Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia (pictured at left), the Democratic candidate for vice president, is a Catholic. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana (at right), the Republican candidate for vice president, was born into an Irish Catholic family but has left Catholicism and these days simply calls himself Christian.
But just applying a label to Kaine or Pence doesn't tell us much. For sure it won't tell you much to know that Donald Trump calls himself a Presbyterian or that Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist, though there is considerably more evidence for the latter designation than the former.
And, besides, given the fact that there can be no constitutional religious test for public office in the U.S., what difference does it make, say, that Kaine is Catholic?
Well, the reality is that a faith commitment can influence one's positions on public policies. But as Patheos.com blogger Jacob Lupfer notes in this piece, "There are no Catholics in national politics who believe the entire body of their Church’s social teaching. Or at least none who act(s) in accordance with that belief."
So we have in Kaine (and, for that matter, in current Vice President Joe Biden), a Catholic who, though personally against abortion, believes it should remain legal. Which puts both Kaine and Biden at odds with their church.
The point, of course, is that you have to drill down past religious labels to find out what a politician believes and how those beliefs might affect public policy.
What we also know is that it's completely wrong-headed and immoral for someone like the now-resigned chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to try to use a candidate's religious heritage -- in this case Bernie Sanders' Jewishness -- as a weapon against that candidate.
Religion still matters a lot in the U.S., even though nearly 25 percent of adult Americans now identify as religious unaffiliated. But even that doesn't mean that those so-called "nones" don't have religious beliefs and aren't interested in the religious beliefs of politicians.
It does, however, mean that voters have to do their homework about politics and religion. Labels alone won't be helpful and may even be misleading.
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THE POPE NAMES WAR'S REALITY
On his way to Poland yesterday for the world gathering of youth, Pope Francis declared that the world is at war -- "a war of interests, for money, resources." Poland's history is evidence that such a state of war has been the norm over much of human history. Sigh.