What’s going wrong with our politicians?
Sexual scandal has been rampant in our news for the past decade, but it seems like the past few weeks have been exceptionally bizarre. Perhaps that is a reflection of a change in our culture, or perhaps it is just a reflection of our ability to capture and record information. It’s probably a bit of both, but I don’t have the data to really capture my thoughts on that, so that’s not the point of this post.
The point of this post is that, across both sides of the political aisles, we’ve seen politicians come under fire. We all know that it’s wrong. That it shouldn’t be this way. Of course, we know it will never be perfect. There is something wrong with this world and its name is sin (Romans 3:23). That’s why Christians hope for a new and better Earth (Revelation 21). Christians aren’t surprised by the brokenness of men in any political party, because we know that there are no truly good people (e.g., Genesis 6:5). Only a good Savior who, by God’s graciousness, allows us to be agents of His will on this Earth (Ephesians 2:10).
However, we’re also mandated to steward this Earth (Genesis 1:28-30) and take excellent care of the things the Lord has given us until He comes back. So shrugging our shoulders is not an option for a faithful Christian. That means we need to sit down and think about what, if anything, we can do to try to fix these political scandals that only seem to be escalating with each passing year.
Let’s start with a few assumptions that I pray we all share. If you don’t share these assumptions, then I’m pretty confident that’s at least part of the problem.
Premise #1: Scandals are scandalous
You may think that’s a kind of dumb statement, but you’re probably not identifying the right scandal in this situation. Yes, we all are (rightly) scandalized that this kind of behavior is being done by the men (and women) we have elected to govern us. Scandals are also certainly not limited to sexual scandals, and they’re all appalling when done by people we put a measure of trust in.
But why do these scandals surprise us? The human heart is scandalous, especially when separated from the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is absent, then any person will simply find themselves unable to be a consistently positive instrument for God’s will in this life.
Note that I said positive instruments. If God chooses to use a rebellious piece of clay as an object to demonstrate His glory, He is well within His rights to do so (Romans 9:19-23). In fact, we take great comfort that God works for good even in the midst of our evil (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28, etc.) However, we’d certainly hope that our politicians are positive instruments of clay being shaped and molded to govern us and protect us as a people, as governments are supposed to do per Romans 13 and other passages.
But I’d like to suggest something that is, to me at least, an audacious thought. We shouldn’t be surprised that we have morally bankrupt politicians. At least, let’s stop being surprised when so many of us have the current mental frameworks we take towards voting.
That’s right, I’m going to propose the notion that the real scandal here is not the politicians themselves, although they’re less than desirable. But the truly undesirable scandal of our current political structure is how we – referring to Christians – evaluate politicians and help them get elected.
I call out Christians because, honestly, if we can’t figure out how to identify and promote a solid candidate, what on Earth would possess us to think the rest of the world is going to be able to figure it out? Even if we do figure it out, I’m still not sure the world can figure it out, but let’s do some internal housekeeping on our own end to see how that shakes things up.
Premise #2: Authentic Christian faith is ideal in politicians.
We all desire to see authentic, faithful Christians elected, right? We long for those men and women who have an ear and an eye for truth, but also the mercy and compassion for the least among us. Even if you’re not a Christian, I think that if you examine some faithful Christians who have held office you’ll find that they’re generally some of the most excellent politicians we can have (See: Ben Sasse).
This is because authentic, faithful Christian politicians are not only looking to help themselves and people like them, but are interested in the concerns of others (Philippians 2:4) A Christian worldview, because it embraces the truth of Jesus Christ and Scripture (John 14:6, 2 Timothy 3:16), is the worldview most beneficial for societal flourishing. We believe that Christians are uniquely equipped to provide the societal flourishing of all people, regardless if that society is entirely Christian or not. Hint: no society will ever be perfectly Christian. That doesn’t mean we accept the depravity around us, but just that we should not be surprised when it is there. So we as Christians should not be discouraged when we find portions of society that disagree with us. Rather, we should seek to boldly but gently engage with those portions of society, even trying to look after their interests when it does not conflict with God’s Word.
