Faith and High Office: Do the Religious Beliefs of US Presidents Matter?

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PrayingPosted with permission from Baptist Bulletin July/Aug. 2012. All rights reserved.

Do the religious beliefs of U.S. presidents matter? Though the question is not new (Baptists, as well as Protestants and evangelicals in general, wrestled with “the Catholic issue” when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960; Kennedy spoke to allay their fears), American voters appear to be headed toward a 2012 election with unusual religious features. As of this writing, the top-tier choices include a vaguely “Christian” candidate and an indisputably Mormon candidate. The latter appears certain to become the Republican nominee for president. This development has many taking a fresh—and anxiety-tinged—look at what they believe about separation of church and state.

For conservative Christians, the situation is especially uncomfortable. They believe deeply that President Obama’s political philosophy and policies are harming the country and that he must be defeated, yet they find Mitt Romney’s Mormonism disturbing. After all, though the Mormon religion is suffused with old-fashioned American values, it’s a religious newcomer born entirely by reinventing major components of the Christian faith—and that sort of reinventing is a profoundly “unconservative” thing to do to the religion that built Western civilization.

The situation has exposed confusion about the relationship between faith and high office. Left-leaning news outlets frame stories as though “religion in government” were a novel and dangerous idea. (See cbsnews.com.) But many toward the center and right are apparently confused as well. According to an ABC News-Washington Post poll, 66 percent of Americans believe “political leaders should not rely on their religious beliefs in making policy decisions,” suggesting that, in the minds of many, faith and governance should have no relationship at all. Among conservatives, while some occasionally parrot the “separation of faith and politics” rhetoric of liberal secularists, more than a few tend to overstate the role of faith in government. (Take for example, the ABC News article “Rick Santorum Regrets Saying JFK’s Religion Speech Made Him Want to ‘Throw Up.’” See also “My Take” by R. Albert Mohler Jr. and “A More Accurate Reading.”)

How, then, should we view the role of religion in the lives of our civic leaders? More specifically, does the religion of a U.S. president matter? Can Christians, in good conscience, vote for a Mormon?

Three ways religion matters in high office

Some political thinkers have argued that a president’s religion is completely irrelevant, but in at least three ways, a public official’s religion is inseparable from how he or she governs.

1. Ultimate questions

First, religions are belief systems that, among other things, aim to answer ultimate questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is the difference between good and evil, right and wrong? Religions also tend to strongly influence our answers to two other questions: What is the nature and purpose of society, and what is the role of government in people’s lives?

If public officials, including presidents, do not have firm answers to these questions, they end up governing randomly. If they do have firm answers, those answers are, by their very nature, features of the leader’s religion—whether it’s some form of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Islam, or secular humanism.

As the source of his moral and ethical compass as well as his basic political philosophy, a leader’s religion has enormous importance. A leader’s beliefs in these areas are religious beliefs that he or she cannot (and should not) avoid “relying on.” Media outlets often assume that it is possible to exclude religion from these questions and that they may be answered in some religiously neutral way through science. But secularized science can offer no answers to the foundational questions of human nature, social ethics, and life’s meaning. To the degree any science answers these questions, it is no longer secular.

2. Marriage and family

Second, since a public official’s religion tells him the nature and purpose of society, his faith also shapes his view of society’s most basic institutions: the family and marriage. Conservative Christians believe these institutions have been under attack in American society for at least half a century and that this attack has continually intensified over the last decade. But even many moderates, liberals, and “progressives” agree with conservatives on one point: our society is at a crossroads, and many wish to transform the basic institutions of marriage and family. A president’s religion strongly influences what course he believes our society should take in this conflict.

3. The church-state relationship

Third, a presidential candidate’s religion matters to the degree that it teaches a specific view of the relationship between church and state. If his faith has a strong tradition of blurring the line between the authority of its religious institutions and the authority of government institutions, that blurring constitutes a fundamental incompatibility with high office in our system. On the other hand, if the candidate’s religion has a tradition of institutional separation between church bodies and state, his religion is not only compatible with the presidency but strengthens the independence of the office.

Sizing up the options

If a president’s religion matters in these three ways, how do evangelical Christianity, Roman Catholicism, and Mormonism stack up?

Viewed from a high altitude, evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism share very similar views of human nature, the basic virtues and vices, morality, ethics, and marriage and family. This is especially the case if we filter the ideas we’re considering down to those that are most influential in how a leader conducts himself and makes governing decisions.

Viewed from the same perspective and employing the same filters, how does Mormonism compare? Pretty well, actually. Though Mormonism denies the deity of Christ and proclaims a false gospel—and is, therefore, a false religion—it affirms, along with several other religions, a high ethical and moral code and a high (extremely high) view of marriage and the family (see Article 13 of the Mormon Articles of Faith).

