Faith's Fate in the Presidential Primaries

Article excerpt

WHAT ROLE DOES your faith play in determining who you vote for president of the U.S.? What role should a candidate's faith play in determining his or her fitness for office? In the 2008 presidential primaries, this issue has come up in a variety of ways.

There was an attempt by some to label Democrat Barack Obama a Muslim--this despite the fact that he was baptized into the Christian faith in 1988 and has been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ ever since. There was the issue of Republican Mitt Romney's Mormonism. There also was the question in one of the YouTube/CNN debates in which Joseph Dearing of Dallas, Tex., addressing the presidential candidates, stated, "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you." He then held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this Book?" Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, both United Methodists, have spoken openly about how their faith in Christ has sustained them through difficult trials, and Republican Mike Huckabee's rise in prominence was credited, in no small part, to his having been a Baptist pastor before entering politics.

A 2007 poll found that 60.7% of those with an opinion believe it important that the president be a religious individual, and the same poll found that roughly half of all respondents indicate that their personal religious faith "always or sometimes guides" their political views. Though the Constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States," this only prohibits Federal and state governments (and presumably local governments as well) from requiring persons holding public office to retain particular religious beliefs. However, this does not prevent individual voters from taking a candidate's religious beliefs into account when making a decision about whom they will vote for.

I believe a candidate's religious beliefs and, more important, his or her practices, are very important for a voter to consider. This is based upon my own experience and the sense I have of how my faith affects the decisions I make and how I five my life. Christians who take seriously the call of Jesus Christ on their lives seek to follow his teachings, to be led by the Spirit, and hope to do Christ's will in everything. I urge the members of the congregation I pastor to take their faith into the workplace, to look at the business decisions they make, the way they manage their employees, and the work that they do through the lens of their faith. Likewise, a serious Christian who is running for the presidency should do the same.

A president who is a Christian should seek to love God and neighbor, long to "do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8), and should seek to do unto others as he or she would have them do unto himself or herself. A president who is a Christian would pray, seek wisdom from God, and be shaped by the values and teachings of the Bible. Such a person should be an individual of integrity, honesty, and character--someone who puts the needs of others before his or her own.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Questioning the candidates

However, let us consider a few important questions as we think about the relationship between a candidate's faith and his or her qualifications for public office, particularly the presidency. The challenge is how to know whether someone's faith is true and pure, or if he or she merely is using the language of faith to garner support. First, is the person earnestly a Christian, or has that individual become a Christian because it is politically expedient to do so? All of the leading candidates for president in the 2008 primaries claim to be followers of Jesus Christ--but how many of them will be followers after the election? Do they have a personal faith? Do they pray and read the Scriptures? Are they seeking to live a life worthy of the calling they have received? …