Okay, so hopefully those still reading agree that we want Christians. Opposing worldviews are going to disagree with this, but that’s an entirely separate argument and we don’t have time to cover it in this post. If you disagree with me and are still reading, I hope you can see how authentic, faithful Christians would still make excellent politicians.
What’s the problem with our current framework?
Well, the problem, as I see it, is that we determine if someone is a Christian based on their platform. I’m sure that this is not the only problem. But I think it’s a large part of it.
Here’s an example of how we normally evaluate politicians:
Do they vote against abortion? They’re Christian.
Do they support Biblical definitions of marriage? They’re Christian
Honestly, I don’t even need to list much else than that right now. Due to the fact that Christianity is in great tension with culture over these two things right now, if we knew only those two things about a candidate then most of us would vote for that candidate, especially if they’re opposed by someone who votes unbiblically on those things.
Now, my suggestion is not going to be to vote for people who do vote for unbiblical principles. That will not help either. If you want a society where Down Syndrome babies are targets for extinction, just go along voting for those type of candidates. (Source)
Instead, we need to realize that being a Christian is not quite so mathematical. It’s not a predictable series of inputs that lead to a predictable set of outputs, at least in terms of evaluating a candidate. Otherwise, we’d have to accept that anyone who supports the preservation of the life of babies and traditional marriage is a Christian. If that was the definition of conversion, then entering the kingdom of Christ would be a lot less offensive and much simpler to do than it currently is.
How should we evaluate candidates?
This is the critical question you all came to see how I might answer. How should we start evaluating a candidate to see if they’re Christian? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we start determining if someone is a Christian fit for office? Well, here’s some great places I think we can start.
- First, we probably want our elected officials to meet very similar criteria that our Elders in churches meet. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
I read all of these qualifications and think they all sound like excellent qualifications for someone pursuing public office to exhibit. The only exception I would consider not holding them to is the ability to teach and instruct in the Word of God. We are, after all, not asking them to shepherd and guide churches. Though, given the national prominence of politicians I think someone who can wield the Word of God wisely might be a good qualification that we could debate about a bit. But things like managing their household well, not being a lover of money, not being given over to drunkenness or other addictive elements, and being a one-woman man is a great start.
(Sidenote: I say “one-woman man” just to identify that they are faithful in marriage. I think women can and should be encouraged to hold office assuming they feel this does not cause them to derelict other responsibilities that God has in his good design called women to. I would say the same for men. Both genders have responsibilities within the home and church, and no occupation should ever become so important we fail to uphold those. So public office is gender neutral and assumes that anyone running for it feels able to continue being faithful to Christ in their home and church lives.)
So, if they’ve got sexually bankrupt pasts, that does not mean they’re past God’s grace. No one is beyond God’s grace until they’ve entered death still defiantly rebellious (e.g., Matthew 20:1-16). But it does mean you are probably unfit for a public office. This is why Elders ought to be people of good reputation, even to those outside of the Christian faith. It would have to be an amazing exception for me to even start considering a person for government who has a past of sexual immorality. Again, this can extend to other areas beyond sexual immorality. If the people who ran Enron tried running for government, (I hope) we wouldn’t elect them. Scandals are scandalous. If you don’t believe that there are effects to severe patterns of sin, then you haven’t really read the Bible well. (e.g., Numbers 20:12)
Let me make this clear: we should not want people running our government we wouldn’t want running our churches. If we wouldn’t trust a person to lead a church well, why would you trust them to run a government office?
The hard work of evaluating a candidate’s fitness
Okay, so if you still agree with me, then the hard part becomes that we don’t personally know these candidates. How can you know if they have some secret sexual scandal? That’s a rightfully tough question!
What options do we have then? I’d posit there’s a wealth of information at our disposal.
Instead of evaluating a candidate’s claim to being Christian on what we think they will do, let’s start evaluating them on who they are, or at least who we know them to be to the best of our ability.
Okay, great, you might say. How do we do that? Here’s some of my proposals, especially with the idea in mind that we’d like public officials to look an awful lot like candidates who would be Elders.
- Do they attend church? Alright, that’s a good start. But we’re just scratching the tip of the iceberg.
- Are they members of that church? If you’ve got someone sitting in the back row of a church and never interacting with the church, then they’ve got spiritual maturity to develop. Which leads to…
- Will this church vouch for the spiritual character of this member? If they do, then we’re starting to get closer. But let’s take a few more attempts to get closer to the truth of someone’s character.
