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Washington, USA – President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have opened up about their religious faith to an unlikely source: Cathedral Age, the quarterly magazine of the Washington National Cathedral.
The interviews mark a rare instance of Romney talking about Mormonism, while Obama discusses his Christian faith in detail, referencing favorite Christian writers and Bible verses.
The magazine, which has a circulation of 30,000, submitted identical questions in writing to both campaigns and prints the responses in full in the latest edition of its magazine, which is out on Tuesday.
The magazine's leadoff question to the candidates: "How does faith play a role in your life?"
Faith is integral to my life. I have served as a lay pastor in my church. I faithfully follow its precepts. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. My father was committed to Martin Luther King Jr.’s cause of equality, and I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby and in leading national volunteer movements. My faith is grounded in the conviction that a consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another – to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God.
First and foremost, my Christian faith gives me a perspective and security that I don’t think I would have otherwise: That I am loved. That, at the end of the day, God is in control – and my main responsibility is to love God with all of my heart, soul, and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself. Now, I don’t always live up to that standard, but it is a standard I am always pursuing.
My faith is also a great source of comfort to me. I’ve said before that my faith has grown as president. This office tends to make a person pray more; and as President Lincoln once said, “I have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I had no place else to go.”
Finally, I try to make sure that my faith informs how I live my life. As a husband, as a father, and as president, my faith helps me to keep my eyes on the prize and focus on what is good and truly important.
The magazine asked each candidate whether he has a favorite passage of Scripture, prayer or other "words of wisdom."
Romney quoted the Gospel of Matthew: "For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me. ...”
Romney invoked the King James Version of the text, the official English translation of the Bible for Mormons.
Obama said his favorite Bible verses were Isaiah 40:31 and Psalm 46, which begins, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (New Revised Standard Version).
The president noted he read the verse at the 10th anniversary service for the 9/11 attacks.
Both Obama and Romney have faced questions and criticisms over their faith. The magazine asked how they respond to those who "question the sincerity of your faith and your Christianity."
... (T)here’s not much I can do about it. I have a job to do as president, and that does not involve convincing folks that my faith in Jesus is legitimate and real. I do my best to live out my faith, and to stay in the Word, and to make my life look more like His. I’m not perfect. What I can do is just keep on following Him, and serve others – trying to make folks’ lives a little better using this humbling position that I hold.
I am often asked about my faith and my beliefs about Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. Every religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These should not be bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.
Romney never mentions his Mormon faith by name in his responses but does note that he was once a lay pastor.
While he was head of Bain Capital, Romney was the bishop of his ward, a similar role as a lay pastor in other faiths. He was later appointed to stake president for Boston, an important regional position with in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Rev. Francis H. Wade, interim dean of the Washington National Cathedral, said the candidates likely participated in the Q&A because of the place the cathedral holds in American public life.
"They took their time, and they took this very seriously," he said.
“I think it has to do with the role of the cathedral as a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation,” Wade said.
On Sunday, both Obama and Romney attended services with their families. Obama went to St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House, and Romney attended a sacrament meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' ward in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
Romney has been less vocal about his faith on the campaign trail. A longtime member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has often mentioned on the trail the similarities between Mormons and other Christians instead of their theological differences.
The Washington National Cathedral is an Episcopal church but for a century has served as an ecumenical worship space for the nation.
Wade said that because of the establishment clause in the Constitution, commonly cited as the basis for the idea of separation of church and state, the United States has no official state church.
The massive worship space is constructed of stone and sustained $20 million in damages when an earthquake struck the Washington area a year ago.