How Religion Shaped 3 Senators

Coons, Kaine and Lankford embrace dialogue on faith

Sens. Chris Coons and Tim Kaine talk before the start of their discussion on faith in America with Sen. James Lankford on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Sens. Chris Coons and Tim Kaine talk before the start of their discussion on faith in America with Sen. James Lankford on Capitol Hill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 22, 2016 at 4:20pm

Faith is often worn as a badge on the campaign trail, with candidates quoting the Bible and endorsing policies that appeal to religious voters.  

Three deeply religious senators spoke on Wednesday at a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about the interplay between religion and politics, and how their faith shaped their personal and political lives.  

The senators worked through assumptions people make about them.  

“One stereotype would be, ‘I’m a religious person and my job is to enact my religious beliefs on others.’ The other is ‘I’m a religious person and I should keep that out of the public sphere,’” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said.  

“I should authentically be who I am, just like I would share that I’m a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs,” said Kaine, a Catholic educated at an all-boys Jesuit high school.  

Kaine described how he began sending money to a Jesuit mission in El Progreso, Honduras, as a junior in high school. While at Harvard Law School, he took a nine-month break to teach there on a mission trip.  

Chris Coons has a master’s in ethics from Yale Divinity School, which he acquired while earning a law degree from Yale Law School in 1992. The Delaware Democrat takes time to preach about once a month at different churches around his home state.  

“I’m encouraged that literally the most popular person on earth right now is Pope Francis,” he said.  

Oklahoma Republican James Lankford received his masters in divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas in 1994, specializing in Biblical languages. Before running for the House in 2010, Lankford was the director of a Baptist youth camp in Oklahoma for 13 years.  

“It shouldn’t be something that I hide just because I was elected,” he said. “You can be who you chose to be. It’s the joy of being an American.”  

The discussion followed the release of a Pew Research Center study about the changing religious landscape in America and how the public is becoming less religious.  

“This is a great dialogue to have,” Lankford said, adding that people are uncomfortable or afraid to talk about religion. Coons agreed, “I’m proud to be an American and part of the society that has the argument.”  


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