(*I wrote the following article nearly 12 years ago, yet it’s still applicable today.)
Does anyone remember when Jimmy Carter announced that he was “born again” and created a stir during the 1976 Presidential Campaign? Some say that the Christian community was so desperate for a believer in office that they were the deciding factor in Carter’s win over Gerald Ford. Today, Carter is viewed with more respect than he was as a President. Apparently, being a born again doesn’t necessarily make you one of history’s greatest Presidents.
Now we are swamped with questions like “Does God belong in politics?” When George Bush said during the primaries that he believed in Jesus Christ, you would have thought the Anti-Christ had taken over the East Coast. Today’s media (always claiming to be objective and open minded) blasted his declaration of faith.
Apparently, there is a difference between Bush and Joseph Lieberman, the Jewish Democratic candidate for Vice President. While Hollywood and the liberal media balked at Bush and his faith, many of these same people have applauded Lieberman for standing by his faith. Do I sense a double standard here?
For years, candidates have spoken in churches and no one has screamed for the separation of church and state. The African- American church still holds great influence over its membership when it comes to politics.
In September of 2000, Joseph Lieberman stood in an African-American church and said, “I hope (his candidacy) will enable all people…to talk about their faith and about their religion, and I hope it will reinforce a belief that I feel as strongly as anything else – that there must be a place for faith in America’s public life.” Shortly afterwards, he was rebuked by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’irth, saying his statements were contrary to the First Amendment. This Jewish “watchdog group” attacked one of their own for expressing his convictions – and by the way, exercising freedom of speech.
In that same speech, Lieberman said, “morality cannot be maintained without religion.” The ADL was concerned that atheists might feel inferior, or left out, of the political process. I like what Adrian Rogers said; “Atheists have a holiday; April Fool’s Day. The fool has said in his heart there is no God.”
According to a NEWSWEEK poll, 51% of Americans believe that religion should play a bigger role in public life. Apparently, the majority of Americans believe it is okay for people of faith to come out of the closet.
If you study history objectively – that is, if you don’t make history politically correct or believe in revisionist history – you will see religion and politics together on most of the pages of the American story. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were not all Christians; some were deist, but they did not separate church and state. They only said there shouldn’t be a national religion like the Church of England.
Lieberman is a Jew. John Kennedy was a Catholic (although not a very good one). Religion was an issue in the 1960′s and apparently still is. How about when Lyndon Johnson appealed to Americans to seek “God’s will” regarding the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Act; was he crossing the line? I don’t think so. When Ronald Reagan professed faith in Christ, did that make him incapable of serving the best interest of the country? Martin Marty says, “Those who are shocked by the open discussion of religion by this year’s four national candidates have short memories.”
Kenneth L. Woodward, writing in the September 11, 2000 issue of NEWSWEEK, stated, “Religion has always played an important public role. Not only churches, synagogues and mosques, but hospitals, schools, and other voluntary religious associations have proved indispensable in sustaining civic life and virtue. More important, when religion is denied a voice in public debate – as some strict church-state separationists would have it – democracy itself suffers. The United States is the most religious of Western democracies, and believers who feel excluded from the political process either withdraw or find a way to polarize the parties. Highly secularized and nonreligious Americans are more apt to vote Democrat, and the highly religious Republican.”
Listen to these quotes from the candidates: Al Gore says, “I turn to my faith as the bedrock of my approach to any important question in my life.” Gore favors the separation of church and state. Joseph Lieberman says, “My family adheres to a lot of the…values and the laws that come right out of the Old Testament.” Lieberman voted against school prayer. Ralph Nader says, “When it comes to politics and elections, religion should be a private, separate matter.” In 1994 Nader said he believes there is some “universal force.” George Bush says, “I’ve sought redemption and believe I’ve found it. I get great strength from the Bible.” Bush wants a White House Office of Faith-Based Action. Dick Cheney says, “I also, as a matter of course throughout my career, have not talked a lot about my faith.” Pat Buchanan says, “I believe Jesus Christ was the son of God and I believe Christianity is the true faith.” He wants to make America a “godly nation again.”
Before we jump on any bandwagon, let’s be quick to remember that Bill Clinton is a “born again” Southern Baptist. His actions embarrassed our Lord, his family, his denomination, and his country. My advice would be that even if all the candidates are religious, you need to examine their policies, compare their speeches before different groups, see if – and when – they have backtracked or “changed their views” on issues like abortion, the influence of music and the media, campaign finance reform and other pertinent issues. Most of all, don’t trust the national media to tell you the truth. Do your homework. Find out for yourself.
Who you vote for is your business. Who I vote for is mine. But I’m not going to vote for someone just because they make a statement about God. The Democrats and Republicans will not bring revival to America. That’s the role of the church, not the President. Let’s vote, let’s pray, and let’s remember judgment begins at the house of God, not the White House. I pray our next President has respect for God and will respect and uphold the Judeo-Christian ethic. But if he doesn’t, my King is still on the throne and He still has the last word.
(copyright, Michael Catt)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.