What the presidential candidates believe

PBS Religion and Ethics Weekly produced a special report, using clips from various appearances, on how each candidate for president and vice president views his or her faith. Kim Lawton, producer of this program also speaks with leaders of the various faith traditions of the candidates.

All four candidates describe themselves as Christians, but they talk about their faith — and apply it to their politics — in very different ways.

Barack Obama:

Barack Obama has been the most outspoken about matters of faith, even though a survey last month found that 46 percent of Americans were still unable to correctly identify him as a Christian.

Obama says he was not raised in a religious household. But when he arrived in Chicago as a young community organizer he says he realized something was missing from his life. He visited Trinity United Church of Christ and went forward during an altar call given by its controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

John McCain:

[John] McCain was raised in the Episcopal Church and attended an Episcopal school in Virginia. He learned the Anglican liturgy and memorized the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, two of the oldest statements of traditional Christian doctrine. McCain says he drew heavily on those for spiritual strength during his captivity in North Vietnam.

Joe Biden:

Joe Biden frequently identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, but he rarely speaks in-depth about religious issues… Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where St. Paul’s Catholic Church was a central part of his family’s life. He went to Catholic schools and even briefly considered becoming a priest.

In his book, “Promises to Keep,” he wrote: “My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion.” He attends Mass nearly every Sunday and says he carries a rosary.

But Biden has been in conflict with the Catholic Church over the issue of abortion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Catholic bishops took him to task for what they called his “flawed moral reasoning” in saying he’s personally opposed to abortion but supports a woman’s right to choose.

Sarah Palin:

Church has played an important role in Sarah Palin’s life, although she too has been very private about her personal faith. As an infant, Palin was baptized a Roman Catholic, but then her parents began attending the Wasilla Assembly of God Church. That local congregation is part of the Assemblies of God, an international Pentecostal denomination which has a conservative evangelical theology and emphasizes manifestations of the Holy Spirit. …

Moderator Kim Lawton wonders, “Does it matter what a candidate believes? According to an August survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, nearly half of all Americans say they get uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are. But at the same time, more than 70 percent of Americans say they do want a president with strong religious beliefs.”

Watch and listen here.

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