When former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer declared his intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, he told his audience, “I’ve always been a churchgoing Methodist boy from a cotton field in north Louisiana.”
What was Roemer trying to prove with that statement? Surely, no one thinks that Roemer has switched from being a boy from a cotton field in north Louisiana to being a boy from a corn field in southwestern Iowa.
Geography and crop locality aren’t the important parts of the statement. Roemer’s religious identity is the information he wants to convey. He describes himself as a consistently churchgoing Christian as if it’s a qualification for the presidency. The Constitution gives a different perspective. The Constitution declares that no religious tests for political office will be allowed.
But, perhaps Buddy Roemer thinks that active church membership should be a requirement for the Republican presidential nomination. If that’s the case, he ought to look at the attitudes expressed by the key founding member of the Republican Party: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln often avoided going to church for long periods of time because he felt uncomfortable in the religious services. In 1837, writing from Springfield to a love interest back in his home district, Lincoln explained, “I’ve never been to church yet, and probably shall not soon. I stay away because i am conscious I should not know how to behave myself.”
Church attendance wasn’t a requirement for the Republican presidential nomination 150 years ago. It ought not to be a requirement now.