06/12/2014 05:58 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2014

What Does God Have Against Eric Cantor?


Here is a small bit of unsolicited counsel for David Brat, who pulled off the most surprising primary election upset in recent history when he defeated the majority leader of the House of Representatives: be careful about claiming an endorsement from God. I say this as a person of faith who has seen the positive and healing role religion can play in people's lives. And I say it as someone distressed at repeatedly seeing my faith reduced to political calculation.

Mr. Brat, a Master of Divinity recipient from Princeton Theological Seminary, cited God as the cause of the "miracle" of his unexpected election -- "God working through people," Brat said.

Recent history, however, provides a cautionary warning about candidates citing God as a divine political kingmaker, summoning them to run for election.

Looking at the candidates who most recently "accepted" God's endorsement, most of them have lost. Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachman all came up short in their bids for president in 2012. In the end, Mitt Romney, the guy who mostly played down his faith in the primary, won the Republican nomination.

As political pundits spin their various theories of what happened in this primary election, I find myself musing over the question, "What did God have against Eric Cantor?" If Brat was correct in his belief that God was responsible for his victory -- something I don't think was the case - then what did Cantor do wrong?

There are three possibilities here. Either God is about as good at picking candidates as Eric Cantor's pollster is at predicting outcomes, God was punishing Cantor, or, the more likely possibility, God does not engage in partisan politics. I prefer the latter possibility.

Surely, if God were to punish Cantor for his position on immigration reform, if anything it would be for not doing enough. Some polls indicate that 80% of the electorate in that Virginian congressional district supported immigration reform. And, theologically speaking, God identified "welcoming the stranger" as a hallmark of faith and love. It would not seem fair for God to punish Cantor for his support of immigration reform in Virginia, while rewarding Lindsey Graham's similar position in South Carolina.

On that note, I will end my hypothetical speculations. Here is my point: why do we have so little faith in the dynamics of our democracy that we must assume divine intervention is involved? Can we agree that what happened in Virginia was simply the consequence of voters who preferred someone else over Cantor? That issue merits study, but not the "God talk" themes.

I couple my unrequested counsel to candidate Brat with a plea to all who are interested in the national congressional elections (or any other election for that matter). Please, don't use God as a "political attribute," "a tool for success," or "the mascot for any political party." Our intermingling of personal faith and partisan politics is not helpful to anybody.

My hunch is that God would be pleased if no person or political party tried to manipulate the divine for self-serving purposes. For all of us who believe in God and who want to talk about God's will, priorities and actions, plenty of material cries out for attention. But, it's not about partisan politics; it's about feeding hungry people, strengthening justice, caring for strangers, making peace, demonstrating love, and protecting freedom--issues with a moral value established centuries ago.