In '76, Ford Refused to Play the "God Game"

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

In '76, Ford Refused to Play the "God Game"

President Ford and (left) then-White House chaplain Billy Zeoli

The latest issue of Time magazine reminds us that there actually was a time when a GOP presidential nominee wasn't willing to use religion to pander and posture. Looking back at the late Gerald Ford's brief time as president, this Time article notes that Ford was encouraged to make his religious views more public during the 1976 presidential election:
Former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was a Southern Baptist who taught Sunday school, did mission work, filled in for preachers when they were on vacation and told the crowd at a backyard reception in March 1976 that he had been born again.

... Carter's campaign autobiography Why Not the Best talked about his midlife conversion and was a surprise best seller.

... Carter's religious appeal inspired (White House chaplain Billy) Zeoli to propose a counterattack. "I said, 'Jerry, look, Carter's a fine guy, a fine Christian. But nobody knows you're a Christian. Let's put a book together about your faith, and about how God has used you.' "

But Ford flatly refused. "You told me a long time ago we're not going to take advantage of our faith to get elected," [Ford] reminded Zeoli. Ford declined to allow Zeoli to lend his name to Preachers' committees for Ford.

"He thought he'd be using his chaplain to get votes," Zeoli recalled. Ford later revealed that he found Carter's discussion of his faith unsettling.

"I have always felt a closeness to God and have looked to a higher being for guidance and support," Ford explained, "but I didn't think it was appropriate to advertise my religious beliefs."
But I think Time put it more eloquently: President Ford "refus[ed] to name Jesus as his running mate."

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