America must regain its reliance on God and elect a leader who embodies this value in order to succeed as a nation, said Republican presidential candidates at a recent forum.
“Our rights come to us from our Creator,” said former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who called this belief a founding American principle in danger of being forgotten.
Six of the top presidential contenders gathered at the First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa for the Thanksgiving Family Forum on Nov. 19.
The GOP hopefuls included Santorum, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), businessman Herman Cain, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman declined the invitation to attend the event.
Unlike many of the previous debates, the forum did not focus on questions of policy involving health care, social security and the economy. Rather, the candidates were asked to speak about the importance of religion and values in their own lives and in American society.
Each contender gave his or her thoughts on the phrase, “so help me God,” which is spoken at the end of the oath of office when the president is sworn in at the inauguration.
Congressman Ron Paul said that the words show how the president is promising to “uphold the Constitution and the rule of law” and is making this promise not only before the nation but “before our God, which means the significance is that much greater.”
Herman Cain said that the phrase “means that I am ultimately responsible to God Almighty,” adding that he would literally be “asking for God to help me” in the important job of president.
Texas governor Rick Perry also weighed in, noting that the statement “so help me God” is not a part of the oath of office, but rather a plea to God. He said that being president of the United States is the “hardest job in the world,” and one with a need for the “eternal wisdom” of God.
Candidate Newt Gingrich said that the thought of having an atheist as president “terrifies” him, because such a person would “completely misunderstand how weak and how limited any human being is.”
In her remarks, Rep. Michele Bachmann said that without help from God, America has no hope of what she called getting back on track.
At the forum, the candidates shared personal stories of their own faith journeys and told about the struggles in their lives that had brought them closer to God.
Bachmann spoke of her years as a foster parent, and Rick Santorum was brought to tears as he described the difficulties of having a daughter with special needs.
Cain also expressed emotion as he explained how his battle with cancer led him more deeply into his faith.
The GOP candidates also discussed the task of regaining fundamental values that they believe have been lost in American society.
“Our civil laws have to comport with the higher law,” Santorum said, underscoring that society has a duty to live according to God's principles. As long as issues such as abortion remain legal, “we will never have rest,” he said.
Gingrich also spoke of the importance of acknowledging that rights come from a Creator. “It changes everything else,” he said, adding that losing this fundamental concept has led to an attempt to drive God out of public life, creating a “nightmare” in society.
Cain also noted that asserting “freedom without responsibility is immoral,” and added that people of faith have been “too passive” and allowed themselves to be intimidated by those seeking to eradicate religion from society.
“We have maybe pushed back, but as people of faith we have not fought back,” he said.