[Still Life, 2016]
Mat. 23:5 But all their works they do to be seen by men.....
I am afraid that Frank Bruni has a point, though I don't like agreeing with him. The campaign rhetoric gushing out in this final sprint to the Iowa caucuses makes me more than a bit uncomfortable.
Christians must not be shy violets regarding their faith. Christ didn't die on the cross so that we hide our lights in a closet. I do not believe that there is any such thing as a "private" Christian faith. Jesus Himself said that if we do not confess Him before men then He will not confess us before His Father in heaven. So, Christians should desire to make their faith known, they should long to praise God for what He has done for them and for the world, they should enthusiastically seek out opportunities to turn conversations to the spiritual realm and extol the virtues of Christ and His Visible Church.
But... uh... when should it be offered up as a political selling point? Should a candidate argue that his or her own Christian faith is better, more virtuous, more sincere that "the other guy's." Especially when other candidates also present themselves as Christians. (Here I am deliberately not going to address the relative merits of denominations, etc.)
I suppose that I should address the question dialectically.
On the one hand I think the faith stance of a candidate for public office IS important when viewing their relative merits. I don't care what anyone says, religion is grounded in morality and, on one extreme, if some guy's religion has more in common with Jezebel of Thyratira (Rev. 2:18ff) than Peter or Paul, then I would definitely fear the moral agenda he would set for the nation. In this case it would be a deciding factor for me. There are some religions that would simply preclude me voting for one of their adherents.
In that same vein, if a candidate has a life history of vigorous Christian activity, it would definitely color my overall impression of his integrity. Jimmy Carter comes to mind here. I would not vote for him for president because I differ with his political views, but I readily confess that he appears to be a brother in Christ and I do not doubt his integrity. I would not confess our current president in a similar fashion.
So, on the positive side, I think that a person's faith should be taken into account at some level, with subjective qualifiers based on the immediate individual.
But to what extent should candidates make their own faith an issue? What bothers me about this question is that it flows from Evangelicals becoming a "voting", or political, block. Candidates start "showing off" their faith when they think the mere fact of their faith is of first importance to the voters. The peril of hypocrisy here is so blatantly evident that we Evangelicals ought to consider how we are putting a stumbling block in our "brother's" path... how we are tempting them to this sin. This is especially critical when we begin to see high level candidates actually diminishing their opponent's faith, making light of it, rather than being concerned for their spiritual state. How ugly this is! How seriously does this undermine our efforts to influence the wider culture when we act like just one more political ideology?
I am very much in favor of Christian activism and Christian vocation as part of the witness of God's people. I do not believe that a Christian should put his or her religion on the shelf once taking office. I abhor the idea that all Christians engaged in governing should use only "natural reason" and "secular arguments" to advance their agenda or even in enacting laws. But the very last thing our Lord desires of us, His people, is that we make the "show" of religion a rung on the ladder of secular success.
I believe these current candidates, several of whom I highly respect, are erring in this regard. Those candidates which are blatantly hypocritical (let the reader understand) in their profession of faith are, I think, easily recognized as such. Evangelicals should not only take this evident hypocrisy into account, but I think it perhaps should rise to the level of disqualifying them from our vote. This doesn't need to be shouted by their opponents. The Lord's command that we take care of the log in our own eye applies to presidential candidates every bit as much as it does to the rest of us.
I think that a simple statement of faith by a candidate for office, as part of a resume if you will, should suffice. Once made public it should simply be referenced if questions arise, but that is about as far as I think it should go. Let the concerned citizen inquire into the candidate's history of church attendance and check their general biography of "walking the walk", but it violates Christian decorum for an opponent to make it a political issue.
That being said... as far as Bill Clinton is concerned... his "public" sin was shameful and was (and is) open to political attack. This goes back to my first point above and I think it balances out the picture.
In this as in all things, I believe Christians must seek wisdom and discernment in our expectations of political candidates. Though a Christian profession is not, in my mind, a necessary and sufficient pre-requisite for public office yet it is definitely a positive attribute. In cases where one has to choose between a Christian candidate whose political views are unacceptable (Jimmy Carter) and a non-Christian candidate who poses no threat to the Christian community, of acceptable moral standard, and has a better political agenda, then I would state that the Christian profession is not a "necessary" condition in that case.
We Christians should guard ourselves in what we demand from political candidates so as not to 'politicize' our faith. We cannot simply blame them for this recent unpleasantness... we are guilty to some extent also.