As an influence on how a leader governs, Mormonism’s view of human nature may be slightly more problematic. Since Mormonism holds that human beings and God are fundamentally the same kind of being and that humans are born free of any corruption or limitations of the original sin, it’s fair to characterize the Mormon view of human nature as a bit rosy! In that respect it has more in common with the Protestant, evangelical, and secular left than it does with conservative evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism. The latter two share a far humbler and lower view of fallen human nature. Historically that view of human nature has informed how leaders see the restraining influence of law and government.

What about the separation of church and state then? While Roman Catholicism has a famously spotty record in this area, most of that record exists in the distant past. (For more on the Roman Catholic view of church and state, the Catholic Encyclopedia article “State and Church.” The Roman Church’s modern attitude seems to be more of the sort expressed here: “Pope urges Pakistan to repeal anti-blasphemy law.” Earnest Pickering’s 1960 article is dated but also worth reading: “Should America Elect A Roman Catholic President?”) Even in England, where the official Anglican relationship with affairs of state is far more integrated than we would accept in the U.S., basic boundaries are honored—especially over the last century or so. Evangelicalism, on the other hand, has always emphasized strong ideological influence on government while avoiding institutional entanglement.

What is Mormonism’s view of the church-state relationship? Breeches of proper church-state separation almost certainly occurred in the early years in Utah. However, the Mormon faith includes a high regard for government and law in the 12th of its 13 Articles of Faith. Though it does not use “separation of church and state” language, its emphasis is clear: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” In addition, the 11th article affirms the right of all men to “worship how, where, or what they may.” Though it’s true that Mormons believe in a literal restoration of the “10 tribes” of Israel on the American continent, they apparently see this as occurring after Christ returns to reign. (See www.lds.org and mormonbeliefs.org.)

If blogs are any indication, many rank-and-file Mormons do not believe in the separation of church and state (and using the same evidence, many Baptists don’t either!). But mainstream Mormon doctrine favors separate institutional spheres. In the case of Mitt Romney in particular, his record as the governor of Massachusetts reveals no inclination to involve the Mormon Church in the affairs of the state.

Two ways religion does not matter in high office

Though a president’s religion is important in several ways, in at least two ways it is not.

1. Character

Scripture is clear that a leader’s claim to believer status is no guarantee of good character. King Saul claimed to be a worshiper of the God of Israel, and even received “another heart” (1 Samuel 10:9). Nonetheless, Saul proved to be a man of weak character and poor judgment—once even commanding that his own son be executed for violating an impulsive and foolish royal directive (1 Samuel 14:43, 44).

In the New Testament, the Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes declared their devotion to God passionately and publicly—and we know what kind of rulers they were. (Matthew 23 provides a vivid summary).

We might be tempted to think that if a candidate makes a credible claim to Christian faith, he must be a better man than any unbeliever. After all, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But the “Christian equals better character” view is flawed in two ways. First, it’s easy to falsely profess Christian faith, and even people who seem devout can be frauds (Matthew 7:22, 23). Second, though every true believer is indeed a new creation, the transformation of his character varies widely. Depending on how much exposure someone has had to the gracious influences of Christian parenting and Christian ways of thinking, two people who come to Christ may begin their journey of growth and change at very different starting points. God’s “good work” (Philippians 1:6) also follows unique sequence and rate of change in each life. The consequence is that some unbelievers have more Christian principles influencing their character and values than some believers.

Should we conclude that a leader’s faith has no bearing at all on his character? Surely not. What we may conclude is that Christian influence on character is independent of official religious identity. A leader may claim the faith but be influenced little by it. He may not claim the faith and yet be influenced a great deal by it.

In addition, many of the basic principles and values that comprise Christian character and attitudes are also promoted by other religions. Just about every major faith claims the Golden Rule. Nearly all of them teach honesty, diligence, and some idea of justice. And who doesn’t believe in compassion? God’s common grace (Matthew 5:45) is such that He not only rains water on the just and the unjust, He sprinkles the qualities of good character in some unlikely places as well.

2. Competence

Most people don’t rank Christian faith at the top of the list of qualifications for a good heart surgeon. They intuitively understand that if you have a choice between an atheist with a hundred successful surgeries and a high school sophomore who loves the Lord, but has only dissected a frog, the atheist is the hands-down winner.

But when faced with a choice for high office, many seem to lack that intuitive grasp of the situation. They assume that a Christian candidate is better than a non-Christian one regardless of actual skill level. The confusion on this point is probably due partly to a failure of the imagination. Because most voters have never held any kind of office—or served in a leadership role of any kind—it’s easy for them to think that no special skills are involved. You just have to want to do it. With that error as a starting point, many naively favor any candidate who shares their beliefs, even preferring novices and outsiders over leaders who have demonstrated the skills of statecraft.