- Is this church a church that actually preaches the Gospel? Another dumb question, right? Wrong. Say, for example, a candidate’s “spiritual advisor” is a woman who pastors a church who seems to deny the Trinity and full deity of Jesus Christ and preaches a gospel where Christ is a means of financial gain, then we’ve not only hit red flags – we’ve hit a false Gospel. At this point, any confidence in someone as a Christian hits a serious snag. We’re not condemning them. We can never know someone’s spiritual status. We’re only stating that, to the best of our ability, we do not recognize the fruits of their life as the fruits we would expect to see associated with the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life. Thus, while they may be a believer, we just cannot recognize them as such. You may choose to vote for someone who has committed to a false church, but I think you’re allowing yourself to be deceived if you vote for that person as a Christian candidate.
- Assuming the church is a gospel-centric church, are there men and women who will vouch for the candidate’s spiritual life? What I really mean here is what we find in James 5:16. Does this man or woman have men or women who will actually come forth and vouch and verify that this candidate has been willing to humbly accept instruction and renounce past sin in their life? We don’t necessarily need particulars, although anything offered is certainly helpful in gaining insight to the spiritual landscape of a particular person. Can you imagine how refreshing it would be to have a candidate who up front admits past tendencies of sin so they can be held accountable by all of their constituents who happen to be brothers and sisters in Christ? Imagine a candidate you could actually call about a policy concern and pour into their life spiritually by encouraging them with Scripture suited to their particular needs as a believer. I know that seems like a crazy thought, but Christians believe in some crazy things and this is hardly the craziest of them.
- Will the church vouch for the spiritual gifts that this candidate has employed in their church (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12), and can they attest these gifts have been done in love (1 Corinthians 13)?
There you go! I won’t pretend I’ve outlined an exhaustive set of ways to evaluate a candidate. But the Lord intended us to live in community within a local church (e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25). So let’s make our initial evaluation of a candidate revolve around what church this person is in and whether they are living out a Biblical model of faith that we’d expect a Christian to be living out.
If they are, then we’ve come a long ways! Because a man or woman who is living out essential Christian principles probably is much more likely to avoid sexually illicit scandals. Because it’s one thing to say you’re a Christian. It’s an entirely different thing to submit to the will of God and live out being a Christian within the church.
Not saying we can eliminate them completely. Even great Christians make mistakes, because even great Christians are still struggling against fallen patterns of sin that are hard to resist by the day, hour, and even minute.
However, that’s why I want to know a candidate is plugged into a great church, is being held accountable to church discipline by other Godly men and women, and has employed their gifts powerfully and effectively in love.
If that’s the case, then we can actually take them seriously as a Christian candidate. Doesn’t mean they’re the best Christian candidate, but let’s get some popcorn and start listening to them after we’ve analyzed their life for some very basic, essential fruits we’d expect a Christian to have.
If we don’t want to do the leg work to evaluate them in a more Biblical way, then let’s stop acting shocked that we’ve elected individuals who keep falling into sin’s harmful path.
Here’s a compelling question to leave you with: What if the reason that we are having such a hard time finding Godly men and women to help lead our nation is really because we actually have so few people who are actually good church members to start with?
I actually do believe that there’s some shifts occurring in the church that are leading people back to Godly membership within His body, but we still have a long ways to go. My gut tells me that until we fix the rampancy of spiritually bankrupt churches, we’ll have to endure spiritually bankrupt candidates.
And, truth is, we may have to endure spiritually bankrupt leaders even if the church is doing everything right. I think our brothers and sisters in China, UAE, Zimbabwe, Egypt, etc. would attest to that. So praise God that we place no hope for our spiritual sustenance in a political candidate, but only in the work Jesus Christ did on the cross to redeem us. Perhaps we can turn around our society. Perhaps we can’t. I believe we should toil to attempt to preserve what we have in America, but if we should continue to find a depraved government and society bearing down on us then we shall commit ourselves to follow in the footsteps of Job who knew that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1) for we are spiritual inheritors to a glory that will never fade (Romans 8)!