him opportunities to give some very good answers. Thus, when he continued with his response to the question above, the debate audience was treated to the sort of exhortation that one ordinarily does not hear in a political debate.

... the point-- and it comes from a passage of scripture in the New Testament book of Ephesians-- is that as wives submit themselves to the husbands, the husbands also submit themselves, and it's not a matter of one being somehow superior over the other. It's both mutually showing their affection and submission as unto the Lord.
So with all due respect, it has nothing to do with presidency. I just wanted to clear up that little doctrinal quirk there so that there's nobody who misunderstands that it's really about doing what a marriage ought to do and that's marriage is not a 50/50 deal, where each partner gives 50%. Biblically, marriage is 100/100 deal. Each partner gives 100% of their devotion to the other and that's why marriage is an important institution, because it teaches us how to love.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 8 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jan. 18, 2008 12:29 PM ET USA

    Reminds me of the response of Goldwater's running mate during the 1964 campaign concerning G's Convention slogan, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." A reporter asked Miller to defend the comment. In response, Miller said something like, "Tell me, would your wife want you to be moderately faithful to her, or extremely faithful to her?" Oh, here's a useful link:

  • Posted by: - Jan. 15, 2008 11:58 AM ET USA

    Fact: HB 1724 signed by Huckabee was written by a homesholling dad in an attempt to stop even more stringent restrictions on homeschooling proposed by others in Arkansas at the time. Ark. is a rural state, the vouchers wouldn’t have worked as well as in more prosperous urban states. A voucher system would have required private and Christian schools to educate students with vouchers even if that voucher didn’t cover the entire cost of the student’s education. This would bankrupt private schools.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2008 9:40 AM ET USA

    I, too, admire Gov. Huckabee & his Christian witness but do not support his candidacy. School choice should be a much more prominent issue nationally than it is. This goes for Catholics almost as much as for the electorate generally. Huckabee is a confirmed opponent of true school choice & of the voucher option sustained in the U.S. Sup. Ct. landmark ruling in the Zelman case in '02. See his webiste. He holds himself out as a proponent of "PUBLIC school choice', which is no choice at all

  • Posted by: - Jan. 14, 2008 9:20 AM ET USA

    What a wonderful answer from Gov. Huckabee! Although I doubt he's read it, I detect some commonality with JP2's Theology of the Body. We Catholics and our Southern Baptist friends do have a lot in common when it comes to traditional morality. Although he is not my candidate at this time, I believe Gov. Huckabee is a genuine believer and he knows he is blessed for being persecuted for the Name of Jesus.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 12, 2008 5:35 PM ET USA

    One wonders how one of our Catholic priests might deal with this. In recent years, I've noticed, as just a couple of weeks ago, when Colossians 3 is read, the lector simply stops before the wives-be-submissive paragraph. I assume not on his or her own, but at the instruction of the homilist, so he won't have to deal with it. I agree that the Rev. Mr. Huckaby handled it extraordinarily well. (I also do not support him because of what I understand are some ethical challenges.)

  • Posted by: - Jan. 12, 2008 12:05 PM ET USA

    How I envy those in the US, at least you have politicians that, whether honestly or not, advertise themselves as Christians. Christianity does not even feature, period.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 11, 2008 11:44 PM ET USA

    It was certainly a good response from Huckabee at the debate. However, I believe he asked this more than others because 1) he used to be a Baptist minister for several years and, more importantly, 2) he has advertised himself as a 'Christian leader' to voters. I am cautious about Huckabee because it seems he is the Christian form of identity politics: vote for me because I’m like you and understand your pain.

  • Posted by: - Jan. 11, 2008 8:35 PM ET USA

    And it is precisely because of answers like this and the moral (or should I say immoral in at least one area of morality)positions of the other candidates that I do support his candidacy. There are certainly areas in which I wish he were more conservative, but "bottom line" his stance on abortion, same sex marriage, etc. is better than anyone elses. And, he is consistent as opposed to the flip flop positions of the others.