Eugene Cho

do you prefer a christian president or not?

Here’s a simple question that I have been asked numerous times in light of the upcoming Presidential election:

Do you prefer a Christian president?

Obviously, we need to reframe that question since I can’t recall a recent candidate for the Presidency without some sort of Protestant or Catholic “faith” background [Romney incl]. Nowadays, when someone says that they’re a Christian, I’m inclined to ask in a tasteful manner, “What kind of Christian?”

Meaning…what does it mean [to you] to be a Christian?  How does one live out their faith in Christ?  Obama and McCain are both Christians but yet, they see some things very differently and we can assume on some level that their faith helps inform their decisions.  Doesn’t it?

So, here’s another question:

Does it matter if the President is Christian or as one person wrote: “But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.”

Being a “Christian” shouldn’t cover for deficiencies and lackings in certain qualities that are absolutely essential for such an intense and high profile leadership position such as the Presidency but I must be too evangelical.  All things equal or close to equal, I’d strongly prefer the President to be a follower of Christ but I know it’s simply not enough.  I care deeply what and who they’re following.  You?

Check out this post about the very same subject by James McPhersonwho’s an occasional commenter on this blog and apparently a political junkie and blogger.  He’s also a professor at Whitworth University.

Despite criticism leveled at John McCain for saying last year that he would prefer that the United States have a Christian president, most Americans apparently agree. Not that it matters much–despite the loons who still maintain that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, no non-Christian has mounted a serious candidacy for decades, other than perhaps Mormon Mitt Romney (a definitional issue too complicated to get into here, but which may cause interesting problems for social conservatives if McCain tabs Romney as his vice presidential nominee–see the arguments here and here).

The mixed emotions among people of faith about Romney’s candidacy point out a significant problem with the “Christian president” theme. Even those who prefer a Christian leader don’t agree is about what kind of Christian president they want. Should he (or she, assuming we’ll someday get there) be in line with John Hagee, Jeremiah Wright, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, the “Jesus for President” folks, or some other version of Christianity?

Should it be someone who believes that even Christian founding fathers intended for a separation of church and state, or someone who believes that those founders intended to create a “Christian nation” (though as religious scholar Stephen J. Stein points out in a recent article in Historically Speaking, “Virtually all Protestant clergy at the time were persuaded that the Antichrist was the pope”–the leader of the same church that now provides conservatives with much of their support (along with five of the nine members of the Supreme Court)?

How does one decide which candidates–or non-candidates–are Christian enough? Heavy conservative contributor Rev. Sun Myung Moon owns the Washington Times, which has become perhaps the best-known conservative newspaper other than the Wall Street Journal. Yet Moon, who also founded the American Family Coalition and calls himself a Christian, also refers to himself and his wife as ”the first couple to have the complete blessing of God, and to be able to bring forth children with no original sin.” Despite Moon’s wacky views, I don’t know of any conservative Christian candidates who refuse his money or who seek to be excluded from the Times.

Like every other regular faculty member at the university in which I teach, I am a Christian. So is one of my best friends, but we disagree on many things. The university president, in his latest quarterly message to alums and friends of the university, lists among 15 things he loves about the school: “An environment in which people who disagree with each other protect each other. I have yet to meet a faculty member on the liberal-conservative continuum who wants to silence his or her counterparts. In fact, faculty and staff members at Whitworth recognize that, ultimately, freedom to disagree provides protection for their ideas.” I can’t think of any faculty member here, though, who would make a good U.S. president.

Many conservatives hated Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, all of whom were “Christian presidents” who expressed their faith more often and more comfortably than conservative heroes Barry Goldwater (who fell short of the presidency, of course) and Ronald Reagan. They generally disliked Roosevelt for his practical application (government intervention) of what he saw as Christian duty, while bashing Carter for failing to apply his own Southern Baptist views strictly enough. The two worst presidents of my lifetime–and the two generally recognized as the most religious–have been Carter and George W. Bush.

One key question is how a president should demonstrate his faith. Jerry Falwell once suggested that preachers should stay out of politics. But one of Bush’s biggest appeals was his willingness to state publicly his belief in Christ. One thing seems certain, however: a president who professes Christian principles and then seriously fails to live up to those principles–to me, Clinton and Bush are obvious examples–ill serves both the nation and his fellow Christians.

