The fear of Jesus leading the country

by D.C. Innes

Posted on Monday, January 12, 2015, at 12:40 pm

Mike Huckabee began the new year declaring that he is exploring another run for the White House. His candidacy is unique in that he is not only the former governor of Arkansas but also a Baptist minister. This inspires some with trust but fills others with horror because the country is divided over elected officials who have a serious commitment to religious beliefs.

Ironically, Mario Cuomo died just two days before Huckabee’s announcement. Cuomo is best known not for being a three-term governor of New York or even for his riveting speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. No, he will be remembered for another 1984 speech, the one he delivered at the University of Notre Dame justifying his support for legally protected abortion rights as a Roman Catholic who knows that abortion is morally heinous. Cuomo argued that while personally opposed to abortion he could not force his views on non-Catholics, and that as a public official he had to advocate and enforce laws suitable to a liberal society. In this way he finessed the difficulty of being under the spiritual authority of his church while serving as a political authority over a morally and religiously diverse people.

John F. Kennedy faced the same question when running for president in 1960. Many voters suspected that if Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, became president, the pope would run the country through him. But he defused the controversy, declaring, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic.” In other words, he assured the country that his faith was irrelevant to his conduct as public officeholder.

Unlike Kennedy and Cuomo, Mike Huckabee is serious about bringing his faith to bear on his policymaking decisions, and no doubt Rick Perry, Jeb Bush, and others will follow him. So the old fears reemerge, except among secularists who fear that Jesus will run the country if an openly Christian candidate becomes president.

The problem with the Kennedy-Cuomo stance is that Christianity in not just a private belief; it’s a devotion to the Lord of all of life. When you remember that God is sovereign, that ultimately He put you in office, and that you are ultimately accountable to Him, the private faith/public stance separation evaporates.

And it is precisely because of our democratic politics that Christian political leaders should be open about their faith. Every law embodies some sort of moral universe, and voters are free to advocate one over another, as they inevitably will. In the same way, every candidate for office, like all of us, is a package of life experience, education, technical skill, and moral principles that are inseparably tied to their sources. If people want a God-fearing economist from a broken home, or a doctrinaire libertarian lawyer from a traditional Midwestern family, or a Marxist optometrist with an alcoholic father, that’s what they get, and he or she will legislate accordingly.

It is undemocratic to demand that politicians with religious beliefs, and they alone, deny who they are and how they see life together well lived.

D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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