President Barack Obama says convincing doubters that he is a Christian isn't part of his job description. Mitt Romney tells skeptics of his faith: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind" and pleads for tolerance.
The two White House contenders addressed the issue of persistent questioning of their religious beliefs as part of a wide-ranging exchange with Washington National Cathedral's Cathedral Age. The magazine asked Obama and Romney to weigh in on the role of faith in public life and politics as well as in their personal lives.
Public opinion polls have repeatedly found large numbers of Americans who say they think Obama, a practicing Christian, is secretly a Muslim. And some conservative Christian groups reject Romney's Mormon faith.
So "how do you respond" to those who "have questioned the sincerity of your faith and your Christianity?" the magazine asked.
"You know, there's not much I can do about it," Obama said.
"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," Romney said.
"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."
Favorite Bible passage? Romney cited Matthew 25:35-36—"For I was an hungred, 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."
Obama pointed to Isaiah 40:31 ("But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint" in the King James Bible) and Psalm 46.
Asked different questions about the role of religious faith in public life, both men noted its central role in national struggles like the civil rights movement, and in calls for compassion and service. And what do you know about a political leader from his faith?
"A political leader's faith can tell us a great deal or nothing," Romney said. "So much depends on what lies behind that faith. And so much depends on deeds, not words."
"I think it is important that we not make faith alone a barometer of a person's worth, value, or character," said Obama. The president also highlights former President George W. Bush's faith, calling it a factor in his decision to step up U.S. efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and urge immigration reform.
Can government and religious groups work together while respecting the First Amendment and the principle of separation of church and state?
Obama highlighted cooperation between government, which has the resources religious groups often lack, and religious groups, which understand local needs in a way government often fails to do.
"The constitutional principle of a separation between church and state has served our nation well since our founding—embraced by people of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our history—and it has been paramount in our work," Obama said.
"Clearly the boundaries between church and state must be respected, but there is a large space in which faith-based organizations can do good for the community in which they serve," said Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor warns against those who he said take the separation of church and state "well beyond its original meaning" and aim "to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God."
"We are a nation 'Under God,' and in God, we do indeed trust," Romney said.