Faith shapes political views
Striding near the Capitol during another day as one of what he calls God's "chosen people" who serve in the U.S. Senate, George V. Voinovich was very clear about why he has devoted so much time to defeating a proposal that would allow slot-machine gambling in
"I'm thinking about people, and I'm thinking about their immortal souls," the Republican former governor said. "I'm worried about their temple and their spiritual life. They get involved in this, and before you know it they've divorced their wives. They've been bankrupt."
Like Voinovich, state Rep. Bill Seitz considers himself strongly religious. But the Cincinnati Republican has been one of the legislature's top supporters of expanded gambling in the
"There are times when what you have to do from a financial point of view is at odds with what your denomination tends to support," said Seitz, a Presbyterian. "But there is a difference between the religious world and the secular world. In the religious world, we believe in miracles. In the secular world, we're often having to choose from less than ideal choices."
In a recent Dispatch survey of more than 100 state legislators, 98 percent said religion is at least "fairly important" in their lives, and more than three-fourths called it "very important."
But just how religion shapes lawmakers' views and, in turn, affects the policy decisions that affect millions of Ohioans can differ greatly. The issue has taken on added urgency in recent years as religion and politics have increasingly intertwined in
Religious politicians strongly support abortion rights -and just as strongly oppose them. The same goes for embryonic stem-cell research, the death penalty and gay rights. They disagree on how best to help the poor, fund education and secure citizens.
"Does knowing that I'm a religious person tell you how I'm going to come out on an environmental issue?" or a tax issue? No, said Sen. Eric D. Fingerhut, a Shaker Heights Democrat and one of three Jewish members of the legislature. "Your faith gives you a framework. So even though there is clearly a Christian imperative and a Jewish imperative to feed the hungry, there's also an imperative to help create jobs. Where you make that balance is what our role is."
Voinovich holds the Roman Catholic beliefs instilled in him by his mother but also was deeply influenced by the Serbian Orthodox faith of his father. But he said those don't always enter into specific political and public-policy stands. But his faith influenced his decision to enter politics and provides the underpinning for many of his decisions.
"I believe one way to show love of God is by loving other people," Voinovich said. "So I got into this business because I thought it was a way I could make a difference."
A Baylor University religion survey released last week found that people who believe in an authoritarian God -one who is highly involved in daily affairs, sometimes angry and capable of punishing the unfaithful -are more likely to want a government based on Christian values, with funding for faith-based organizations and bans on abortion and gay marriage.
On the other end, those who believe in a distant God -one who put the universe in motion but is not active in world affairs -strongly support embryonic stem-cell research and are more likely to oppose the death penalty and increased military spending.
With that in mind, the Cleveland Democrat said she was outraged when majority Republicans cut Medicaid benefits for 25,000 poor parents last year.
Some say the state budget is a reflection of the morals of those who craft it.
"In reality, it's a document that sets forth a sense of responsibility for the legislature to do all that it can to support the needs of Ohioans," said Senate President Bill M. Harris, a Republican who attends Grace Brethren Church in Ashland. "You know you can't fix and resolve all of the challenges."
Other than a Bible on a desk, you won't find evidence of religion around Harris' office. "I don't need a cross here, because I know Christ is here." But the soft-spoken, retired Marine firmly believes that his faith in Jesus and eternal salvation shapes him and his desire to be an elected servant.
"I think that faith then causes me to be the type of person that Christ would want me to be," he said. Harris, who has led Wednesday morning Bible study sessions on Capitol Square since 1995, highlights budget decisions to restore funding for the Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps, to help children's hospitals and restore some of the proposed Medicaid cuts.
Harris sees religion permeating many, if not all of his decisions. On tax reform: "If I was doing that just to benefit Bill Harris, my conscience would have a terrible time." On gay rights: "I think the Bible is clear that homosexuality is not what Christ wants us to do."
But Prentiss points to Matthew 7:1: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."
"So when it comes to the gay issue, how dare we have an opinion about how somebody else does their life?" she said.
Religious differences were highlighted during a November 2005 Ohio Senate debate over a bill that would ban state funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
Sen. Jim Jordan, a Republican from
But Fingerhut rose and just as passionately countered, "(That is) not a fact. It's an article of faith.
"It happens that my faith teaches something completely different. It has taught that an embryo is a potential life. But the protection we give to potential life gives way to saving actual lives."
The two candidates for U.S. Senate in
In a recent article in Crisis Magazine entitled "The Conscience of a Catholic Politician," GOP Sen. Mike DeWine cited Isaiah 58:10: "Help those in trouble. … Then your light will shine out from the darkness."
That helps explain what DeWine calls his "moral obligation" to oppose abortion rights, promote foster care and adoption laws, and seek more aid for poverty and AIDS-stricken
"I've learned throughout my career in public service that faith matters, that you cannot separate it from your work in the public arena," DeWine wrote.
His Democratic challenger, Rep. Sherrod Brown of
But Democrats often are reluctant to discuss how faith motivates their stands on issues, he said, citing an obligation to seek better pay for minimum-wage workers and fair-labor standards from
Rep. Pat Tiberi,
Tiberi, a Catholic, says he prefers attending his own church on Sundays rather than campaigning in other churches.
"For me, (my religion and faith) is something important to me that I don't talk about in my campaign. I don't go around making speeches about it. It's clear on my Web site I am active in my church."
Shamansky, who is Jewish and belongs to three synagogues in central
While Shamansky said that philosophy has "held up pretty well," he added that he is not inclined as a politician to "advertise my religious practices or affiliations. ... I am not going to prove I am holier than somebody else."