Today's Washington Post Online reports on a Southern Baptist prayer campaign and get-out-the-vote effort designed to get more Christians to the polls and more "godly Christians" elected to office. Read the full article here. From the article:
the election of more "godly Christians," for God to "help churches find
ways to help Christians get to the polls" and for public officials to
be protected "from the attacks of Satan." . . .
"Our vision statement is an American society that affirms and practices
Judeo-Christian values rooted in biblical authority," [The Rev. Richard Land, Director of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission] said.
"America will be better off if people who are voting are seeking God's
A few brief critiques. As my three loyal readers know, I'm an avid advocate for the separation of church and state. The problem I see with this campaign is not that it involves Christians praying for government leaders – that's something we Lutherans do every week in our Prayers of the Church – but that it seeks to help Christians vote and to elect "godly Christians" to office. Their whole campaign is predicated upon the wrong belief that if the government is chosen and run by Christians, our nation will be better off. Its a move toward theocracy, and its (unintentional?) consequence is to devalue the role of non-Christians in society and in government. In a pluralist society, in a theological anthropology that acknowledges the sinfulness of humans (even the sinfulness of "godly Christians"), and in a faith perspective that teaches Christians to honor and love our neighbor, a narrow Christian-focused prayer and voting campaign is very dangerous.
We Lutherans are inheritors of a Two Kingdoms theology that teaches that God works both in the Kingdom of the World and in the Kingdom of God. Luther (ineloquently, to our modern ears) stated that he would rather be governed by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian. That is, the faith of the leader is much less relevant than the leader's ability to govern with integrity and wisdom.
Of course, the idea that Christians would promote a "Christian" government is alien to the New Testament. Since its earliest days and for more than three hundred years, Christianity was a minority religion that suffered alienation (at best) and persecution (at worst). It is a religion whose central defining moment is the brutal state-sponsored execution of a rejected religious leader. Martyrdom was a common experience for the early Christians.
Yet in the midst of such pressure, the early Christians taught respect for the (non-Christian) governing authorities. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:17 to "honor the emperor." And of course Jesus taught that we should give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's (Matthew 21:22). These passages promote a respectful approach toward a government in which Christians neither have nor seek a privileged place. This stands in contrast to the faith-based, power-grab kind of divisive religious politics that too many on the Right practice today.
Another critique of this prayer/voting campaign: do Jews ever speak of "Judeo-Christian" values? I've only ever heard Christians (conservative Christians, at that) use this term, and I wonder if it represents an attempt by majority Christians to claim a broader mandate for their narrow social agenda. By using the term "Judeo-Christian" conservative Christians imply that their social agenda is in keeping with the Jewish people today and with the Jewish tradition spanning several thousand years. This seems terribly arrogant, if not worse.