Washington National Cathedral’s magazine, Cathedral Age, asked President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney an identical set of questions about the presence of faith in their lives and the role of religion in America. Each was given the opportunity to respond freely, and their responses appear as in full.
Cathedral Age: How does faith play a role in your life?
President Obama: First and foremost, my Christian faith gives me a perspective and security that I don’t think I would have otherwise: That I am loved. That, at the end of the day, God is in control -- and my main responsibility is to love God with all of my heart, soul and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. Now, I don’t always live up to that standard, but it is a standard I am always pursuing.
My faith is also a great source of comfort to me. I’ve said before that my faith has grown as president. This office tends to make a person pray more; and as President Lincoln once said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”
Finally, I try to make sure that my faith informs how I live my life. As a husband, as a father, and as president, my faith helps me to keep my eyes on the prize and focus on what is good and truly important.
Governor Romney: Faith is integral to my life. I have served as a lay pastor in my church. I faithfully follow its precepts. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. My father was committed to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s cause of equality, and I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby and in leading national volunteer movements. My faith is grounded in the conviction that a consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another -- to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God.
CA: Do you have favorite scriptural passages, prayers or other words of wisdom to which you often turn?
Governor Romney: I am always moved by the Lord’s words in Matthew: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me” (Matthew 25:35–36, KJV).
President Obama: I do have a few favorites. Isaiah 40:31 has been a great source of encouragement in my life, and I quote from it often. Psalm 46 is also important to me; I chose to read it on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Niebuhr’s serenity prayer is a good one as well.
I’ve also been blessed to receive a daily devotional from my faith advisor, Joshua duBois, who will send me Scripture or thoughts from people such as C.S. Lewis or Howard Thurman every morning.
CA: How do you view the role of faith in public life?
President Obama: There are many ways to approach this question, but two clear aspects of the role of faith in public life come to mind immediately. First, faith has always provided a moral framework and vocabulary for this country to come to terms with its most pressing challenges. One of the great things about this nation is that it is a place where people from all walks of life can advocate on behalf of their faith and beliefs and be open about what drives and motivates them.
From slavery to the suffrage movement to civil rights, faith -- and the moral obligations that derive from our faith -- have always helped us to navigate some of our greatest moral challenges with a recognition that there’s something bigger than ourselves: We have obligations that extend beyond our own self-interest. We face big challenges in this country,
and we’re coming to the point where we will decide if we’re truly in this together or if each individual ought just to fight for what serves them best. For me, and I think for many other Americans, faith tells us that there is something about this world that ties our interest to the welfare of a child who can’t get the health care they need, or a parent who can’t find work after the plant shut down, or a family going hungry.
Second, faith motivates people to do incredibly compassionate and good work that helps our nation thrive. Now, I’ve been familiar with this for a long time. One of my first jobs was as a community organizer where I was funded by a Catholic Church grant to help families on the south side of Chicago who were struggling after the local steel plant closed. But I must say this has become even more real to me during my time as president. Through the letters I’ve read from individuals whose faith led them to serve in Joplin or Colorado Springs in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and the work of my faith-based office (which has done incredible work to strengthen partnerships between the federal government and faith-based non-profits to serve those in need), it is more apparent to me now than ever how integral faith is as a motivating factor for so much of what keeps our country moving forward.
Governor Romney: We should acknowledge the Creator, as did the Founders -- in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests.
CA: As a country of great religious diversity and divisiveness, how can faith play a role in unifying america?
Governor Romney: I believe that while we are a country with so many differences in creed and theology, we can all meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.
President Obama: Faith lets us know that there’s something bigger than ourselves, and that requires a certain basic commitment to one another. This country has a rich tradition of seeking to create an environment where people of different beliefs can live together and share common goals. As Americans, I think we understand that -- in protecting our ability to advocate for our own positions -- we must protect the ability of those who come from different backgrounds and beliefs to do so as well. Faith demands that we see the image of God in one another and respect it.