In addition, as I suggested yesterdaywith my discussion of the Saddleback Church forum, the nation also is poorly served when it stresses the faith of its president above all else. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted before the forum that Abraham Lincoln would likely fail to measure up to today’s religious standards for presidential candidates (he might also be viewed as too inexperienced and too homely to be a serious candidate, of course).

All else being equal, I’d prefer a Christian president. But if there’s an honest non-Christian candidate who will do more to reduce the budget deficit, produce a workable national health care plan, and keep us out of foolish illegal wars, I say bring on the heathen.

Filed under: politics, religion, , ,

21 Responses

  1. I’d say at that level of responsibility I don’t care how they identify themselves religiously but I care what comes out of their actions. If somebody claimed to be a satanist but removed corruption and increased government transparency then I’d vastly prefer them to someone who claims to be Christian and leads with mediocrity.

    Judge a tree by it’s fruit and all that.

  2. Being religious has very little to do with job competency,…in fact, none at all in my opinion. When I hear the word Christian, I don’t automatically think of an angelic servant of God. I think we’ve all been burnt one too many times to be that ignorant. The question is to get to know the candidate and what he/she stands for…look at his history/record of deeds… weigh his/her pros and cons and vote. Besides, Christians (for the most part) are too fearful of other religions encroaching on their territory/popularity. People, especially more Christians need to pick up a book and understand more of what Islam is all about (for example). Everyone that i’ve met personally have been wonderful people.

    We need to understand the world through human eyes… not (just) christian eyes.

  3. carrotplease says:

    I care more about peoples’ values, actions, and plans, than I do about religious affiliation. Being honest with myself, I would prefer a non-religious person- but recognize that in this country that will probably never happen.

  4. jason says:

    I’ve found what you are getting at to be a frustrating part of pastoring.

    I had someone from church look at me and say, “well, McCain isn’t a Christian and Obama’s a muslim.” I replied, “well, both men have made public confessions of Jesus Christ being their Lord and Savior? What more do you want.” I received a look like, “you don’t actually believe that do you.”

    Now, there are plenty of things that need to be addressed there, but my main point is, different “versions” of Christianity lead to different outwardly lived lives. Most evangelicals would probably like a Mike Huckabees “faith” better than McCain or Obama, but it sends shivers down their spine to think about how he would govern. That’s something to think about, right? I mean, what do you mean when you use Christian as an adjective?

    Anyway, sorry for the rant.

    Jason

  5. Yonas says:

    Speaking as a ‘Christian’ I’d agree with most of Jack’s post. It’s about action and fruits. I use this also in non-political life. Sadly, sharing a ‘faith’ or religion, does not score points with me anymore.

  6. A.Y. Siu says:

    I don’t see from a theological standpoint you can have any basis for saying the president any more than other people should be a Christian.

    Presidents should be judged based on the decisions they make in office, not the religion they belong to.

    And, frankly, most of the presidents haven’t really been committed Christians—only nominal Christians (attend church, use “God is on our side” and “family values” rhetoric).

  7. wavemaker2 says:

    I’m and agnostic and my husband is and athiest.. And as for as I go I really don’t care what they they believe in as far as Religion goes, just as long as they do there Job and keep OUR country safe and do there damn job instead of going to bed with the interns or Media or etc… like Bill Clinton did.. He was a total failure to OUR Nation!! And he disgraced the USA I think pretty damn bad. What a dork wad!! I bet Hillary Clinton tell’s Bill what pant’s to put on in the morning’s tho..And I also believe Religion should be kept out of Politics ALL together.. Religion should be at HOME or ChURCH ONLY.. To us Religion and Politcs are two totally different thing’s… til l8er
    wavemaker2.wordpress.com

  8. James McPherson says:

    Thanks for the mention, Eugene. Incidentally, you may have seen that a couple of days after my post the Pew Forum released results of a survey showing that most Americans–including half of conservative–now think religion and politics should be kept separate: http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=334.

  9. Bethany says:

    There’s a spurious quote from Martin Luther saying that he’d prefer to be ruled by a wise Turk rather than a foolish Christian. Seems like sage advice and very much in the lines of your quotes. Nothing new under the sun…

  10. Aaron says:

    Would I prefer a Christian? Absolutely.

    Would always vote Christian over non-Christian? No.

