The following post is the first in a series of "classic" aka pastor guy posts that I'm reposting - in some cases slightly edited. This one originally appeared in January 2008.
As a follower of Jesus and as a minister, I've been warned numerous
times that "religion & politics don't mix" - and they've been
variously compared to oil & water or Michigan & Ohio State
football fans. (OK, nobody's ever said the football fan thing to me -
I've just been thinking about how great the Capital One Bowl was on
Tuesday.) I'm going to argue a bit with that premise, so hang on to your
First, I'll agree that religion shouldn't mix with politics, if by
"religion" what you mean is "religious observance" or "government
support for a particular religion." While I don't want to do the whole
"separation of church & state" debate here (except to say that the
phrase, "separation of church & state", does not appear anywhere in
the Constitution), I believe that the quest for governmental recognition
or sanction almost always hurts the religions who receive it, whether
they be Christian or Buddhist or Mormon or whatever. Short-term gains in
temporal (earthly) power lead to compromises in belief & practice
that wreak havoc in a religion for years to come.
On the other hand, I will argue that religion & politics SHOULD mix,
if by "religion" what you mean is "belief" or "faithfulness to a set of
beliefs." Every one of has ideas & practices that we cherish for a
variety of reasons - whether we are followers of Jesus Christ or ardent
atheists. To ask any candidate or political office holder to abandon
their beliefs in order to govern well is a violation of their unique
personhood - it's asking them to not be themselves. When we desire
people of integrity to lead us, it seems foolhardy to request that they
saw off one of their ethical/moral limbs in order to get elected.
In fact, I think we all are kidding ourselves if we think that what
someone believes about the nature of the world and the existence of God
can be turned on & off like a light switch. What someone believes will
affect their decisions - their values will help (or hinder) them from
certain courses of action. This is not to say that we are consistent in
living out what we believe - far from it! But if our beliefs are deeply
held, if they are more than darkening the doors of a church in order to
appease a portion of the electorate, they will bubble up in what we say
I want leaders in this country who believe in something more than
getting elected or gaining power. I'm praying for it. And I don't want
any of the candidates, whether I like 'em or not, pretending to be
something that they're not.
So, I close this with two requests:
1. To the candidates (ha - like they're ever going to
read this - still, I can dream, can't I?!): Tell us what you believe.
I'd love to hear about your faith decisions - since so many of you claim
an "important" relationship with your God, let us know what that means
specifically. Stop trying to use "code words" to appeal to one faith
segment or another and simply tell us the truth. Give us the opportunity
to make an informed decision about who will be the next president of
the United States.
2. To the rest of us: Stop pretending that religious
faith doesn't matter in politics - it does. It's OK to be concerned or
moved by a candidate's beliefs. By the same token, if it matters to the
way the candidates conduct their campaigns & (eventually) lead as
they hold office, then it also matters to each of us. We "Average Joe's"
(or, in my case, "Average Mark's") have the same responsibility that
they do - to live out our lives based on our beliefs - to attempt to
live consistently & with integrity.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, that means I need to pray for the
candidates - all of 'em, not just the ones I'd like to see on the ballot
in November - and ask God to work in their lives and the lives of those
around them. I need to participate in the political process in a way
that brings honor to God (speech seasoned with grace, standing for
truth). I need to use the brain God has given me (quote from my dad -
"God didn't call you to be stupid.") as I decide who to support.