In most cases a candidate’s religion has little relationship to his competence in performing the duties of office.

Conclusion

Does a public official’s religion matter? Yes and no. On one hand, a political leader’s actual religious beliefs are far more important than the religion he officially claims—and these beliefs do directly influence the goals he pursues in office as well as the way he conducts that pursuit. On the other hand, we cannot confidently rely on a leader’s religious identity as an indicator of his character and competence.

We should vote with the understanding that every candidate is religious (even if he styles himself an atheist or an agnostic) and with the understanding that his religious convictions do not necessarily match those of the religious identity he claims. For these reasons and others, we should evaluate candidates by looking for evidence of good character, a high level of leadership competence, and understanding of human nature, morality, society, and government that harmonize well with our Christian convictions.

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Mike Durning's picture
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Great article AND Opportunity

This was a great article.  I would be very interested in seeing it re-worked for a secular audience and published in a major paper (i.e. USA Today) as a community voice.    I think it might reduce some furor with its great balance.

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Interesting

I find your article interesting and thought provoking.  I do though think that character and religious beliefs do go hand in hand.  Yes, Saul thought he was a worshipper of God, but he wasn't and it demonstrated in his character.  Our character, especially if we are evangelical, is representative by the fruit being produced (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit).  How else are we to know who is a believer or not (granted some Christians struggling and non-Christians exemplary).  However, as a general rule of thumb, producers of good fruit (character) is a sign of Christian belief.

 

So, it would seem that the only trait left is competency.  Even here, if all things are equal, the Christian should win out.  The problem with the presidency is what standard does one use to measure such trait.  Just because someone can do well in business does not guarantee success, neither does being a general during war time.  Some say one has to be a governor first, yet Abraham Lincoln had no such experience.  I think that of all the traits for presidency, this one ought to be governed by the other ones you have listed.  If everything else is a thumb's up, then competency will follow.  

 

One of the greatest examples is David.  Who would have picked him a boy to be the leader of Israel?  It is because of his other traits that leadership was developed.  

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Other things being equal

The key phrase is "other things being equal." The problem is that quite often other things are not equal. The result is that a professing Christian does not necessarily have better character than someone who does not profess to be a Christian.

Yes, a true​ Christian would have better character on average, but even that's "on average." And we frequently can't tell who's genuine and who isn't.

As for competence, suppose you're on a desert Island and have an acute attack of appendicitis. Only two people are there to help. One is a Christian plumber and the other is a Hindu medical doctor. Who do you want to go for that appendix?

So, sure, other things being equal (like actual character and actual skill) a Christian candidate is preferable to a lost one. But we're usually not facing that kind of choice at the polls.

​On a completely different subtopic... what I like least about Romney

He's probably too "nice" to get elected... and as President (if somehow he makes it) he's likely to be too nice, too. Still I hope he makes it into the oval office rather than the other guy.

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Great article Aaron. The

Great article Aaron. The upcoming Vice Presidential pick will be interesting. Will Romney pick the uber-competent Chris Christie, who cusses like a sailor sometimes? Or will he pick an evangelical from a Bible Church like Sarah Palin? Given the choice of those two, Chris Christie every time for me.

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Aaron Blumer wrote: The key

Aaron Blumer wrote:

The key phrase is "other things being equal." The problem is that quite often other things are not equal. The result is that a professing Christian does not necessarily have better character than someone who does not profess to be a Christian.

Yes, a true​ Christian would have better character on average, but even that's "on average." And we frequently can't tell who's genuine and who isn't.

As for competence, suppose you're on a desert Island and have an acute attack of appendicitis. Only two people are there to help. One is a Christian plumber and the other is a Hindu medical doctor. Who do you want to go for that appendix?

 

But one cannot have "solid" character outside of that person's worldview.  The aspect of character would enforce the Christian to admit whether they are competent to handle the task at hand.  A Muslim has no problem lying straight to my face because his religious beliefs on how to treat me as an infidel.  This does not seem to be a quality of good character.  We cannot rightly divorce a person's character from the person's worldview.  They go hand in hand.

 

The comparison of competence you set up seems to be a fallacy in regards of comparison.  We are talking about presidential candidates not surgery.  What makes a person competent to be president of the US is an appropriate question.  However, if we are going to try to apply the pragmatic paradigm you are using of a plumber vs. doctor, it will fail.  Being train in a specialty is quite different than having the qualities necessary for competent leadership.  If we want to go specialty, we would then need to argue that David should never been king because all he knew was shepherding or the reverse, only shepherds make good kings.  Both arguments fail because the question is pointing towards the wrong direction.

