Visiting Religious Leaders Open Conversation About Faith, Policies in Presidential Race

Sarah Cornett

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






In recent weeks the presidential race has become increasingly heated, with candidates’ professional and personal lives coming under close public scrutiny. Last Friday, Oct. 19, two prominent members of the faiths of both presidential candidates came to the Glover Alston Center to present a basic overview of their religions in the context of the presidential election.

Adam Kirtley, Stuart coordinator of religious and spiritual life, organized the lunchtime discussion in hopes of providing students a way to learn more about the two faiths.

“We thought that having those traditions explained at the same time, in the same space, might create an interesting juxtaposition,” said Kirtley.

Cecilia King is an ordained minister at the local United Church of Christ, a denomination which counts President Barack Obama among its members. She spoke about her faith’s theology, mission and history.

“The UCC is an incredibly diverse congregation and denomination of churches. The members of the churches are diverse, and the denomination itself is very diverse,” she said. Outlining a brief history of the UCC and its theology, she shared historical details that demonstrate the progressive nature of the denomination. The faith was the first to ordain a woman as a minister in the 18th century, and also ordained the first African American.

King also discussed Barack Obama’s Chicago church, Trinity UCC, which is the largest church in the UCC and has a predominantly African American congregation of 8,500 members.

“[Trinity maintains] huge outreach to the community, and is quite bold and sometimes controversial,” said King. Many UCC churches have voted to be “open and affirming,” pledging to be inclusive to all potential members.

Following Rev. King’s talk, Dr. Ben Clark, a former bishop in the Church of Latter-day Saints, gave a presentation dispelling common misconceptions about his faith, of which Republican candidate Mitt Romney is a well-known follower. Adam Kirtley described his contact with Dr. Clark and his desire to speak at Whitman.

“Interestingly, I was approached initially by the presenter of the LDS tradition. He has a non-proselytizing informational presentation that provides accurate information about a tradition that is often misunderstood, and he was hoping to find a way to present it at Whitman,” said Kirtley.

Though Clark did not describe theology in detail, he discussed Mormon family, educational and faith life, highlighting the service work of the LDS church. Through describing the missions young Mormons are called to serve and other ways Mormons perform outreach, Dr. Clark provided a genuine understanding of the day-to-day lives of members of a frequently misunderstood faith. He articulated that his hope with the LDS-created presentation was to dispel common myths and stereotypes about Mormons.

“News media try to define us with trivial and irrelevant questions,” said Clark.

Following the presentation, the presenters answered audience member questions about their respective faiths. When asked about the presidential candidates and the role their faith plays or will play in their respective policy, each discussed the role of the candidates’ faith backgrounds in possible political decisions.

“I think [Romney] will make good, upstanding decisions,” said Clark.

King shared what she felt about President Obama, stating her belief that his faith has played a role in his presidency.

“I think Barack Obama has tried valiantly to govern according to what I suspect his faith is. I trust Obama’s heart, that he comes from a place of social justice and is evolving,” she said.

Students and others who attended the presentation thought it interesting and informative.

“It’s interesting to get context for the religions of both of the candidates,” said first-year Greg Holdman. “I learned a lot more about both of these religions, especially LDS.”

Though the two faiths have clear differences, the presentation served to inform and provide context to the religions, both in a general sense and in the context of the upcoming election.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email