Monday, November 26, 2007

I have no opinion. Help me form one.

I was intrigued by last Thurday's opinion piece from Peggy Noonan in the Journal on whether we make too much of politicians' religious faith. I'm not sure what I think off it yet, and I'd like to hear some feedback from anyone willing to take the time to read it and share some thoughts.

As a teaser, here's her conclusion:
We should lighten up on demanding access to their hearts. It is impossible for us to know their hearts. It's barely possible to know your own. Faith is important but it's also personal. When we force political figures to tell us their deepest thoughts on it, they'll be tempted to act, to pretend. Do politicians tend to give in to temptation? Most people do. Are politicians better than most people? Quick, a show of hands. I don't think so either.
Any takers? I'd especially like to hear from you quiet lurkers. C'mon, there's nothing to lose on a benign piece like this one!


Coach C said...

I am not going to give an opinion, but this particular campaign seems to be devoid of issues. We know everything about the candidates, their spouses, education, experience, feelings, what they eat for breakfast. . . but not what they think about the issues.

Maybe when dealing with a politician, their view on taxes, defense and abortion are more important than what church they attend. . .

Did I just give an opinion?

carpediem365 said...

I don't talk about politics in the pulpit. My congregants never ask me about party affiliation. I don't declare my political view on my Facebook account. However, I bet anyone who knows me can make a pretty good guess where I shake out.

It seems we could settle for the same silence in our politicians regarding religion. I don't need to hear a "come to Jesus" story to have some grasp of a person's moral and ethical character, their political philosophy and their ability to apply that belief system consistently in the most difficult situations.

People still debate the personal faith of this or that politician years after their demise and well after the life is laid bare for all to see (Lincoln for example). Why a contemporary preacher would advocate for or against a candidate based upon their opinion of that person's confession, or lack thereof, is lost on me...unless I consider the theology underlying that kind of speculation.

I definitely gave an opinion.

Kent Brandenburg said...

She's a Catholic who is wrong. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.

There has been one Catholic president for a similar reason why people will unlikely elect a Mormon. I think the polls show this to be true too, even in an increasingly pagan culture.

We can ask this simple question in order to answer the question: Does God care about what the faith is of the person in office?

Chris Anderson said...

Dan Phillips chimes in at Pyro today, if you haven't seen it. Nice timing. He also addressed it at his own blog, from which he pointed to a Michael Kinsley article in Time which argues (convincingly, Dan thinks) that religion isn't a personal issue for a public figure.

I just gave someone else's opinion. Twice. (I didn't give links, you'll notice, as blogger always messes them up. Google it.)

My own opinion? I'm not sure. But our last few Baptist Presidents haven't exactly impressed me.

Jim Peet said...

One's beliefs underlay one's values. And one's values effect one's actions. Thus to an extent, the belief system of an office holder is very important!

But Christians need to understand that real, radical change in society will not be ushered in by polical action.

Her point, "hire a president, not a Bible study teacher", is valid.

The ideal candidate:

* Values the dignity of human life.
* Understands the dangers of globalization (and will not surrender national sovereignty to the UN!)
* Would appoint strict constructionists to the courts
* Understands the threat of terrorism
* Is fiscally conservative

A non-Christian could have those values.

rory said...

I have always been somewhat disgusted by evangelical Christianity in general and our embracing of political candidates over their religious views. Those stupid stories about George Bush and his prayers and being so godly don't matter in the long run since I see no results of his "righteousness" changing anything in American morality. Frankly, I believe that candidates (especially republican) will say whatever they need to to get ahead in this regard, and it makes me sick.

Josh said...

So Kent thinks we should prefer a born-again Christian candidate, even if he or she is incompetent, over a better-qualified unbeliever.

Ben said...

Coach C,

Regarding your first point, it's interesting to see how much differently campaigns are covered here in DC compared to the hinterlands. The Post actually deals with real issues.

Now, maybe they've shifted some towards soft campaign coverage over the years too, as have network and cable news. But then ads like the Huckabee-Chuck Norris one, funny as it is, doesn't ad much to the substance. I suspect it's a broader reflection on the direction of American culture more than a trend unique to political campaigns.

Ben said...


God obviously cares about the faith of the person in the presidency. Just as he cares about the faith of the person who fixes your power lines and picks up your garbage.

I think the deeper question for me is the one Jim Peet has articulated. I don't think the deciding factor for our voting choices should be the candidate whose faith is most like ours. Christians can advocate really awful public policy. Non-Christians can come up with really great ideas.

Jim has isolated the underlying worldview issue. So I want a President who's comfortable with the fact that his faith affects how he sees the world and leads his nation. But at the same time, the person who has the most biblical theology in a campaign might make a far worse President than a competent Mormon or Roman Catholic whose moral foundation still closely reflects the remaining vestiges of the imprint of God's image on mankind.

Where I run into a roadblock in my mind is weighing the above point against the religious pretense that so many candidates seem to employ in order to pander to their respective constituencies. Isn't it possible that someone can possess a sort of faith or religious belief that will help him or her govern well, but not need to campaign on it all the time? Is it really informative or helpful for us to expect that sort of conversation?

That's the answer I really do not have.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Is what I said true? I think you would agree with it here.

I was reacting to the Peggy Noonan column you commented upon, which, I believe, was looking at the bigger picture and responding to the flap over judging Romney because of his Mormonism.

I remember Jimmy Carter started using "born again" to help himself with the Bible belt voters, and others have brought out their deluxe sized family bibles to wave since then. Some may say they have faith, but without works....

Yes, we pick the best candidate, but faith matters in contradiction to Peggy Noonan.

Ben said...


Here's my point. Although I agree that righteous leaders in general make better leaders than unrighteous ones, I don't think you can make that a universal law of government. It wouldn't be difficult to find a very godly person who would make a completely incompetent President.

Additionally, the question is not whether righteous leaders are good, but whether the current political system really equips people to evaluate the comparative righteousness of the various candidates. Someone who appears very righteous might just be a good actor. And many Christians are all too willing to be led as sheep right down that road.

Greg Linscott said...

Kent asked:

Does God care about the faith of a person in office?

I think Ben's answer to your question is right on. Furthermore, we also see plenty of time in Scripture where God's revealed choice as the right man in governmental authority in the right time was often not a "righteous" man (Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus come to mind).

It does seem curious that this principle only seems to be discussed this passionately when it comes to the highest office in the land. If this were truly an issue of concern to Christians, wouldn't we need to be more concerned about making the road commissioner candidate's faith before we voted?

Kent Brandenburg said...

I was answering a general question about whether faith matters in leadership. I said it does. I didn't say, and you can check, that it was the sole criterion by which we choose.

Again, I was mainly responding to Peggy Noonan. I've taught history for almost 20 years and I know the reason why WASPs have won in this country, and I can understand the frustration of a Catholic who also knows history, and is reacting to Mitt Romney as a Mormon. I think his Mormonism should be taken into consideration. I don't mind him losing because of his Mormonism.

Regarding God using anyone, including Cyrus, isn't that a moot point, Greg? That has nothing to do with my choice, but my acceptance of what God does once the choice is made. I wouldn't vote for Cyrus, unless God told me too, which He happened to do with Israel, when he prophesied Cyrus by name a hundred years before the Persians took over Babylon. Israel couldn't understand that either at first, because truly she didn't get how God could use a pagan to deliver them. God gave them the whole potter/clay illustration to solve that. I'm clay, Greg. Bring me Cyrus.