 

What makes one competent for presidential leadership has to be answered in what the person believes.  A man after God's heart, should always win this battle.  If a Christian man has a lack of character, he should never be in any leadership position should he?  If a person has questionable character at best, one may rightly question the person's worldview pertaining to Christ.  How could we with a straight face say that someone is a Christian who is lacking the fruit of the Spirit (character)?  I would argue that competency is not specialty but competency flows from the other points of your article which demonstrate that a man's religion is important.  

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We cannot rightly divorce a

We cannot rightly divorce a person's character from the person's worldview.  They go hand in hand.

I have no disagreement with that. In the article my argument is that claiming Christianity vs. not claiming Christianity is not a predictor of good character. To a degree, actually possessing Christianity is a predictor, but as I've explained, it's a complex predictor. The idea I'm rejecting is the thinking that says "the professing Christian automatically has better character than the professing non-Christian." 

(The points I offered in support of that are in the article as well as my post above... if they're flawed, I'd be interested in seeing how.)

"Worldview" means different things to different people, but it's clear that worldviews overlap. A truly Mormon worldview has much overlap with the Christian one.

​About competence

The Christian plumber vs. Hindu doctor is an illustration of the fact that being a Christian doesn't vest a person with a particular skill set. 

What makes one competent for presidential leadership has to be answered in what the person believes.

Partly true. Competence in that role certainly depends a great deal on what one believes. However, it depends on much more than that as well. Consequently, two guys who believe all the same things are not equally competent for the job. In addition to beliefs, the job involves a good bit of physical stamina, passion to accomplish goals, knowledge of economics, skill in motivating people and dealing with "people problems," the ability to be very decisive in situations where adequate information is lacking, understanding of how to work our political system, a broad and deep familiarity with the nation's laws, skill in public speaking and persuasive reasoning... much, much patience. On it goes.

(This is why, incidentally, I've never found populist appeals persuasive: I believe a good President must be an extraordinary human being, not "one of the guys" or "just like me.")

Another analogy may help... Suppose I'm taking a walk one night and hear an odd noise in a neighbor's garage. I go closer and the police arrive just I'm discovering my neighbor's there dead. I'm accused of the crime. To be my defense attorney, do I want my Christian buddy who is a welder or do I want a professional defense attorney who's an atheist?  Of course, I probably have better choices than those two, but when it comes to elections, we are always choosing between two or more non-ideal candidates. (... in the present case, between a Christianity-professing liberal activist with a socialist point of view vs. a Mormon business man who has thoroughly demonstrated that he understands how money actually works.)

But when it comes to beliefs and competence, I argued in the article (and elsewhere) that Mormon beliefs do overlap with Christian ones in several important ways, especially when we focus on the set of beliefs most directly related to running the country.

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Character is not the only factor

Pastor Shaun wrote:

If we want to go specialty, we would then need to argue that David should never been king because all he knew was shepherding or the reverse, only shepherds make good kings.


God obviously had perfect knowledge of the future when he told Samuel to choose David. However, it is clear that David was not yet ready to be king when he was chosen. In fact, after he was anointed, it was years before he became king. Those years of experience, both learning under Saul and fleeing from Saul were used to give David the necessary experience in politics, leading men, depending on God for battle and for protection, etc. He even got to know several of the surrounding cultures and kings before he himself finally became king.

David is not really the best example for our election, because he wasn't chosen by the people at all, but by an all-knowing God who knew what kind of king David would be when he finally did take the position.

We can't just look at a man's character and know with certainty what that man will be like down the road. Nor do we have the same luxury God does to choose a man way before he is ready, judging only on his character, and not on his experience. That's certainly not to say character is not important, and really Aaron is not arguing that, nor am I. But the fact remains that we are only getting a limited choice, and experience counts for a lot (not everything) when choosing the right person to lead our country.

Dave Barnhart

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Appreciate the discussion

I appreciate the discussion in clearing things up for me.  I appreciate it.

 

You stated, Compentence in that role certainly depends a great deal on what one believes"  Then you further progess and states that it depends much more than that and go on to list other things you believe would be things the person needs, which I greatly appreciate.  Yet, all that you listed seems to lack one thing.  A potential human being that can actually accomplish what you believe makes a competent president.  Neither major candidate has even half of what you describe.  Yet, I am sure you will argue that Romney is better because he has more ability than Obama.  And, there has yet to be a president that has even touched all of what you listed.  Again, this is your definition of competency.  Now, I do agree with you that there are many qualities that a candidate should have like being decisive in situations where adequate information is lacking.  However, what evidence do we have of Romney possessing such quality.  We don't!  There is not one shred of evidence that either major candidate possess any of the qualities you listed.  I am just saying that to argue for competency is hard to pin down for each person will have a difference in what they mean by competent.  For example, I would like to have a person who is a great communicator of his ideas.  

