Beliefs Faith 2016 Politics

5 faith facts about Lincoln Chafee: ‘I have to be respectful of everyone’

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, right, gestures after signing the the Marriage Equality Act into law and handing it to Speaker Gordon Fox, left, at the State House in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 2, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHAFEE-FAITH, originally transmitted on June 3, 2015.
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, right, gestures after signing the the Marriage Equality Act into law and handing it to Speaker Gordon Fox, left, at the State House in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 2, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHAFEE-FAITH, originally transmitted on June 3, 2015.

Then-Gov. Lincoln Chafee, right, gestures after signing Rhode Island’s Marriage Equality Act into law and handing it to Speaker Gordon Fox, left, at the Statehouse in Providence on May 2, 2013. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-CHAFEE-FAITH, originally transmitted on June 3, 2015.

(RNS) Lincoln Chafee, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat who served as both governor and senator of Rhode Island, joined the presidential race in June. Here are five faith facts about this very dark horse (who used to horseshoe for a living).

1. He’s Episcopalian.

Chafee was raised in the church and his positions on many of the issues largely mirror that of many Episcopalians, one of the more liberal Christian denominations. Chafee supports marriage equality, embryonic stem-cell research and reproductive choice for women, and he opposes the death penalty. Fun fact: In the 2004 election, he did not vote for his party’s candidate, George W. Bush, but wrote in George H.W. Bush, a fellow Episcopalian.

Chafee graduated from Brown University, the first Ivy League college to accept students regardless of their religious affiliation. Its motto is “In God we hope.”

2. He believes in church-state separation.

Chafee skipped church on the day of his inauguration as governor of Rhode Island out of respect for the separation of church and state, a spokesman told the Providence Journal at the time. The decision did not sit well with the state’s top Catholic, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, who blasted Chafee in print, saying, “A little spiritual humility would go a long way in restoring the confidence and the moral quality of our community.” Spiritual leaders of many backgrounds were on hand at Chafee’s inauguration.

3. He likes atheists — or at least one atheist.

When Rhode Island high schooler Jessica Ahlquist sought to remove a prayer banner from her Cranston, R.I., school, Chafee said he supported a federal court that ruled in her favor. In 2014, he gave a boost to the state’s humanists when he declared May 1, usually the National Day of Prayer, Rhode Island’s “Day of Reason.” His proclamation said reason has “proven to offer hope for human survival upon Earth by cultivating intelligent, moral, and ethical interaction among people.”

4. He probably says “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

While serving as Rhode Island’s governor, he twice referred to the Statehouse’s annual fir as a “holiday tree.” “I’m representing all of Rhode Island,” he said in 2011. “I have to be respectful of everyone.”

5. He may be the most closemouthed candidate on his personal religious views.

There is very little he has said on the record about religion, God, prayer or his own personal faith — a contrast to candidate Hillary Clinton, a Methodist, who has said she prays daily and sometimes carries a Bible in her purse.

YS/MG END WINSTON

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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