Let’s take a trip back to 2012 for a moment. People have short memories these days, so you may have forgotten (or tried to forget) that for a time the race for the GOP presidential nomination was a fight to see which candidate could come across as the most devout.
But the faith-based wrestling match was not limited to Republicans. Indeed, Democrats came under fire for removing the word “God” from their official platform in 2012 even though it had been present in 2008. Thanks to the backlash, they ended up putting God back in.
Ultimately, none of the candidates who spent a lot of time promoting their faith earned a party nomination, and of course the eventual reelection of President Barack Obama wasn’t driven by his personal religious beliefs.
Now, let’s return to the present. As candidates from both parties begin to ramp up their potential bids for the 2016 presidential election, once again it seems the religious leanings of some candidates will be a major component of their campaigns. But Cal Thomas, an evangelical Christian and prominent conservative columnist who was vice president of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority from 1980-85, said recently that professions of faith by political candidates are essentially meaningless.
“In modern election cycles there has been a presumption among conservative Christians that if a politician goes to church, can quote Scripture, and mentions the name of Jesus, he is more qualified to become president than, say, a circumspect Episcopalian, or even an agnostic or atheist,” Thomas wrote. “The thinking is if ‘one of our own’ gets elected president, his divinely inspired policies will trickle down to your adolescent daughter, who will stop sleeping with her boyfriend.
“Recent history has proved the fallacy of that belief,” Thomas continued. “The moral quality of America did not improve during the two terms of Ronald Reagan, who rarely attended church, or the one term of Jimmy Carter, who did. The moral compass did not point in a different direction during the two terms of George W. Bush, who said in a 2000 presidential debate that his favorite ‘philosopher’ was Jesus.”
Despite his background, Thomas’ stance is actually not a surprise at this point. Although he was once a staunch ally of the Religious Right, his views have moderated over time and he is now critical of pulpit politicking and has debunked the false notion that America was founded to be a “Christian nation.”
Thomas said it’s harmful to Christians when candidates pander to the Religious Right, because Christians become “just one more ‘interest group’ to be placated with a few breadcrumbs tossed at them by politicians seeking their votes.”
He also condemned the professions of faith by politicians as being, essentially, phony.
“What does true faith look like?” Thomas asked. “The apostle James wrote to believers: ‘Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.’ (James 1:27, New Living Translation).”
But, Thomas added, he knows that view may not be practical.
“Unfortunately, politicians can’t raise money on that agenda and the likelihood of one getting elected on such a platform in our day is nil,” he said.
And therein lays the problem. Elections should be about issues, ideas and solutions to problems – not the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But as long as people keep demanding professions of faith from their political figures, and as long as voters keep settling for watered-down religion to quench their thirst for societal morality, nothing will change.
It’s pretty simple: Until our electorate demands better, our leaders will not improve.