Tim Kaine’s Faith Compromise

Democratic veep candidate pits his conscience against the Clinton campaign's agenda

“It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world — but for Wales, Richard?”

One of the most famous lines in the film “A Man For All Seasons,” which tells the story of St. Thomas More, refers to a famous biblical passage concerning worldly success. Paul Scofield, as Thomas More, delivers the line to the character Richard Rich — who infamously lied on the stand for political gain to have Thomas More executed.

“You should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith, but it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everyone else.”

Pope John Paul II declared St. Thomas More the “heavenly patron of statesmen and politicians” in 2000, and he has remained a saintly example of political integrity. He refused to sign an oath that would confirm his personal and political approval of King Henry VIII’s divorce of Katherine of Aragon — a decision that led to his execution.

For Catholic politicians, lawyers, and judges, St. Thomas More has often been a spiritual role model.

So whatever happened to politicians who were loyal to their principles? And even those who were willing to die for what they believed?

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In the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Virginia on Tuesday night, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia were asked about their respective religious beliefs and what role those played in their public service careers.

Tim Kaine is a Catholic and described his faith background as any politician would — before defensively arguing that he is true to his religious principles because he is against the death penalty.

“Having a struggle in my faith life was that the Catholic Church is against the death penalty and so am I. But I was the governor of the state, and the state says there was a death penalty,” he said Tuesday night. “So I had to grapple with that when I was running for governor and I was attacked pretty strongly because of my position. But I looked the voters of Virginia in the eye, and said, ‘I am not going to change my religious practice to get one vote, but I will uphold the law.'”

Related: Mike Pence Bests Tim Kaine on the Sanctity of Human Life

But when Kaine was confronted with his pro-choice stance, he quickly back-pedaled, affirming, “You should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith, but it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everyone else.”

Kaine is trying to bifurcate his beliefs. He wants to leave his faith at home — and go a different way in his public life, by referencing an allegiance to the First Amendment. But he reveals the conflict of living his faith but compromising his beliefs for political gain.

Gov. Pence, on the other hand, integrates seamlessly his fervently held beliefs and his public service.

“My faith informs my life. For me, it all begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of all human life,” he said passionately on Tuesday night.

The question of faith in the public sphere has been widely contested in recent years — notably in the Supreme Court. But when choosing elected officials, Americans want to know the integrity of the candidate — and whether or not the person is someone of faith. Voters gain trust by learning about character.

Tim Kaine may believe in a “necessary” division of faith and careerism. But by supporting the most radical pro-choice agenda in a general election, he compromises his own definition of what people of faith should do: “Live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith.”

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