    I would say define “Christian.” It seems it has been defined on what church candidates go to and what their pastor speaks about… culture has defined “Christian” as almost synonymous with middle class American values. The Church has taught that professes Jesus is their Lord and Savior is a Christian, but often waters down the cost. I could care less about candidates meeting these defintions.

    However, If I felt there was a true disciple of Christ… one who God blessed with wisdom and discernment fitting of a president. I would no doubt vote for this person.

  11. Andrew East says:

    I do not think it matters what religion a president holds. Most major religions share the same common values, perhaps in different ways, but essentially they all have the same ‘morals’ I think the separation of church and state should be more prominent. A candidates religious affiliations should not matter at all, because religion in our government shouldn’t matter at all.

  12. In any job you would be violating the constitutional rights of the individual if you were to ask them their religion. It is no less in the case of a political candidate. There are too many Americans deadset on violating the rights of political candidates by making their religious beliefs an issue. Stick to what a politician is supposed to do: Uphold the constitution and attend to the pragmatic matters of state.

  13. Kate says:

    I’d like to see a small c Christian in there instead of a CHRISTIAN. I’m one of those weird people who wants to see faith in action instead of just words. If being a christian means taking care of the least of our brothers, and not this damn preborn shit either, actual people and less cramming “family values” down my throat they’ll get my vote.

  14. Kacie says:

    Technically? No, I don’t care. BUT I do care that our president is a person of integrity and character. Because I believe that Christianity is true, I believe that a true Christian should be a person of integrity and character, and so maybe I am more likely to trust a Christian.

    However, I don’t think that those values are ONLY within the Christian church, and I also think that one can be a Christian (and a good one) and be a lousy politician and leader. I think a lot of us evangelicals trusted Bush because he was/is like us in our faith, so we trusted him to lead. Some still fully support him, but a great many feel like he failed to lead well, me included. I am reacting against that, and when I first looked into Huckabee I very much liked him, but was was ironically very suspicious of him as a politician simply because he had been a pastor.

    I think we all carry our opinions of the past few years of an evangelical in the White House when we answer this question.

  15. […] president and whether its significant or not for our president to be a Christian.  it is a good blog and i will link it here, for you to check out… as he also references another blog article which is a good read as […]

  16. wavemaker2 says:

    Thank You James McPherson!! I LOVED the Article and I wish ALL could see it..
    Politics and Religion are DIFFERENT!! And DO NOT BELONG together at all… Thank You!! Jame’s… tiil l8er
    wavemaker2.wordpress.com

  17. Tom says:

    Strange thread.

    I would think the passionate conservative Christian folks would have been dominating the discussion.

    Not sure what to make of it.

  18. eugenecho says:

    very strange.

    i think the energetic hyper Christian right gave up on me.

  19. Aaron says:

    If I could add something to my previous post… I believe that God does offers wisdom to his followers… that is the reason I prefer a true follower of God… not simply due to “Christian” values.

  20. Amy and Morris says:

    If a candidate is a true Christian he lives the principles that Christ taught, lived and exemplified: that is honesty, integrity, respect, love or charity, faith, hope, humility, patience, and so forth. Such a Christain candidate would be an awesome choice and one that both Christians and non-Christians could respect and vote for and would be a blessing to all!!

  21. Ty says:

    No one has yet to bring up whether a Christian should even be a politician. Let me state my bias very clearly though, i come from a school of liberation theology.

    If you take the practice of Jesus going and being with the poor seriously, is the political system a way to bring about the kingdom of God? I happen not to think so, even though I come from a school of liberation theology, marxism was an unhealthy distraction.

    I am in no way implying that the political system can’t do good, I just take the quote that “God has been replaced by 50,000 social workers” seriously. Does the political system distract us from the good the individual can do? Do we turn to the government to fix our problems too often (im not talking about roads or bridges), instead of doing something ourselves. Or as one of my friends says “writing a check is the least form of involvement” whether that be taxes or donations.

    As Tolstoy says, “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one things of changing themselves”.

    So should a Christian even be a politician? I’m not sure. I don’t think it should be the first option. Would I prefer a Christian politician? Yes. But Barack Obama’s Christianity is my kind of Christianity. Sarah Palin’s Christianity (believe me, I know, we are from the same town in Alaska) I think is so off base, I have to catch myself from being bigoted about it.

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