The President is not King.
Nor is he dictator. Nor czar, nor emperor, nor CEO.
Yet I’m afraid that many believers go about choosing presidential candidates as if they were all of these.
Christian media is abuzz with discussions regarding the various reasons that we should question supporting each of the presidential candidates. Supporting Mitt Romney means endorsing his quasi-cultic Mormon beliefs. Supporting Newt Gingrich gives a thumbs-up to serial divorce, opportunistic self-interest, and dubious conversion claims. Supporting Herman Cain (no longer in the race) means that we approve of womanizing.
Some refuse to support Rick Santorum because he does not allow for U.S. foreign policy complicity in the 9/11 attacks, and some even because he gave an “unpresidential” head shake at a debate.
Is our thinking that muddled?
If Christ-followers were selecting a king — along the lines of a Saul, a David, a Solomon — then issues of moral character are obviously crucial. Witness the problems that those three kings encountered when they slipped morally. Were we to grant someone kingly authority and power, then we would be wise to demand kingly character.
But we are not selecting a king, and despite what recent presidents seem to think, and despite what media and Congress and pundits would have us to think, the President of the United States is not all-powerful. Ours is a government of the separation of powers: each branch of government serves as a check and balance to the other. As a result, the personal moral failures of a Justice or a Congressman or a President — or the megolomanical machinations of any of the them — does not spell doom for the country.
National destruction would need to be conspiratorial (that is, each of the three branches would need to abdicate its constitutional responsibilities).
So, just how perfect does a presidential candidate need to be? This is not the same question as what advice we should give to candidates who claim the name of Christ, but threaten the witness of the gospel by their political behavior. Prominent Christians advised Herman Cain to exit the race, but if he had not, would that fact alone require those Christians to vote against him in the general election facing Barack Obama?
Since, then, the effect of a candidate’s shortcomings are lessened in our separate-powers government, can believers vote for a tainted candidate? Another way to view whether our standards are appropriate is whether — if faithfully and consistently applied — they would permit us to vote for any of the current slate of candidates, including the current President?
Some who have had no problem eliminating candidates from contention have a much more difficult time promoting any of the others. But why write articles, submit blog posts, and announce to the world on social media why we can’t support Candidate A, when we can’t say who we do support? Would it not be better to discuss, as believers, what principles to use to discern the best candidate given our political system and current need? Otherwise, one views the political landscape and finds that collectively we Christians have effectively eliminated everyone.
If we apply standards haphazardly, or if they leave us with no one to vote for, we should reassess our standards.