Recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was asked about whether he thought President Obama was a Christian. His response was, “I don’t know.” Later his spokesperson stated that of course Governor Walker believed the President was a Christian. Governor Walker was asked this question primarily because he is a strong contender for the Republican nomination for the 2016 Presidential election. In a related story, Governor Walker spoke at a religious broadcasting event. There he confessed that he was still considering whether or not to run for President. He said, “I’m still trying to decipher if this is God’s calling. You’ve got to be crazy to want to be President of the United States. You’ve got to be crazy. To look at what it does to a person and a family, you’ve got to be crazy. But you should only do it if you feel that God’s called you to get in there and make a difference. We’re still trying to decide, and we’re going to ask for your prayers in that regard.”
Not surprisingly, Walker’s comments were mocked by some in the media. Taegan Goddard offered in a tweet “Gov. Scott Walker’s office was unable to provide any transcripts of his conversations with God.” He later apologized if his mockery offended anyone. You can read more on this story here.
You may think from the first couple of paragraphs that I’m being overly political and celebrating a candidate. I’m not. Personally, I’m frustrated at how much the political and religious atmosphere in our nation has changed from its inception. Our founding fathers invoked divine guidance throughout the War for Independence and the early years of our national government. The first President of our United States was George Washington, and he was a man of prayer. Other Presidents like John Adams had a greater grasp of tenuous theological issues than some pastors and theologians in contemporary pulpits.
In today’s political climate having faith is considered appropriate, but allowing it to influence one’s public or political decisions is off limits. My point is this—we are not actually able to separate our public persona from our private beliefs. It is folly (a folly born from the latter part of the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment Era) to think that one can hold a public philosophy in discord from his private belief and remain consistent. I’ve touched on this topic before here and here.
Governor Walker and President Obama are political figures. I believe they should be asked questions and challenged on public policy. I do not believe their religious views (or that of any politician for that matter) should be off limits. I think the religious views of our leaders matter greatly. Some in public office or the media may disagree and think a politician’s religion should remain private as a matter of the separation of church and state. While I’ll leave the bulk of that argument for another blog, the separation of church and state was intended not to keep one’s religious life out of their public policy, but rather to keep the state out of religion. To attempt the political gymnastics of separating one’s religious views from his public policy is political gamesmanship at best. At worst, it actually reveals the politician to be disingenuous. How can someone believe something privately (their religious view) and support another position altogether publicly (their political view) and remain consistent? The short answer is that they can’t. But politicians do so all the time.
Now, President Obama claims to be a Christian. Governor Walker said he believed a presidential run requires a calling from God. Should those positions be mocked? No. Can they be questioned? Sure, and they should be. Justin Taylor addresses these questions as well as President Obama’s Christianity here. It is possible that either of the politicians above were pandering in order to gain influence. It is also possible their religious views form a strong basis for their public policies. Time will tell. But until then, we should not think a politician’s private views don’t influence their political ones. I for one would like to see a more consistent political arena where the faux divide between one’s private beliefs and public policy does not exist.
Let me offer a final word of commendation regarding today’s political climate. Politics is a passionate business and can heat up discussions rather quickly. I believe having candid and even passionate conversations regarding politics is appropriate. But I echo Mark Altrogge here when he challenges Christians to be respectful of the President in our conversations. Of course the same advice applies when talking about candidates on the other end of the political spectrum. Let’s have probing questions, political debate, differing opinions, but let’s do so seasoned with a godly respect for authorities and a genuine pursuit of the truth.