Note: by posting this entry, my intention is not to sensationalize Cheryl's Haskins' defeat or rehash previously-discussed topics. I simply feel that this particular issue needs a bit more illumination.
In both the Seattle Times and on her campaign website at one point, Cheryl Haskins indicated that she believed my opposition to her candidacy constituted a personal attack on her faith. That belief genuinely troubles me, for a number of reasons. I have close relationships with people of many different faiths in my life, from Orthodox Judaism, to Evangelical Christianity, to mainstream Islam, and they and I know that I would never impugn anyone's personal religious or spiritual beliefs, even if I strongly disagreed with them. I believe that personal faith (or lack thereof) is something that each person needs to discover on their own, and I know that faith plays an important and positive role in billions of people's lives worldwide. In fact, several current and newly-elected Renton City Council members – all of whom I've now met – have very strong spiritual beliefs, and they've been very open about their affiliations with religious institutions and organizations. I can tell you that I've been blown away by the intelligence and integrity of these council members.
In believing that my opposition to her candidacy is attack on her faith, Cheryl Haskins has indicated that she's unwilling or unable to examine the true nature of my criticisms. Essentially, she's taking the easy way out by playing the victim. I could have done the same by labeling her a "homophobe" or saying she "hates" gay people, but I chose not to use such inflammatory terms to get my message across. I'm fairly certain that Cheryl's opposition to gay rights is far more complex than just an intrinsic fear or loathing of gay people, and I've never suggested otherwise. I've also never questioned her right to personally oppose gay marriage or domestic partnership legislation, because I understand that she has strong personal beliefs that that run counter to those concepts. What I have questioned is her religiously-inspired organization's public opposition to and politicization of gay rights issues.
There are some, including Dean Radford, the editor of the Renton Reporter, who apparently believe that discussing a candidate's faith or religious affiliation has no place in a campaign for local office. In situations where a candidate has made no mention of his or her personal beliefs, I'd agree with that statement. If, however, a candidate has publicly promoted his or her church membership or personal religious beliefs, I think it's entirely appropriate to ask what role those beliefs might play in public policy decisions. Most candidates wouldn't find such a question offensive, and would realize that it's simply a part of running for office in our multi-cultural, multi-religious society.
In Cheryl Haskins' case, though, the questions people asked of her were not focused on her personal faith, but on her public political activism against gay rights, which has clearly been influenced by her faith and her affiliation with a very conservative church, where her husband happens to be a pastor. The fact that a great deal of her campaign funding came from members of her church – people who don't even live in Renton – was also a concern for me and others, as it suggested a coordinated effort by outsiders to get a candidate with a specific ideology elected to our City Council. Many people remain skeptical that Cheryl's candidacy was masterminded by the Religious Right, and I really have no proof that it truly was. However, based on well-documented efforts by groups such as the Christian Coalition to install religious conservatives in local, non-partisan offices, it's quite possible that Cheryl Haskins' candidacy represented more than just one woman's interest in representing her community. That supposition is supported by the involvement of the state Republicans and leaders of her church in her campaign and its financing. I also believe that Cheryl intended to use the City Council as a brief stepping stone on her way towards higher office, without paying her dues in our community. Most politically-savvy observers I've met have echoed that concern.
Given all of this information, Cheryl Haskins is either being naïve or manipulative in claiming that she's being attacked on the basis of her personal faith. If she feels persecuted, I hope she can overcome that initial reaction by reexamining the true nature of the opposition to her candidacy, which I think I've made very clear.