 

I have no disagreement with that. In the article my argument is that claiming Christianity vs. not claiming Christianity is not a predictor of good character. To a degree, actually possessing Christianity is a predictor, but as I've explained, it's a complex predictor. The idea I'm rejecting is the thinking that says "the professing Christian automatically has better character than the professing non-Christian."

 

I think we fully agree on what you state here.  I too believe that we need to discern before jumping on the wagon of a person claiming the Christian flag.  It is why I was not fully impressed with Gov. Perry.  To me, it seemed to easy for him and his testimony.  I think that assessing one's Christianity should not be too complex for it would seem that Jesus and the apostle John and Paul saw it fairly easier than what we may make it out to be.  

Regarding the competency illustrations, you are comparing an apple to an orange.  You want to prove that a non Christian specialist is more competent than a Christian who is not said specialist.  You are then equating competency with training of the person, of course any plumber will not be of choice over a doctor for open heart surgery.  I know that you are trying to drive a point that just because someone is a Christian does not make him/her an expert of all things.  

However, I think you may agree with me that our understanding of competency for a doctor vs. a plumber is quite different that someone running for president of the US.  This is where I think the analogy breaks down.  There is no field of expertise that one must study first in order to be president.  There is no degree that automatically makes one qualified.  This is my main point.  No two people are able to agree what makes said person competent to be presidential until that person has actually held the job.  

For example, some say a person should be governor.  Okay, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were governors, how did that work out for us?  What about military experience?  Eisenhower and Grant seem to fall a bit short.  Some say being a senator is helpful, Obama anyone?  What made Reagan, Lincoln, and Washington great presidents?  I think more than anything else their character which was influenced by the Scriptures.  Did they have other qualities, sure.  I am saying that "competency" is an illusive target that we cannot stand on in making a judgement call on who is best qualified to hold this important office.

 

 

 

 

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Competence...

It's an interesting topic in it's own right.

I'd argue that we've had several presidents that fit the short list I mentioned... not that any have been perfect in any of those areas, but quite a few have possessed them in noticeable degrees.

About competence in general, it hit me a while ago that it's better to have an incompetent liberal than a competent one... and it's better to have an incompetent liberal than an incompetent conservative. The reason for the first scenario is that a liberal who lacks skill will get fewer of his bad ideas implemented. The reason for the second is that he'll get fewer of his good ideas implemented and those he does implement, he'll implement badly--making the ideas themselves look faulty, though the problem was really execution.

(I suppose it's also possible for an incompetent liberal to botch execution of liberal ideas and accidentally do something that works... but it doesn't seem to happen often!)

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However.....

DCBII - 

The question though is, "Why did God chose David to be king?"  Yes, God has perfect knowledge.  But, why did God chose David, was it what David would do in the future or was it because of who David is?

 

 

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We can't choose like God can

Pastor Shaun wrote:

DCBII - 

The question though is, "Why did God chose David to be king?"  Yes, God has perfect knowledge.  But, why did God chose David, was it what David would do in the future or was it because of who David is?

 

 


I don't know that we can answer that with certainty, other than to say it was God's will. We do know that he was a man after God's own heart. Yet his character was also deeply flawed. Let's look at things that happened during his reign:

- Bathsheba (i.e. David's character appears to be no better than that of Clinton, or of other presidents with less than stellar morals or "family values")

- Raised his family poorly to the point there was rape and murder in his household that eventually led to civil war (pretty sure most of us wouldn't vote for a man like that either)

- Directly disobeyed God in numbering the people and caused a plague that killed thousands (also not a great endorsement of his reign)

But let's not stop at David. Would any of us pick a man like Jonah to be a missionary? I rather doubt it, given his character was completely flawed and he had no interest in going to the people to which he was sent. Yet God, with perfect foreknowledge, knew that there would be a great revival if he was sent, and Jonah became an example to us, in more ways than one.

On the other hand, some missionaries that have been vetted and chosen by churches have gone on to be terrible testimonies, have disgraced themselves on the field, etc., but it was thought by those that sent them that their character met the test.

We have to go on the information that we have, and we have to evaluate every characteristic. Further, when it comes to evaluating a president, our choices are limited, and we will have to make one compromise or another. However, demonstrated skill at leadership is something a leader needs to have, and of itself, is a good indication of some strong character (in certain areas). I wouldn't make experience 100% of the criteria and leave character out, but neither could I pick someone with great character but who did not have the skills to make a good president. Both criteria are important, and we have to judge where the balance should lie.

Dave Barnhart

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Strength

However, demonstrated skill at leadership is something a leader needs to have, and of itself, is a good indication of some strong character (in certain areas).

