Faith, Politics, and the National Cathedral


DEBORAH POTTER, guest host: One year after an earthquake caused substantial damage to the Washington National Cathedral, masons have made the first major repair to the central tower. A newly carved stone was put in place as the Cathedral announced a new gift of $5 million from the Lilly Endowment to help pay for restorations. The Cathedral has already spent most of the $2.8 million raised after the quake on stabilizing the structure. Total damage was estimated at $20 million. Joining us now is the interim dean at the Washington National Cathedral, Frank Wade. Thanks for coming.

REVEREND FRANK WADE (Interim Dean, Washington National Cathedral): Thank you.

POTTER: Twenty million dollars to repair a building is a lot of money. Is it worth it? Is there a real value to having cathedrals in the 21st century?

WADE: Cathedrals are part of where our culture restores its spiritual values and its sense of mystery. That’s really important. We need places like that, and the Washington National Cathedral plays that role in a peculiar way, in a particular way on the national scene—a great church for national purposes. So I think it’s very, very important. We would lose a great deal if we had no place to turn at key moments in our life when we want to remember God, remember mystery in the larger context of life.

POTTER: The Cathedral has always been a place where dialogue happens, and most recently, you’ve opened up the pages of your magazine to a dialogue, or at least a Q and A with the two presidential candidates about their faith. Why was that important?

WADE: It’s important because there’s no—while we separate church and state, there is no separation of faith and state. Faith is how you figure out life. It’s how you set priorities. The faith of our leaders is a very, very important part of the conversation. It’s how they will approach their job. So it’s a legitimate part of what goes on.

POTTER: And yet some people say it has no place in the election campaign, and we shouldn’t really talk about it, and the candidates don’t talk about it very much.

WADE: No, they don’t. But it’s emotionally laden. Faith is—it carries a lot of emotion with it. We’ve done wonderful things in the name of faith. We’ve done terrible things in the name of faith. It’s a very uncontrolled emotion in a culture, in a society. So people are nervous about it, but that doesn’t make it less important. Indeed, it makes it more important that we talk about it, ground it in understanding.

POTTER: You’ve said that both of these candidates come with assets from their faith backgrounds and liabilities. Can you talk more about what you mean?

WADE: Well, every faith background, every denomination, every Christian journey, every faith journey has limits, things that it does or does not do. You know, Governor Romney and President Obama both have grown up and formed their faith in different ways, certainly, but formed their faith in marginalized churches in our society, and so that constitutes a limit on the worldview that you get in that place. Now these are very broad strokes and very, you know, very generalized things. Both of these people from those churches have felt a call to serve this nation and the other and the world in wonderful, wonderful ways. But their faith communities have within them an intense inner loyalty that comes to a marginalized church, and that’s somewhat of a limitation. It obviously has not limited these two people.

POTTER: Why do you think so many Americans have sort of confused or uncertain feelings about the faith of these two candidates? You have some evangelicals saying Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not actually Christian. And you have a large percentage now, it’s actually a growing percentage, of people who say that well President Obama is a Muslim.

WADE: I think that—I don’t know why people do that. It’s difficult to talk and think about the faith of other people and because the African American tradition of President Obama and the Mormon tradition of Governor Romney are not part of the general experience of our population, we have trouble understanding it. You know, faith tends to speak in absolute terms. It makes it hard to think about how other people experience it. It’s difficult for a whole country to get their head around that as we are proving right now, which makes our conversation even more important.

POTTER: Thank you so much. Frank Wade, interim dean of Washington National Cathedral.

  • Channah

    As a monument, it is worth keeping. But, as a place of national religion—–no. This is a nation of many and all religions, and having governmental services in a Christian church of any kind should not happen. Many of our forefathers were not Christians, but Deists, that we should discourage Christianity as a national source. Washington, Jefferson, Hale, Franklin, the Adams, to name a few,were Deists, not Christians. The story is told that Washington went to church as a social affair, but he never would say he believed in a Trinity-only a God.

    Keep the church as a monument, but not as a governmental place of worship, accept as a private place of worship for Christians.

  • Roger Kirchner

    Admittedly, I tuned in late. Did I miss something in the context ? The Reverend Frank Wade, Dean of Washington Cathedral, referred to the religious faith of both Romney and Obama as being marginal. Today, I’d submit, though considered by many Christians as a religious sect, Mormons, given their numbers world-wide, can hardly be termed marginal. Similarly, the President came to faith in the United Church of Christ, the modern-day name of Congregationists, one the oldest denominations in the United States. The Dean seemed to equate President Obama’s religious views as marginal because of his African heritage. I believe such a comment to be not only incorrect based on the facts, but racist.

  • R.A. Garcia

    Is acting Dean Wade speaking from the perspective of an established and/or National/International Church? Needless to say, it is rather interesting to notice that a priest of the decadent Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America is trying to convey a religious-political perspective of truth and rightiousness as if it were a divine command to all, when from the seat of the (Episcopal) National Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul’s multiple conflicts of interests are quite evident within this convulse church, beyond its structural divisions, in the disunited Nation, in the troubled World and in its chaotic standing in the falling-apart Anglican Communion …

    With due respect, before speaking about Romney’s and/or Obama’s faith, religion, beliefs and/or practices, Frank Wade should first look into the “Dorian Gray’s Mirror” of his own faith, religion and church.

  • R Ruffin

    I think both commentators missed the point. He wasn’t saying Romney’s religious affiliation was “small” or weird, but that in our society it is not seen as mainstream by those who do not understand Mormonism. As for the president’s religion, it is true that congregationalists are of the traditional bent, but it is also true that he has long attended a church of the liberationist variety. This is not bad, but it is also not “mainstream.” Both religious affiliations are fine. Wade, I suspect, would not disagree. Don’t look for a fight where none exists.