Thursday, November 1, 2012

Political Candidates' Religions

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Candidates' Religion:

Q:  Is it a religious requirement for Christians to vote for a candidate who shares their religious identity?  If a non-Christian candidate shares many ideological principles in common with the voter, would it be wrong for the Christian to vote for him over a Christian with whom they disagree?

Even though our constitution prohibits the government from imposing any religious test for candidacy, it does not prohibit citizens from using religion as a factor in their decision regarding their vote, and even though many people do feel more comfortable voting for candidates who share their religious identity, it is not morally required of Christians to do so. 

The preference for candidates of one’s own religion probably has to do with a tendency among Americans to see the president as a spiritual leader.  Some even feel that he is something like a pastor-in-chief of American religion, much like his duty as commander-in-chief of the American military.  So, in a time of natural disaster or national tragedy, they want the president’s response to share their spiritual values. 

This has increasingly become a topic of discussion during this year’s election cycle, because in many prominent races, one or sometimes both, candidates are either members of a non-Christian religion or religiously unaffiliated, causing many Christians to express concern about how to respond to such a situation.  Whether they find themselves largely in agreement with one candidate on the issues, but concerned about his religious affiliation, or whether they see both positive and negative elements in each candidate’s views, but wonder whether they might be obligated to vote for the Christian, such important decisions are sure to be approached with great care regarding their ethical implications.

Although the exact source of the quote is uncertain, it has often been reported that Martin Luther expressed the sentiment that if he were forced to choose between being ruled by a wise non-Christian or a foolish Christian, he would choose the wise man above the foolish Christian.  This approach—to consider a candidate’s capabilities and ideology rather than merely his religious affiliation—might prove very relevant for many when approaching the sort of scenarios described above.

This is because neither the Christian Church’s hope nor its health rest on having elected officials who are members of it.  The Bible doesn’t speak of national officials as spiritual leaders, but instead as those who “bear the sword” (Romans 13) for the purpose of keeping the people under their rule secure and free—an environment in which the Church can then do its work of proclaiming the Gospel and convincing people of the Truth. 

We see evidence of this in history, as the religious affiliation of governing officials does not necessarily correlate with the advance or decline of Christian influence.  The fastest growth in Church history occurred during the first three centuries following the Resurrection, when the Church was under the rule of a hostile Roman government which outlawed Christianity.  In contrast, Europe in the middle ages, where the emperors were affiliated with Christianity and the Popes were integral to policy decisions, proved to be some of the darkest days in history for the Church.  Present insights have begun to reveal that the state-church system of Northern Europe may have even been a contributing factor in the collapse in church participation on the continent of Europe. 

As Christians participate in next week’s election, and hear (whether with delight or disappointment) its results, we remember that our hope is not found in having leaders who check the same box on the “religion” line of the census.  Instead, even though Christians desire to contribute to the good of the nation and participate as citizens for the good of all, we acknowledge that our true hope is in the Crucified King and forgiveness of sins delivered by Him in our congregations.

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