Toledo's two mayoral candidates stuck to safe positions last night when it came to religion in Toledo, expressing belief in Christianity yet promising to govern from a premise of tolerance, in the first live television debate of the general election.
Democrat Keith Wilkowski and independent Mike Bell were interviewed by The Blade's religion editor, David Yonke, in the studios of WLMB-TV, Channel 40, on Angola Road.
Mr. Wilkowski and Mr. Bell were the top finishers in the Sept. 15 primary and will face off Nov. 3.
One area of apparent disagreement was whether schools should be required to teach both sides of the origin of the universe - the scientific view of evolution and intelligent design based on the Genesis story of creation.
Mr. Bell said he believes "God created the Earth and made man in his likeness," and said for fairness reasons, both sides should be taught.
Mr. Wilkowski said he believes in the divine origin of the universe, but also in evolution. He said intelligent design should be taught by parents and pastors if they believe it, but not by public school teachers.
They also differed slightly in their beliefs, if not in how they would govern, on marriage.
Mr. Bell, a bachelor, said his definition of marriage is "typically a man and a woman," but he said his beliefs would not conflict with enforcing the city's domestic partnership registry.
Mr. Wilkowski, who has been married 30 years, described marriage as a vow and sacrament between two people, and said that should be open to same-sex as well as traditional couples. He said the domestic partnership registry, which is run by city council, is an attempt to allow people to take advantage of benefits in the private sector and he was in support.
Mr. Bell is a longtime member of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church. Mr. Wilkowski said he has belonged to several Catholic churches in Toledo and is now a member of Corpus Christi.
Both said they attend church regularly and portrayed religion as important in their lives.
"It keeps me grounded," Mr. Bell said.
"It's a reminder that we try to make God's work here on Earth our own," Mr. Wilkowski said.
Neither claimed to believe that every word of the Bible is intended literally, with Mr. Bell pointing out that some of it is the words of the Apostles, not God.
Mr. Wilkowski said the Bible is "the inspired word of God."
Asked for their favorite Bible passages, Mr. Wilkowski named the Sermon on the Mount. Mr. Bell said he didn't have a particular favorite because he found that no matter where he opens the Bible he finds passages that relate to his life.
Each said agrees with the U.S. Supreme Court on abortion.
Mr. Bell said he will never carry a baby and he believes in letting the person who carries the baby make the decision.
Mr. Wilkowski said he and his wife, Barbara, chose life for their four children, but he supports Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. He said however he supports the ability of the government to prohibit some late-term abortions.
Asked for their conception of who Jesus is or was, Mr. Wilkowski said, "Jesus Christ is the son of God, sent to this world to live among us, be an example for us, ultimately to die for us, and be our redeemer. And I believe that."
Mr. Bell said Jesus is "actually the standard that we're all shooting for."
As for the role religion might play in their administrations, both said they would encourage dialogue and interaction to promote understanding.
"Typically when people are not getting along it is due to a lack of understanding of the other person," Mr. Bell said.
He said when he was fire chief he encouraged crews to take their trucks to churches, but the practice ended over complaints within the department that it violated the separation of church and state.
Mr. Wilkowski said the community "does a pretty good job right now of promoting that ecumenical discussion," and he cited the Board of Community Relations, which sometimes convenes groups of religious leaders to respond to controversies.
Both said they would welcome faith-based groups in helping to boost jobs and social services.
Mr. Bell said the concern of some is that religious organizations would try to force their beliefs on people they serve if they get government funds, but he has not seen that happen.
Mr. Wilkowski said, "The faith-based community are the people on the front lines, especially in this community with 25,000 out of work. This a time we ought to be embracing our faith-based institutions."
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