Yes. Forgot about that one. Even evil leaders can have some good character traits and one of them all "successful" leaders have had is strength​. To lead a nation you have to have the inner strength to endure alot. These guys get tested in unbelievable ways. Imagine how much criticism you take when you have several hundred million to lead... in a nation that encourages open dissent. So I'll toss in "optimism." I'm sure many presidents have had to get up in the morning (assuming they slept!) and despite failing in one aim or another dozens of times, look in the mirror and say "Today, we get this done."

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Shaynus wrote:Great article

Shaynus wrote:

The upcoming Vice Presidential pick will be interesting. Will Romney pick the uber-competent Chris Christie, who cusses like a sailor sometimes? Or will he pick an evangelical from a Bible Church like Sarah Palin? Given the choice of those two, Chris Christie every time for me.

Missed this one earlier. Christie sometimes surprises and disappoints me (though I can't recall the particulars now). But I would also prefer him over Palin. Palin is too alienating (fairly or not, she's easily targeted by liberal media) and too tabloidy/realityTV/sensational-celebrity, etc. for my taste. Christie is almost the opposite extreme when it comes to camera appeal, but he at least comes across as genuine. Hard to picture him with Romney, because Romney comes across as "just a bit too perfect" in looks and demeanor... so with Christie, the pair might come off a bit like these guys:

oscar and felix

I'm doing alot of the optics in this post I guess. But we do live in a video age.

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dcbii wrote: I don't know

dcbii wrote:
I don't know that we can answer that with certainty, other than to say it was God's will. We do know that he was a man after God's own heart. Yet his character was also deeply flawed. Let's look at things that happened during his reign: - Bathsheba (i.e. David's character appears to be no better than that of Clinton, or of other presidents with less than stellar morals or "family values") - Raised his family poorly to the point there was rape and murder in his household that eventually led to civil war (pretty sure most of us wouldn't vote for a man like that either) - Directly disobeyed God in numbering the people and caused a plague that killed thousands (also not a great endorsement of his reign) But let's not stop at David. Would any of us pick a man like Jonah to be a missionary? I rather doubt it, given his character was completely flawed and he had no interest in going to the people to which he was sent. Yet God, with perfect foreknowledge, knew that there would be a great revival if he was sent, and Jonah became an example to us, in more ways than one. On the other hand, some missionaries that have been vetted and chosen by churches have gone on to be terrible testimonies, have disgraced themselves on the field, etc., but it was thought by those that sent them that their character met the test. We have to go on the information that we have, and we have to evaluate every characteristic. Further, when it comes to evaluating a president, our choices are limited, and we will have to make one compromise or another. However, demonstrated skill at leadership is something a leader needs to have, and of itself, is a good indication of some strong character (in certain areas). I wouldn't make experience 100% of the criteria and leave character out, but neither could I pick someone with great character but who did not have the skills to make a good president. Both criteria are important, and we have to judge where the balance should lie.

 

You seem to be proving my point.  Yes, David did sin grievously, but who has never done so?  But, when David was confronted by it, he repented.  Character is having the ability to be admonished and accept it worthily as well.  Even with some of his lack of parenting skills, Solomon held his dad in high regard in training him.

 

The problem I see lies in the fact that David had not shown any such leadership experience as sited here as a requirement before he was selected to be king over Israel.  He was a man/boy of great faith in God and it was his heart that God chose to lead His people.  You are right that we may not have chosen Jonah or even the twelve apsotles, but isn't that more the reason not to set up for ourselves a list of "qualities" that really cannot be properly assessed for the position of the presidency outside of who that individual is?  What exactly in Romney's career tells you or I that yes this man is going to make an excellent president?  As much as we may dislike it, the presidency above anything else is the "Morality-in-chief"  Have we really recovered from Clinton's "what is, is?" Or, do we really believe that Obama has had no effect on the moral bearings of this country.  There was a reason why NJ had in its constitution that a person desiring to be governor had to be a follower of Christ.

What breaks my heart is that we feel compelled that we can only vote for either Obama or Romney.  I am tired of hearing that a vote for a 3rd party no matter your conscience is a vote for Obama.  Why are we not seriously looking at all candidates and not just the ones that we are told are only "electable", especially if we believe in the criteria given to us in this post.

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Heart vs. what is visible.

Pastor Shaun wrote:

You seem to be proving my point.  Yes, David did sin grievously, but who has never done so?  But, when David was confronted by it, he repented.  Character is having the ability to be admonished and accept it worthily as well.  Even with some of his lack of parenting skills, Solomon held his dad in high regard in training him.


If your only point is that "the Lord seeth not as man seeth," then I agree with you. My point is that man *cannot* see as God sees, and hence our criteria for choice are, and must be, different where we cannot do what God can.

