During the primaries, Obama's church received more passionate attention than his policy proposals. The conflict over Reverend Wright caused commentators to debate race, religion, and transparency in politics. Most of them, however, failed to ask a simple question: Why is this even relevant? Now that the media are focusing on Obama's yet unchosen church in Washington, DC, this issue will likely remain on the political radar.
From my perspective, religion has no part in governance, and an abundance of constitutional doctrine and tradition limits the interaction of religion and state action. Given this separation of church and state, the sensationalized coverage of the religious lives of political candidates strikes me as a puzzling display in distraction. Nonetheless, candidates now engage in a bizarre ritual in which they routinely profess a belief in God or Jesus. Confessing such a belief is now mandatory, just like saying that one wants to "improve schools" and "reduce crime."
During the recent political campaign, liberals spent a lot of time debunking rumors that Obama is a Muslim, rather than asking the relevance of such rumors on his suitability for public office. I am far more interested in how candidates will design policy. And religion is a pretty weak proxy for policy views. Reverend Wright and Pat Robertson are both "Christians," but they have very different opinions on public policy. Perhaps the media should end the circus by delving into policy -- rather than trying to figure out whether Sarah Palin practices witchcraft or whether Obama's minister wanted 9/11 to happen. But then again policy debates do not generate as much "traffic" as religious or sexual scandals, so I do not expect much to change in this area.