Christians and the presidency: No clear choice

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Several presidential candidates are courting the votes of Christians. Who is the best candidate to promote Christian values?

It depends.

You didn’t want to hear that. You are hoping there’s one candidate that all Christians can rally around.

Christians, however, are not a monolithic voting bloc. We are liberals and conservatives, Protestants and Catholics, blacks and whites. We approach the Bible – and politics – from different perspectives.

Christians can’t even agree on how much we should involve ourselves in politics.

Assuming we should study the candidates and vote in the primaries/caucuses going on now and in the general election in November, here’s an overview of how certain candidates stack up against various Christian viewpoints.

The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer provides an interesting take on six groups of Christians.

Here’s the summary:

Conservative Protestants

This mostly white, mostly evangelical group tends to get most of the attention from reporters on the campaign trail. That’s partly because white evangelicals – especially those in Baptist and non-denominational churches – dominate the GOP. They support traditional marriage between a man and a woman.

This group’s spiritual hero: Evangelist Billy Graham.

Its political icon: Former President Ronald Reagan.

Big issues in 2016: Persecution of Christians, abortion, support of Israel and “religious liberty,” aka opposition to same-sex marriage.

Early White House favorite: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

African-American churchgoers

Black churches – especially Baptist, AME and AME Zion – have been politically active since the early days of the civil rights movement. Equal rights remains a central issue to these voters. Black voters have remained loyal to the Democratic Party.

Spiritual hero: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Political icon: President Barack Obama.

Big issues: Jobs, poverty, voting rights, mass incarceration and “Black Lives Matter” (concerns about police shootings of African-Americans).

Early White House favorite: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Liberal Protestants

Mostly members of mainline denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, United Church of Christ), these Christians subscribe closely to Jesus’ call to aid the poor and shun violence. Traditionally anti-war, they tend to live in urban areas and college towns. They vote Democratic, but their allegiance is more to ideology than party.

Spiritual hero: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a dissident Lutheran minister and theologian who was executed by the Nazis for plotting to kill Hitler.

Political icon: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., an outspoken critic of Wall Street.

Big issues: Economic inequality, LGBT rights, war, climate change, women’s rights, Wall Street greed.

Early White House favorite: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Angry Christians on the right

This mad-as-hell group adheres to Christian beliefs, but is willing to excuse divorces, big egos and flip-flopping on issues if a candidate is charismatic and outspoken and has a plan to bulldoze the Washington establishment. Conservative but also populist, these Christians want a champion who will get tough with immigrants here illegally, out-negotiate other countries on trade deals, and even make it OK again to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

Spiritual hero: Franklin Graham.

Political icon: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Big issues: Immigration, Muslims, guns, trade and “political correctness,” which they define as pressure from liberal elites to muzzle the expression of honest opinion.

Early White House favorite: Businessman Donald Trump.

Liberal Catholics

This group has for years spent much of its energy trying to reform its 2,000-year-old church and promote the Catholic social teaching, which calls for a special emphasis on helping the poor. Now these Catholics have an ally in the Vatican.

Spiritual hero: Pope Francis.

Political icons: The Kennedys.

Big issues: Social justice, poverty, death penalty, gun control, immigration, climate change.

Early White House favorite: Tossup between Clinton and Sanders.

Conservative Catholics

These Catholics are regular church attendees, delight in the ancient church’s rituals and rules, and often participate in pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics. Their equally conservative U.S. bishops have stood tough against same-sex marriage and the birth control provisions in Obamacare. Many are one-issue voters on abortion.

Spiritual hero: Pope John Paul II.

Political icon: Recently deceased U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative Catholic and a strong dissenter in the high court’s decisions to uphold Obamacare and legalize same-sex marriage.

Big issues: Abortion, the Affordable Care Act, same-sex marriage.

Early White House favorite: This group will vote for the GOP, but is up for grabs at a time when two Catholics remain in the Republican field: U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. One non-Catholic candidate many of them also like: Dr. Ben Carson.

An online Christian voting guide likes best two candidates who have dropped out, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul, but gives decent marks to Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.

All the other candidates still running are given the label “Biblically unqualified.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, 64 percent of GOP voters in the Iowa caucus identified themselves as evangelical. Of those voters, Cruz won 37 percent of the evangelical vote, Trump drew 22 percent and Rubio got 21 percent.

The Times agrees that the older, more traditional wing of the evangelical movement sees Cruz as its best chance to promote its Christian values. Cruz opposed drafting women into the Army and called the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage “lawless.”

Rubio appeals to the children of Jerry Falwell’s now-defunct Moral Majority, who aren’t necessarily more liberal or secular than their lineage, but prefer the come-as-you-are inclusivity of today’s cargo-shorts-and-guitar-rock churches.

These younger, more ethnically diverse Christians are just as theologically focused, said Russell Moore, recently named to a Southern Baptists leadership post, but they are skeptical of politicians who “use the gospel as mascot.” They are seeking more authentic expressions of both politics and faith.

For many of them, Rubio’s attempt to tackle immigration reform and his comment that he would attend a friend’s same-sex marriage better reflect their brand of Christian values, Moore said.

Moreover, this group includes many of the non-white evangelicals who are now one of the fastest-growing segments, and whom Republicans most need to reach.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans who call themselves religious have strong feelings about their faith – and the faith of those in the other party, according to a Pew Research Center study conducted in January.

Candidates are viewed as religious by more people in their own party than the opposing party. The biggest partisan gap is seen in views about Hillary Clinton; two-thirds of Democrats say she is “very” or “somewhat” religious, while two-thirds of Republicans say that she is “not too” or “not at all” religious.

Half of Americans (51%) believe religious conservatives have too much control over the GOP, and more than four in 10 (44%) think that liberals who are not religious have too much control over the Democratic Party. Partisans are deeply divided on this question. Two-thirds of Democrats say the GOP has been co-opted by religious conservatives, while most Republicans reject this notion. Conversely, two-thirds of Republicans believe that secular liberals have too much power in the Democratic Party, while two-thirds of Democrats disagree.

Finally, at least one website says Christians should tread lightly in politics.

According to the website, in the New Testament, the apostles never called for believers to demonstrate civil disobedience to protest the Roman Empire’s unjust laws or brutal schemes … (yet) where we have a voice and can elect our leaders, we should exercise that right by voting for those whose views most closely parallel our own.

The church has made a mistake if it thinks that it is the job of politicians to defend, to advance and to guard biblical truths and Christian values. The church’s unique God-given purpose does not lie in political activism. Nowhere in Scripture do we have the directive to spend our energy, our time or our money in governmental affairs.
Believers throughout the ages have lived, and even flourished, under antagonistic, repressive, pagan governments. This was especially true of the first-century believers who, under merciless political regimes, sustained their faith under immense cultural stress. The same holds true for us today.

So, no matter who we elect as president of the United States, we should respect his or her authority. Since Christians cannot agree on what the most important issues are, we should reserve judgment on our leader and let God handle that.

Each of us, as Christians and as United States citizens, must decide for ourselves what issues the president (and Congress, by the way, since the president cannot act alone) should focus on.

I believe each of us should vote. We cannot voice our opinions, pro or con, if we aren’t willing to back up our words with action.

It’s my contention that the United States is not a Christian nation. Should it be? We are ever diversifying, ethnically, religiously and politically. For those of us who believe, God remains in control. Even if we do not see the path we are traveling on.

More than 300 million of us live in this country. We aren’t going to agree on much. How do we handle that?

Perhaps the answer to this question will define us as Christians.


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