I have no idea whether Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I hope for the best. But I would simply like to highlight the uniquely complex position they have put themselves in by making such explicit statements to that effect so early in their campaigns.
To put the matter bluntly: it will take no less than a miracle for these two to diverge from inherited wisdom, the insistence of their advisers, and the persistent darkness of the human heart, to actually treat one another like Christians during the campaign.
So I think it's worth asking: how does one lead a political campaign, especially against another outspoken Christian, in a God-honoring way? Though candidates often make much of their faith, this is a topic that has not received a great deal of attention (at least if the last 44 elections are representative of our country's general trend).
Let's kick around a few basic ideas.
- While hammering out their differences, and speaking plainly about their own merits, candidates would necessarily have to speak to and about one another lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, patiently, kindly, with goodness, gentleness and healthy portions of faithfulness and self-control. These are the so-called "fruits of the spirit," and any dialogue between two exemplary Christians ought to yield a lot of it.
- While starring in national ad campaigns that promote their own careers, they would have to be careful to rebuke any attempt to make them into some kind of Messiah. There is, after all, only one.
- While putting everything on the line, and making major life sacrifices to work toward the goal of becoming the "leader of the free world," they may not let their greatest treasure reside in Washington. The words of that great political theologian, St. Augustine, ring as true today as ever: "Christ is not valued at all unless he is valued above all."
- Finally, while striving hard to win influence and respect, they would have to prefer obscurity, verbal abuse and the mocking laughter of the nation, to any success won at the cost of the public belittling of their faith.
Yet the question is not whether they greatly complicate the issue. The question is: what truly matters? That is, will one be a Christian who dabbles in politics, or a politician who dabbles in Christianity?
As the campaign rhetoric heats up, and the stakes get higher, each candidate will have to make up his or her mind on that point. Who are they, and what are the priorities which actually define them as people?
A storm of strategizers and campaign managers will do their very best to influence the "what" and the "how" of the decision, and untold millions of dollars will try to make their voices heard as well.
As a pastor, my only advice is: choose carefully; the consequences of the choice will last much longer than a presidential term.