This week Pope Francis made news by declaring that Donald Trump is not a Christian. I posted an article about the Pope's announcement on my personal Facebook site and later deleted it due the heated manner in which friends were taking sides. Lost in the bluster are two important questions.
"Should a person's faith be the primary factor in selecting a political candidate, and how should we assess the faith-statements made by political figures?"
Pardon the pun, I would suggest that the personal faith of a candidate shouldn't trump all other factors. Christians should consider a number of factors when choosing their candidate, and there may be times when the best candidate does not share our particular brand of faith.
I would suggest that we consider the following four factors during this year's election.
First, we should consider character. Good leaders are people of character and integrity. They are honest, kind, and trustworthy. They treat people well and put the needs of others ahead of their own.
Second, we should evaluate their competence. Some candidates may have good character but little competence, the ability to accomplish objectives that help people flourish. We are told to pray for our leaders so that our lives can be quiet and peaceful. Enacting policies to help people flourish takes competence, especially in today's polarized political climate.
Third, we need to consider their policy positions. The things which candidates propose doing should be consistent with Christ-centered values about life and people. Specifically, their policy proposals should demonstrate a desire to protect and bless the most vulnerable members of our communities. Their policies should promote peace, personal sacrifice, responsibility, and self-control. On this matter, we also need to resist the thought that we can legislate Christian morality. Perfect laws won't produce Godly, Christ-centered people. Only Christ can accomplish that. Our laws shouldn't impede spiritual growth but they will never produce it.
And fourth, we should seek a candidate who fears God. By fear of God, I don't necessarily mean a candidate who shares all of my faith convictions. Rather, I mean a candidate who understands that he or she will answer to God for how they govern. Scripture teaches that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and that wisdom is a prerequisite for all forms of leadership.
Having established that one's religious position, or faith, isn't the only factor to be considered when voting, let's move on to the more vexing question, "Is Donald Trump a Christian?"
The picture to the right represents the tone of political discourse in the last two or three election cycles. A friend commented on Facebook, "I have observed, in this political season, that if I don’t adhere to your political reasoning, I am not only “very wrong, ” I am not just “uninformed,” I have no mind of my own. I am in fact, stupid.” This observation presents a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge for us, as people of faith, is to model the biblical virtues of gentleness, kindness, and grace, to restrain our words and only utter them if they will build people up. Lyons and Kinnamon have observed that Christians don't have a good reputation with young people who are outside the faith. For that matter, we don't have a very good reputation for young people inside the church. We are viewed as loud, overbearing and pushy. We have an opportunity to change that. My challenge for the body of Christ is to provide an example of civility in the realm of politics. Not a soft civility that doesn't stand for anything, but a thoughtful civility that understands the importance of engaging with people who hold different viewpoints and working with them to propose workable solutions to the most pressing problems of our culture.
Emily Shanahan is differently-abled. She has developed the unique skill of living, living well in fact, with cerebral pasly. I invited Emily to join me on a Sunday Morning (Feb 14, 2016) at Central because I think she has much to teach us about humility, endurance, tenacity, and most of all joy. Emily doesn't want or need our sympathy, she wants our friendship and our confidence. Emily's main goal is modest, she wants to change the world and she won't allow cerebral palsy to slow her down. Instead of being bitter about the challenge of living with CS, she accepts it as an opportunity to display God's grace and power. Click here to learn more about Emily's journey and her dreams.
A number of years ago a book by Dallas Willard changed my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. God doesn't save us just so that we can go to Heaven. He saves us so that we can bring a little bit of Heaven to earth. He saves us to be world changers, people who invest their lives in fixing things that are broken, giving people a taste of Heaven, and showing people what it will be like to be in the presence of Jesus. Salvation does result in the forgiveness of sins, but that's secondary to the fact that when God saves us he makes us Kingdom builders.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.