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Oct  2015 07
Should a Christian Be Elected President?

These days, some politicians and other leaders are questioning the fitness of Muslims to be citizens or to be elected officials. There is also a shadow assumption that, since all of the U.S. presidents have been oriented toward Christianity (whether actual believers or adherents), a Christian president is no problem.

Well, I don’t believe a president who is a Christian is necessarily “no problem.”

No, I am not siding with radical atheists who treat religion with the same categories used by fundamentalists: either one is all in and talks and acts like a fundamentalist, or one is not a real believer. (As a progressive Christian, I am often treated by atheists as an anomaly or as a heretic.)

Nor am I questioning the wisdom and rightness of Article VI of the Constitution of the U.S.—“…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

I am not backing some kind of public test of a candidate’s orthodoxy. But neither am I willing to give any “Christian” candidate a pass on her or his faith. I would rather know about a candidate’s beliefs that might affect how he or she governs.

A famous example is not from a president but from a Secretary of the Interior. James Watt served in the Reagan administration. He believed in an imminent Second Coming.

What if he linked that belief to a practice of exploiting natural resources with abandon; if Jesus is coming soon, environmental stewardship maybe unimportant. (In fairness to Mr. Watt, he did not explicitly make that link, although some members of the media implied the link from his actions.)

Have you heard of dominionism? This is a radical form of Christianity that, while relatively small in number of true-believer adherents, pushes a broader set of Christian claims to their logical extremes.

Dominionists support theocracy over democracy, believe that the U.S. must act as a vehicle of evangelism for Jesus Christ, have strategies to dominate every sector of society, and have supported creating and enforcing laws based on Old Testament texts to stone adulterers and disobedient children.

Some critics claim that many military commanders are dominionists. (The Air Force used biblical texts from apocalyptic books to train missile silo personnel, until the training was exposed.)

The law school that began at Oral Roberts University and was moved to Regent University was a dominionist-oriented school (law is one of the sectors that must be dominated); former presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann is a graduate. One might sniff out dominionist leanings in some recent acts of “civil disobedience” in regard to same sex marriage.

To use a phrase from the pragmatist philosopher William James, what is the “cash value,” the experiential difference that a belief makes?

In terms of candidates for public office, I think it is legitimate for the public to know any belief, religious or otherwise, a candidate holds that has “cash value” in regard to public policy.

I do not want a president who wants to march Christian soldiers into battle, conquer the environment, criminalize the poor, punish wrongdoers with all the hell-on-earth humans can assemble, undermine messy democracy with a more tidy but enlightened and orthodox rule, or turn every opponent into an enemy.

Yet I can imagine a “Christian” candidate capable of all these actions.

Should a Christian be president?

My answer: it depends on what that person believes and how that person acts. And my answer would be the same regardless of the religion, or lack of religion, exhibited a candidate.

No religion is inherently compatible with a democratic republic that that requires an educated, moral populace and the protection of minority rights.

I want to know the cash-value of a candidate’s beliefs because, as a Christian and as a U.S. citizen, I want to judge whether that value squares with my commitments and with the “better angels” of the United States of America.

 

Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips President
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