BLOGGERJacques Berlinerblau is an Associate Professor and Director of the Program for Jewish Civilization at the School of Foreign Service. Berlinerblau has published on a wide variety of issues ranging...
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AT THE CENTER
RELATED RESOURCES: PROTESTANT
Spiritual Mentors a Must for 2008
September 4, 2007
Faith is such an interior thing, sequestered under the carapace of a politician’s guile. Who knows if a candidate’s external professions of faith are genuine? That’s where spiritual mentors come in. They are witnesses to the authenticity of their charge’s beliefs. They vouch for the sincerity of a politician’s stated religious convictions. And best of all, they are willing to do so in the presence of journalists.
The ideal spiritual mentor, I think, should be an unobtrusive and supportive presence, a walking, subdued, collared paean to you. Call him or her “a wing man,” Paul to your Jesus, Engels to your Marx, Sonny to your Cher. Senator Hillary Clinton, in my opinion, has the best spiritual mentor in the Faith and Values Industry. United Methodist Rev. Donald Jones has known Ms. Clinton for nearly half a century. In and of itself their extended association belies allegations that the Senator from New York lacks faith or uses religion solely for purposes of electoral conquest.
Senator Barack Obama, by contrast, has the most problematic (and interesting) mentor of the current election season. The straight-talking, charismatic Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a larger-than-life character, not unobtrusive by any measure. A recent New York Times article chronicled some of his left-of-left of center views on issues like race, economic inequality, American foreign policy, and so forth.
I had alluded in a previous post to “glaring negatives” in Senator Obama’s otherwise stellar faith and values portfolio. In part, I am referring to his own published recollections of his college and post-college years. During this period his political views where characterized by a type of radicalism that is likely to scare the bejesus out of mainstream swing voters. The challenge for his campaign is to convince Americans that his previous admiration for Franz Fanon, among others, was just a “youthful indiscretion.” Mr. Obama can accomplish this by continuing to distance himself from his outspoken mentor.
Too, he can surround himself with spiritual advisers. Spiritual advisers are freelancers of sorts.
They lack the gravitas of the mentor. They come and they go (Rev. Ted Haggard, for example, allegedly counseled George W. Bush). They are situation-specific players. Bill Clinton, memorably, employed a veritable staff of spiritual advisers during the Lewinsky affair. They need not even subscribe to your religion! Spiritual advisers are a dime a dozen in Washington.
I have repeatedly insisted that the Faith and Values game is played by rules that favor Protestant candidates. Mentorship is no exception. For non-Protestant candidates have a clear interest in concealing their spiritual guides. Were Mitt Romney to make too much of his mentor, it might draw more attention to his Mormon beliefs—beliefs which many Americans regard with prejudice.
American Catholic politicians--especially liberal ones--generally don’t do spiritual mentors either. If they did, predictable anti-Catholic accusations about the Vatican dictating their agenda would arise. Priests, for their part, must approach the idea of mentorship with trepidation. After all, what if one of their students one day supports abortion on demand? Perhaps the best advice to give a would-be presidential aspirant is to convert to Protestantism.