Should a Candidate’s Religious Faith Matter?
Peggy Noonan argues persuasively (and correctly, in my opinion) that we are making too much of the religious faith of those running for public office. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, partly because of my travels around the country and partly because of the widely reported divide within the evangelical camp regarding who to support for president. My own travels lately have taken me from coast to coast, and my admittedly unscientific sampling reveals exactly what the pollsters are telling us. Evangelicals either haven’t made up their minds yet, or they don’t like anyone very much, or they like a little of this one and a little of that one, and they haven’t yet coalesced around any particular candidate.
And so we have Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Bob Jones III endorsing Mitt Romney. I don’t know which one surprises me more.
Peggy Noonan does not make the common mistake of saying that a candidate’s religion doesn’t matter:
"There are some people who believe faith doesn’t belong in politics. But it does, and it is there inextricably. The antislavery movement, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, the antiabortion movement, all were political movements animated in large part by religious feeling. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. You bring your whole self into the polling booth, including your faith and your sense of right and wrong, good and bad, just as presidents bring their whole selves into the Oval Office. I can’t imagine how a president could do his job without faith."
She goes on to note that while a candidate’s faith matters, it normally ought not to be the biggest issue. Her survey of recent presidential candidates (going back a few decades) offers convincing proof that we haven’t had very many saints running for the highest office–and that’s probably a good thing. Politics is a “grubby world” (her phrase, not mine–but it fits), and we shouldn’t ask our leaders to parse their own religion too closely.
I for one am not bothered by the idea of a fervent, theologically-informed, politically savvy evangelical in the Oval Office, but that’s not a requirement either.
Noonan saves her best point for last. We can’t know the hearts of those running for office because the heart is a tricky thing. As Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us, we can’t know our own hearts with perfect certainty, much less the hearts of those who must lead our country. Faith matters, but true faith will be seen over time, in words and deeds, and even then we won’t know the full truth. Man looks on the outside, but God judges the heart, which means that when we vote for someone because we think they believe exactly as we do, we are likely to be disappointed sooner or later. Probably sooner.