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Religion and elections: Who would God pick for president?

By Joe Rinehart, religion columnist

With 2008 being a presidential election year, the media is virtually flooded with campaign ads from John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

While the playing field will soon narrow to the main candidates from each established party, the basic tune that each camp plays will likely remain somewhat similar. Endorsements often pay off handsomely at this stage of the game as each candidate strives to create the kind of momentum with the voting public that will land victory squarely in their respective laps.

Curiously, many politicians at some point will begin using religious language and implying that they have God on their side. Doesn’t that sound like a claim to some secret endorsement?

Claiming this “top endorsement” is really nothing out of the ordinary; musicians often mention God explicitly when accepting an award. Actors during the Academy Awards echo similar sentiments, and the world would not be complete without a television evangelist insisting divine backing when asking for additional contributions to their ministry.

While the validity of some or all of these claims may not ring true, it is something that has the ring of familiarity about it. On the more extreme end, religious zealots of all walks of faith have claimed divine support when justifying clearly ungodly ambitions or actions. In this regard most religious groups have been equal opportunity offenders; it’s easy to get upset about the horrors of 9/11, yet forget about the Crusades during the Middle Ages.

As concerned citizens and/or people of faith, how should one interpret all of these claims, especially in light of the upcoming presidential election in the fall? How would God actually vote, and whose camp would God rally behind? Put more bluntly: Is God a Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Libertarian, Independent, or what? Is there some agreed upon standard in a variety of religious writings that offers some sort of guidance?

Many leaders can quote the Bible, for instance, and have done so throughout the history of the United States. Washington, Lincoln and even more recently, Reagan, Clinton and the Bushes have managed to explicitly mention Scripture in speeches, both pre- and post-election.

The prophet Isaiah, recognized by both Jewish and Christian religious groups, made the right point about this kind of thing when he wrote: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Simply put, the way God thinks, acts and determines value is vastly different than the way human beings do.

For example, attractive and charismatic people can sway the opinion of many people, even if the positions they promote are suspect or, in some cases, completely wrong. God, on the other hand, can see past the exterior of an individual and see the actual thoughts and even the motives of the person. When you add to that the fact that the opinions of human beings can shift substantially over time, it is easy to see that someone who does not change would naturally have a very different set of values.

Clever software companies make billions from their products, yet have to employ patches and bug fixes to repair unanticipated issues. In the same way, political parties and systems are institutions created and invented by flawed human beings, which is why even the best system has many imperfections.

God simply cannot be contained with the limited and finite concepts created by imperfect people, which is a nice way of saying that no political group can ever claim unilateral endorsement and backing by the Most High.

Does that mean God doesn’t care about how we conduct the business of our state and country? Not in the least. The real test of faith is how it interacts and makes a difference in the world we live in, and that the kinds of values our leaders represent match the kinds of priorities that a faith-based life holds true.

The bottom line? God isn’t favoring candidates by party or political affiliation, and any such claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. Those who have a vital faith, however, are called upon by God to act as salt and light — and put flavor and value into the act of selecting future leadership, both locally and nationally.

Federal Way resident and religion columnist Joe Rinehart: jjrinehart@comcast.net.

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