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Running on faith: When personal beliefs become political touchstones

"The issue of how religious one candidate is compared to another is mostly rhetorical: Once you get into office, the contingencies of the system force moderation." – Brent Strawn. Photo by Emory/Photo Video.

CNN is looking for a theologian to discuss the history of Halloween. With the ancient pagan holiday just days away, Brent Strawn’s cell phone comes to life, lighting up before he has even finished his second cup of coffee at a cafe near his home this crisp October morning.

"I still get nervous every time I see CNN's number," says Strawn, associate professor of Old Testament at Emory’s Candler School of Theology and an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene.

Animated and telegenic, Strawn has become a regular guest on the Atlanta-based news network's "Faces of Faith" segment on Sunday mornings. "The show is live, so you never really know what questions you’re going to be asked," he says.

He has been interviewed by host T. J. Holmes about the end of the world; common sayings that have been misattributed to the Bible ("God helps those who help themselves"); the biblical definition of "submissive" (in response to Michele Bachmann's comments about being submissive to her husband); and Pat Robertson's contention that divorcing a spouse with Alzheimer's is justifiable.

Why are mainstream media taking on topics that might seem better suited to The 700 Club? "Religion and politics are two of the most important and interesting things to talk about," Strawn says. "So much of the Bible is about sociopolitical realities."

When Bible professors like Strawn become go-to commentators for CNN and presidential hopefuls start quoting scripture, you know that religion is an influential force in politics. Is this a new development? What does it mean when personal faith becomes a political touchstone? When candidates are pitted against each other as the "most Christian" or "most Godly" choice? When churches become stumping stops?

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