By BILL DUNCAN
The Elder Statesman
Don’t those Republican candidates for President have bigger issues to consider than one man’s religion? Oh, I understand the candidate who raised the issue is hiding behind the coattails of a fundamentalist preacher, but in my opinion, he isn’t showing much courage of either supporting the attack on a fellow candidate or denouncing the preacher’s stance.
I thought all this was behind us when John F. Kennedy overcame the Catholic stigma and proved that a man was elected President, not a religion. But here it is raising its ugly head again.
I was once baptized a Mormon. Before you get your knickers in a twist, there is a story behind that description. As a special assignments reporter for a Los Angeles newspaper, I was assigned to follow the migrant farm workers through a season of harvest. You may call them fruit tramps and other names, but believe me they are salt of the earth nomads who move from one harvest to another in search of work. If you look down on them, stop eating.
Assigned with me was Bob Shumway, a photographer. Bob was a Mormon. We met up with the first group of migrants in the fertile valleys of central California. They were camped out in great numbers. When the sun went down, there was a bone chilling wind whipping through the valley. Bob was roaming from campfire to campfire capturing the images of what it is like to be a nomad in wealthy America.
I finally caught up with Bob talking to one of the migrants. As soon as I walked up, the man offered me a cup of coffee. Before I could answer, Bob interrupted by saying:
“No, no, he is Mormon too.”
I was puzzled because I really wanted that cup of coffee to stave off the chill of night. As we moved on, Bob explained that he had just saved me from dysentery or worse, because my host had just spit in the cup and wiped it off with a soiled handkerchief. I went away saying a few Hail Marys for my emergency conversion.
With all the problems facing this nation the question in my mind is why are we wasting time pointing fingers. Why not, instead, adopt the best of each religion – including Islam – into our own religious thinking. I can think of many attributes of the Church of Latter Day Saints, that would be as asset. Or, the Seventh Day Adventist who are the most giving people I know. The Jehovah Witnesses, who are so committed they are willing to go door to door with their message.
I remember Les Rodney, the religion editor for the newspaper I worked for in California, who was Jewish by religious persuasion, covering and writing about a Methodist convention. Several of the Methodist ladies visited him in the newspaper office to thank him for his coverage. One of the women said to him: “Mr. Rodney we just know you must be a Methodist because of the sincerity of your writing,” to which Rodney replied: “There is a little Methodist in all of us.” Solomon could not have said it better.
There should be a little Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian and any branch of the Christian faith in each of us, along with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. Scratch the surface and you will discover all say: Love your neighbor.
Rather than using a man’s personal religion as political fodder, the candidate would be better off to tell the voters how he will solve the mess both political parties have created in Washington and get out from behind anyone who professes love their neighbor but doesn’t practice what he preaches.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at email@example.com or by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470.)