Should we consider character first? Absolutely. However, we cannot see into someone's heart, and we have to judge the best we can what a man's current character is and what his potential *might* be (not what it really is, since we cannot know that). How do we judge a man's character? By experience. God doesn't have that restriction.

Quote:

The problem I see lies in the fact that David had not shown any such leadership experience as sited here as a requirement before he was selected to be king over Israel.  He was a man/boy of great faith in God and it was his heart that God chose to lead His people.


I agree with this. But as I have said in my previous posts, God had perfect foreknowledge, and he knew how David would turn out (both good and bad), and he judged David the appropriate leader for Israel. I'm sorry, but even if the constitution allowed a young person to be voted as president, I would not do so, because with our lack of foreknowledge, we have to have something to go on. For most of us, again, what we have to go on is experience.

How are the churches instructed to select a pastor? In addition to the heart requirements (full of the Holy Ghost), we need to see wisdom, blamelessness before God's people *and* the world, and someone who is "not a novice." All of these require us to see experience, not (just) potential.

I agree we do not see as God sees. We must, therefore, also choose men in a different way than God does, even though we still have to consider important what he judges to be important. Character is first, but not the only consideration.

Quote:
You are right that we may not have chosen Jonah or even the twelve apsotles, but isn't that more the reason not to set up for ourselves a list of "qualities" that really cannot be properly assessed for the position of the presidency outside of who that individual is?  What exactly in Romney's career tells you or I that yes this man is going to make an excellent president?  As much as we may dislike it, the presidency above anything else is the "Morality-in-chief"  Have we really recovered from Clinton's "what is, is?" Or, do we really believe that Obama has had no effect on the moral bearings of this country.  There was a reason why NJ had in its constitution that a person desiring to be governor had to be a follower of Christ.

I would agree that what set David apart from someone like Clinton is his heart and willingness to repent. However, his moral character weaknesses still had consequences for the nation of Israel that they had to live with as long as he was king. David also repented for numbering the people, but I'll bet that was little comfort to the families of those who were killed in the ensuing plague.

I'm sure our nation is headed toward a place where what Clinton did (or David, although he also committed murder to cover it up) is not considered a big deal by most. That is indeed regrettable. However, don't kid yourself that the average man on the street would see things any differently even if Clinton had truly repented in his heart. He would still be a man with moral weaknesses, and most wouldn't believe his repentance, even if it was genuine. And even a genuine repentance does not change what he did, only his moral culpability before God. Repentance alone does not restore trust.

I can't say that I know Romney well enough to know what he is like morally. We have to judge him according to the best of our knowledge. By all accounts, he appears to be a better moral choice than many we have had previously as a president. Is he the best choice as leader? I can't answer that, although I believe he would be better than the main opposition.

Quote:

What breaks my heart is that we feel compelled that we can only vote for either Obama or Romney.  I am tired of hearing that a vote for a 3rd party no matter your conscience is a vote for Obama.  Why are we not seriously looking at all candidates and not just the ones that we are told are only "electable", especially if we believe in the criteria given to us in this post.


Well, here I agree with you. I voted 3rd party in the primaries, and I haven't yet made up my mind what I will do in the general election. A lot may depend on what comes out during the remainder of campaign season. However, even then, our selection is limited, and we are more than likely not going to find a candidate who lines up with our beliefs even 80%, let alone 100%. I don't believe the right answer at that point is to not vote at all.

Dave Barnhart

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Electability

....then you have the whole electability question.

It's theoretically possible that someone could join the race as 3rd party candidate who has manifestly better character than either of the leading two, and a more credible claim to being a Christian.

I would argue that even if Mystery Candidate gives every evidence of being a believer and of having character equal or better than that of the front runners, the next questions would be:

a. Are his ideas and competence superior?

b. Will voting for him really only help elect the worst of the frontrunners?

The "b" question confuses many because they feel that voting for the best electable guy (when a 3rd party person is better) is "pragmatism," and that voting for the unelectable guy is "voting your conscience." So the choices are framed as pragmatism vs. principle. But, as I've argued at length elsewhere, "actual results of my behavior" is​ a principle. So the choice is between the idealism principle and the actual outcome principle.

I'd go further and argue that in that situation, it's a choice between sentimentality and principle. "Sentimentality," because when we do that, we want our good intentions to count ("conscience" becomes "what I feel good about doing") even though the actual results are harmful.

Am I truly acting on my conscience if I ignore the actual, foreseeable results of my choices?

