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Friday, December 7, 2007

Religion in Politics

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In the past few weeks, two significant events have transformed the race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. First has been the surge in popularity of Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee into the top tier of candidates. Various polls show him gaining substantially on the party's frontrunners, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Huckabee now appears to have secured a strong second-place ranking in Iowa, where he must score big to have any chance in later primaries. Huckabee, it must be mentioned, is an ordained Baptist minister. He frankly admits that his faith influences his policy decisions.

The second event of consequence was the December 6 speech by Romney at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, in which he answered his critics on the subject of his Mormon beliefs. Essentially, he argued that, while confessing the Mormon creed, he is still a Christian, saying, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind." However, should he be elected, he said, "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. . . . I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law."

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt RomneyHe reminded his listeners of the fact that many of the Founders of this nation were religious men and that they enshrined religious principles into our founding documents. Despite their memberships in various denominations, they were patriots first, fighting for America's well-being. Romney promised that he would strive to follow their example: "A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States." The former Bay State governor cited the example of another politician from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, who "explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President."

In an era of mounting secularism, it is intriguing that religion has become such an integral part of the election debate. Members of the American Civil Liberties Union and other anti-Christian groups—their hopes firmly placed in the more secular Democrat candidates—must be beside themselves in frustration at the resurgence of matters of faith into the national discourse. Should an ordained minister like Huckabee attain the Oval Office, their fears of a fanatical religious takeover of America will reach hysterical proportions: the atheistic version of "the end is near!"

Nevertheless, true Christians should not take this religious turn of events as a sign of American revival. Despite their claims of piety, these two Republican candidates are not knights on white horses to the rescue. Romney, for instance, is a Mitt-come-lately to the conservative cause, having made a number of reversals in his stances on homosexual rights, abortion, and stem-cell research and more recently, on gun-ownership and the environment. His position on illegal immigrants is also seen to be hypocritical, having hired undocumented workers as landscapers at the Governor's Mansion. He is at best a Northeastern moderate running as a conservative.

Arkansas Governor Mike HuckabeeHuckabee is no better. While he tends to agree with social conservatives on abortion and homosexuality, he is extremely soft on illegal immigration, having consistently supported giving benefits to illegals and their children, while opposing restrictions on them. He is also known as a tax-and-spend governor. The conservative Club for Growth writes of him: "His history includes numerous tax hikes, ballooning government spending, and increased regulation." In Arkansas, as Romney did in Massachusetts, he has governed as a moderate at best, though he talks about Jesus a great deal.

As this column has mentioned before, the Church of the Great God is apolitical, which means we do not become involved in the political process. We do not endorse political candidates or parties, nor do we lobby government on political issues. However, we often comment about politics from a biblical point of view because political trends eventually effect societal change. It is the church's job to be society's watchman and warn the people of coming destruction, whether internally or externally generated (Ezekiel 33:1-11). And while it may seem strange that we should caution people about this trend of including religion in politics, it is necessary.

We cannot for a minute discount the decades-long shift toward secularism in our culture, thinking that the tide has been stemmed and reversed at last. Nor can we forget that these men are vying for the nomination to the highest office in the land, the office with the most political power in the whole world—they would say or do anything to make themselves more electable. Finally, we should not diminish the fact that these men need the voting power of the Religious Right to catapult them to the nomination and the Presidency beyond.

Call me skeptical, but these men are playing the "religion card," which they believe may be their ace in the hole. It is an old ploy, using religion to gain temporal power. Our radar should beep like crazy when it appears on the horizon. What they are doing is not far removed from the behavior of the Pharisees in Jesus' day, and He castigated them for their hypocrisy (see Matthew 23). The truth and the true prophets of God were in mortal danger when they held the reins of power (see Matthew 23:13, 15, 27-35). History proves that religion and politics do not often mix well, as one corrupts the other with delusions of power.

It is indeed true that "when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan" (Proverbs 29:2). However, a religious person is not necessarily a righteous person, especially when so much is at stake. Americans would do well to discern the difference.