Sojourners recently organized a forum for the Democratic presidential candidates focused on faith. The ‘Big 3′ Dems all showed up and answered questions about faith and moral issues; you can find the transcript here. I’m a bit divided on my feelings about the forum, but am a little concerned about the willingness of Christians to throw their praise and hope behind candidates simply because they are talking about faith while running for political office.
After studying political science in college, I came to enjoy the technical aspect of elections – how the campaigns run, the primary season, the advertising strategies, etc. However, I also feel like I’m a bit jaded to the point where I don’t really get excited about candidates or have a great desire to support a particular person or party in office. Reading God’s Politics and hearing Jim Wallis speak gave me a surge of hope for the intersection of faith and politics in America, but I must admit that the more I read and watch the more unexcited I get with Sojourners and other religious groups actively involved in electoral politics.
The fact that God’s Politics sold like wildfire certainly demonstrated that people are interested in the intersection of faith and politics. It brought the issue of faith to the table, and candidates have responded by extending their hands to religious groups and organizations as well as using the language of faith and religion in their campaign platforms.
But, is this really a good thing? They’re politicians. If all the numbers they ran told them that most Americans wanted a president who could climb trees or dunk a basketball, don’t you think that their tactics would change a bit? Can you picture Clinton, Edwards, and Obama all climbing trees at every campaign stop? Don’t you think that it would be a bit ridiculous and disingenuous? I know that’s a silly example, but I think a similar point can be made with the excitement surrounding forums like the one sponsored by Sojourners.
God’s Politics comes out and sells millions of copies, and in the next major election all the candidates are trying to connect with the same demographic who bought the book. Is this a sign that the tides are changing and genuine faith will play a renewed role in public policy affecting the poor and disenfranchised, or is it actually that politicians are being politicians and Evangelical Christians are being sucked right into the political game?
Each major election season the media loves to talk about the target demographic. In 1994, the “Angry White Men” decided the election, in 2000 it was the “soccer moms”, and then in 2002 and 2004 it was the “security moms.” Over the course of the past few elections, increased attention has been paid to the evangelical vote, and it seems like the 2008 election will be no exception. These are the constituents that candidates are being told by their campaign managers to connect with, and they are doing everything they can to do so. Campaigns and candidates are desperate to ride the wave of whatever demographic can push them to victory, and in my opinion, many Christians are quickly and cheaply selling their allegiance to support whichever candidate can most convincingly tell us that they rely on God and pray every night.
I would love to have hope and optimism in the candidates who are ‘talking openly’ about their faith, but I just can’t seem to get excited about this whole thing. I certainly believe that Christians should have a role in influencing government and politicians, but rather than standing behind podiums at campaign stops and shaking the hands of your candidate of choice, shouldn’t it be as a prophetic voice crying out from the wilderness? Hasn’t history proven Christianity and government to be strange bedfellows? Is this election season really any different?
Regardless of your religious or political loyalties, I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue!