Boston University scholar Stephen Prothero thinks evangelicals are putting politics ahead of God. It seems to me he’s mixed up some important categories, not only for evangelicals but for all believing Christians.
What Is Politics?
Politics, the art of working with people effectively to accomplish things together, has never been a pure sort of sport. It is an art involving imperfection. If it often seems like a necessary evil, nevertheless God ordained government (Romans 13), and our democratic form is the best devised so far. All of us who are citizens of democracies are inescapably involved in politics. So how do we navigate the imperfections without letting loose of our principles? Where perfect choices are not to be found, we can only seek to make good ones.
For my money that begins with character. True leadership requires the ability to stay the course regardless of temptations to corruption. Every human is subject to that temptation; unfortunately politicians are so widely known for it that cynicism seems justified more often than not. Nevertheless there are distinctions among politicians: some have more clear and obvious track records than others of deceitfulness and manipulation. I can even lay claim (I think) to having met one or two of that rarest breed, the honest politician. I would of course choose a candidate who seems possibly honest over one who has proved she or he cannot be trusted. It is in any event a matter of choosing among imperfect options.
As for candidates’ religions—the topic of Dr. Prothero’s concern—we are not voting for pastoral leaders but for men and women who will be called on to accomplish public policy agendas. I don’t know why, then, it doesn’t make sense to choose those we think will be most effective in pursuing the best policies, regardless of their religion.
The Integrity of Voting For Less Than Perfection
Still some believers have expressed anxiety over an impossible hope for political purity. Right to life is the most salient issue for which it’s possible to define a “pure” position. Religious belief is another. No candidate could possibly appear perfect on everything that matters to a voter, but usually one is better than another.
God doesn’t demand that we stand on a principle of perfection when we work with people. If he did, then he would be requiring us to be ineffective in working with people. The world he’s placed us in doesn’t work that way. If we are to vote at all, we must vote for imperfect people.
There’s no violation of integrity there. Your vote and mine are not about enumerating all our principles. They’re about accomplishing what we each see as the best possible public policy.