A view from the sidelines

This column is titled "Canada Today," but please indulge me this month with some comments about the current race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The American presidency is the ultimate political competition, with the two candidates on track to raise and spend well over a billion dollars, primarily on television ads attacking each other. By comparison, Canadian political parties are limited to just over $20 million per election.

Despite their negative campaigns, both candidates are honourable, intelligent and exemplary individuals. They also each have interesting religious profiles. President Obama speaks regularly of his Christian beliefs, though he's not terribly precise on exactly what he believes, and orthodox Christians tend to be among his strongest opponents. While it depends which poll you consult, about three-quarters of evangelicals voted for the irreligious John McCain in 2008. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has gradually become more and more comfortable talking about and yet downplaying his Mormonism, drawing parallels to John F. Kennedy's successful navigation of "the Catholic question" in the 1960 race. But that's an odd contrast, since Kennedy was not known to be particularly religious or an observant Catholic (though his brother Bobby was). In contrast, Romney comes from a leading Mormon family and has been active and held leadership positions with the Mormons. His wife Ann even converted to Mormonism when the two were dating, and most of their close personal friends are drawn from Mormon circles.

While his faith seems to remain constant, Romney has not been consistent in other ways, especially on social issues dear to many conservative Christians. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate and later governor, he supported gay rights and "a woman's right to choose" an abortion. Now he has disavowed those positions, just like he denies that his Massachusetts health insurance plan bears any resemblance to the "Obamacare" that he has pledged to dismantle.

Given that most Christians, especially evangelicals, do not accept Mormons as an orthodox Christian faith, it will be interesting to see how they react to Romney and his curious profile. In the primary race earlier this year, the evangelical vote split among all the major candidates, and some voters almost certainly had difficulty voting for Romney, either because of his policy flip-flops, his Mormonism, or both. One possibility—and the nightmare scenario for Republicans—is that many evangelicals and other Christians will stay home and not vote at all, rather than cast ballots for someone whose faith they view as heretical. Meanwhile, Obama may retain the quarter of evangelicals who voted for him last time but is unlikely to make any gains here, though he does well among mainstream Protestants and liberal and moderate Catholics.

In the end, we can only pray that the best man will win. Both are accomplished, sincere individuals who seem to truly want what is best for their country. As Canadians we are left watching on the sidelines, but Canadian Christians should take a particular interest in this unusual matchup.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Jonathan Malloy is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.