 

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Aaron, I completely disagree

Aaron,

I completely disagree on point B. I think you have your sentiment and your principle backwards. God never calls us to make decisions based on what others will do. Given the mystery candidate who is of "manifestly better character than either of the leading two, and a more credible claim to being a Christian" and  assuming he meets the criteria of point A, point B is biblically irrelevant. I don't think voting  for another candidate in that situation is defensible. In the end, we will only give account for our personal vote. You cannot argue that your vote was harmful, only that too few people agreed with it. Only when you bypass your mystery candidate in favor  of a lesser candidate can you say your vote was harmful; you were part of  the nation-wide problem then.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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Results of my choices

Where does Scripture make a distinction between non-personal results of our actions and personal results of our actions? What I mean is that the fact that we're talking about a vote in which millions will cast a ballot doesn't really put it in a different ethical category.

For example, what's the right thing to do in the following scenario?

  • I'm in a burning building and trying to exit.
  • As I'm leaving, I discover three people in need of help.
  • Two can't walk without my assistance, one is pinned under a fallen beam.
  • I stop to see if I can free the one from the beam, but I can only very slowly move it. He's crying and pleading with me "Don't leave me here!" But if I do leave him, I can save two other people who are quickly running out of time.

For most of us, I think the ethically right choice is pretty clear. Go save the other two and maybe come back to the beam guy if there's time.

But If we is​olate the beam-victim decision, the ethics gets oversimplified: it's wrong to walk away from someone you might be able to save. If we put that choice in the context of actual results, the ethical choice is obvious: if I stay there tugging at the beam, the other two are going to perish.

We could contrive simpler examples, I'm sure. Suppose I'm a courier ordered to deliver medicine to a hospital and, on the way, I see an elderly lady stumble in the street and there's a semi bearing down on her. If I isolate my choice from it's consequences, I can reason "It's wrong for me not to follow my instructions and deliver my product as quickly as possible." But if I look at the consequences I have to consider "If I don't stop, this poor lady is going to be injured or killed."

Consequences matter.

So, if the consequences are predicated on what other people will do, do they matter less? Am I less responsible? In the semi scenario, my decision to stop and help is predicated on the idea that the driver is not likely to see her and stop in time. If it was a giant rolling stone instead of a human-operated vehicle, does that really change the ethics of the situation? What if we change the fire in the first scenario to a rioting mob that is assaulting or trampling everyone in its path? Am I right to tug at the beam and let the other two die because the rioters are making their own choices and they're not my responsibility?

So the trouble here, whether we call it sentimentalism or something else, amounts to a problem of isolating a choice from its real consequences. "If I vote for 3rd party guy who has zero chance of getting elected but is a 'better' man,  I'm doing the right thing" is only possible if we disconnect that from what our vote actually does. But the disconnect is a fantasy. It does what it does whether we pay attention to it or not.

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Apples and grapefruit

In the burning building, all of the decisions are yours and yours alone. In the voting issue, you are  only responsible for your one vote, no one else's decision. The aggregate of decisions is out of your control in the vote, so you will only be accountable for the one decision you controlled.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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Whose decision....

Who owns the decision is not really a point of disagreement. I agree that we're only responsible for the decision we ourselves made. We are also responsible for the actual results of that decision. Separating the decision from its consequences isn't really workable as an approach to weighing the ethics of choices.

I expected someone to raise the objection that we don't really know what people are going to do, don't really know what the "rioters" in my 2nd scenario are going to do. This is true, and a factor that often muddies the waters of the "ethics of voting." I've referred a couple of times to a 3rd party candidate who has "zero" chance of winning. I chose a high level of certainty in order to emphasis that consequences do matter in weighing the rightness of choices.

But in reality the degree of certainty about consequences is often far murkier, and that's what makes decision-making so difficult. It would be easy if we knew every time that leaving the guy under the beam will allow us to successfully rescue the other two or that pulling him out will result in the deaths of the other two. But life tends to present us with much messier sets of options.

It would also be easy, in my opinion, if it was always obvious that candidate X cannot possibly win. It isn't always that obvious. Fortunately, in Presidential politics it usually is. The time for using votes on long shot candidates is usually in the primaries and caucuses. After that, because a vote is a zero-sum game, every vote I give to one candidate I effectively subtract from the remaining candidates. So if I give that vote to one who cannot win, the actual outcome is that I have taken a vote from the best man who can win.

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Took some time

Sorry for the long delay in response.  

 

I do agree with you that we should never "not vote at all".  I do agree though that we are not limited to just two candidates and all should be on the table.  I do not buy the idea that as soon as primaries are over that what we have left of the two is the best we got.  I also agree that we may never find the 100% candidate, but I am leaning towards refusing to vote for the one that is just 51% when there are others that are much closer they just don't have a D or R behind their name.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

I do think that God does lay out a great amount of criteria for us and we may be able to use His examples.  If Clinton was repentive, then trust will ensue, it is our obligation to do so.  

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