Kevin Sartin | Theology Columnist
Political pandering is the name of the game whenever election time draws near. It’s why men who have never worn a pair of blue jeans in their lives suddenly don denim and hard hats and stump for manufacturing jobs in factories they really don’t care about and that they’ll never visit again. It’s why a woman with a long history of trampling women’s rights in the dirt on behalf of her philandering husband can pontificate about protecting women whenever the need arises. And it’s why a man whose previous practice of the Christian faith involved periodically dropping in to be entertained by the heretical preaching of Norman Vincent Peale at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City stood in front of a crowd of about 10,000 people at Liberty University in Lynchburg last week and pitched himself as not only a protector but also a practitioner of biblical Christianity. That man, of course, is Donald Trump. While his reference during that speech to “two” Corinthians (instead of the more commonly used “second”) drew some laughs, Trump is currently in position to laugh last as far as the Christian vote is concerned – pollsters show him with nearly double the support among white evangelical voters than that of his closest competition in that category, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. And even though Donald Trump’s newly-rediscovered faith probably represents the most blatant example of political pandering with regard to Christianity in the 2016 race for the White House, he is hardly alone in the Republican camp in his quest to make himself as appealing as possible to evangelical voters.
Ben Carson, who is of the Seventh Day Adventist faith, has recently shaken up his campaign operations by, among other moves, appointing retired Major Robert F. Dees, an evangelical Christian, as his new campaign chair. Dees immediately focused his efforts on making Carson’s Seventh Day Adventist beliefs more palatable to evangelicals, painting Carson as “a man who believes in mainstream doctrine.” Then there’s Marco Rubio, a practicing Roman Catholic who has reportedly been attending an evangelical church in addition to his Catholic one, and who also employs a Faith Outreach Director responsible for “aggressively reaching out to evangelicals.” The increasingly blurred spiritual lines separating Republican presidential candidates is causing Christian voters some consternation, so many have resorted to looking to their favorite evangelical “celebrities” to help them decide who is worthy of a vote this fall. The bad news is that evangelical celebrities are divided too. Marco Rubio numbers Southern Baptist mega-church pastor Rick Warren and noted evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem among his official “spiritual advisors.” Ted Cruz has Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson in his corner. Ben Carson has yet to garner the big-name evangelical support of his peers, but he recently shared the stage with Kirk Cameron, Dr. David Jeremiah and Dr. James McDonald at a “Revive 714” Christian voters’ rally. And then there’s Donald Trump, riding high after Jerry Falwell Jr. officially endorsed his candidacy following Trump’s Liberty University appearance, an endorsement in which Falwell compared Trump to the late Dr. Jerry Falwell and Jesus Himself. Of course, which (if any) of these prominent evangelicals have actually received some divine direction concerning their choice of candidates will have to, for the time being, remain to be seen.
Though it would probably be unfair to accuse all political candidates who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ of being disingenuous, it is extremely disheartening to think that there are some who would cheapen the glorious truth of the Gospel by reducing it to a means to winning an election. The good news in all of this is that those who are citizens of God’s Kingdom have the luxury of not having to pin their hopes on any man or woman or on any political office or governmental solution. While we can and should pray for our nation and participate in the political process as much as our conscience will allow us to, we have the ultimate assurance that it is God who both “removes kings and establishes kings” according to His will and for His purposes, as Daniel chapter two reminds us. God knows the hearts of every candidate and every voter, and He will continue to work for His glory and for the good of His children, just as He always has.