Thirty days and counting.
Sunday night is the second debate, a town-hall format.
The election is a struggle for many of us, a struggle to decide what to do. At times, I feel like I am trying to “cram a square peg into a round hole” as I take my Christian beliefs and try to figure out how to vote.
If you have read my previous posts, you would know that I would prefer my president to be a Christian but today, let’s examine if that is even a necessary requirement.
The two candidates with the greatest chances of winning have the following faith credentials: Donald Trump’s parents were Presbyterians, and they and their five children attended Marble Collegiate Church in lower Manhattan. Donald Trump has retained a connection to that church in his adult life. He and his first wife, Ivana, were married there in 1977. Though not currently an active member, Donald Trump has stated publicly that he considers Marble Collegiate to be his church.**
Hillary Clinton grew up in a Methodist household; she taught Methodist Sunday school just like her mother, was a member of a Senate prayer group, and regularly attends the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington. Hillary Clinton can be placed in the moderate to liberal wing of American Christianity, but she appears to share a number of attitudes with more conservative American Christians. Clinton’s liberalism is a relative matter: she’s more liberal than many in America, and certainly more liberal than the Christian Right, but she has a long way to go to support truly progressive stances when it comes to religious debates.***
[It should be noted that the Methodist Church is what I call a “big tent” church; some Methodist congregations are conservative and some are liberal. Many are a mix of both conservatism and liberalism.]
It would seem that both candidates are qualified because they meet my requirement.
As far as I know, they are Christians.
But is that requirement necessary for anyone other than me?
I am not alone in my preference for my president to be a religious individual. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January 2016, the survey found that being an atheist is one of the biggest liabilities that a presidential candidate can have. Half of the survey respondents said they would not vote for a candidate who did not believe in God; only six percent said they would vote for a nonbeliever.
But let’s go back to the original “requirement.”
Must a president believe in God?
Constitutionally, the answer is no. It says in Article VI, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office of public trust under the United States.”
However, constitutionality does not matter for many Christians. They seek to vote for a candidate who longs to “do justice, and to love kindness,/and to walk humbly with your Lord” [Micah 6:8].
This need for a Christian leader gets at the heart of the candidate. For who really knows a person’s heart? We infer a person’s heart by their actions but only God knows a person’s heart. In Jeremiah 17:10, it says “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” In I Corinthians 2:11 it says “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
In past presidential elections, labels have been real stumbling blocks. Catholic candidates have been eyed as suspicious, even though the Catholic faith can be seen as strongly connected to Protestantism. Many Protestants feared that President Kennedy would get orders from the Pope. But by 2004 a majority of the U.S. public thought it was improper for the Catholic Church to deny communion to pro-choice politicians like John Kerry (obviously Catholicism has become less of a threat over the years). In the 2008 presidential primaries, there was an attempt to label Barack Obama a Muslim even though he was baptized into Trinity United Church of Christ in south Chicago in 1988. Also in that presidential election many questioned Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, wondering if it met the criteria of being of a Christian denomination.
Indeed actions are all we have as we look for indicators of faith in God. But we must keep in mind that many people will do anything they have to do to get a vote. Words are cheap as Adam Hamilton cites that even Adolph Hitler sprinkled references to God and to Christianity in his speeches and all would agree that Hitler’s version of Christianity was far from what most of us would embrace. Does a candidate pray? Do they read and know the Bible? Do they worship regularly? Are they seeking to live a life worthy of their Christian calling? “Do they know God with their minds, love God with their hearts, and serve God with their hands? And do candidates exhibit, in any way, the fruit of the Spirit?” [Adam Hamilton, 213]****
Constitutionally, it may not be a requirement for our president to profess belief in God but for many, it seems important.
Remember, the constitution’s prohibition of a religious test is real but it does not hinder individual voters from taking a candidate’s religious beliefs into account when making a decision about who they are going to vote for.
Should we try to apply our personal faith standards? It is hard. We don’t know the heart.
But we must try anyway.
*Recent events with one candidate’s campaign have delayed this post.
**for a more detailed explanation of Donald Trump’s religious background see “Donald Trump’s Religious Background and the 2016 Presidential Election” written by David Stebenne
***for a more detailed explanation of Hillary Clinton’s religious background see “Hillary Clinton’s Religious Background & Beliefs: What Does Clinton Believe?” written by Austin Cline
****from Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White