The Role of Religion in Political Campaigns

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The election of 1800 was the first time in our history that religion was a presidential campaign issue: Federalist newspapers presented the choice of “God--And a religious president” or “Jefferson--And no God” (Ferling, 154). The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion and speech. Candidates are free to speak of their religion; and voters may ask as many religious questions as they please. Voters tend to choose a candidate with a worldview similar to their own, and religion--or lack of religion--is a major ingredient in every worldview; hence, religion always will be a campaign issue. The people are the only proctors of this religious test, and, unfortunately, candidates often approach hypocrisy in search of a good score. Regardless of the candidate’s answers, voters need wisdom to grade the papers of each candidate. 

Do Christian candidates necessarily make good presidents? Ostensibly, we have never had a non-Christian president. In the election of 2000, Al Gore said he decides important questions by asking himself “What would Jesus do?” George W. Bush declared that his favorite philosopher is “Christ, because he changed my heart” (Dionne, 173).

During the election of 1800, Jefferson was accused of infidelity for saying, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” However, Jefferson said, “God, who gave us life, gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God?” John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli declaring “The Government of the United States of America is not…founded on the Christian religion.” But, John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The verdict of Jefferson and Adams is clear: our government is not religious; only people can be religious. Federalists warned Christians that they would have to hide their Bibles if Jefferson were elected (Ferling, 154), but Jefferson stood for “limited [government] powers, no eternal wars, free commerce, and liberty” (Ferling, 127). Jefferson was elected and Americans enjoyed greater liberties, not persecution; many Democratic-Republicans were released from prison with the repeal of the Alien and Sedition Act (Ferling, 110). Roger Williams said, “Christ Jesus never called for the Sword of Steel to help the Sword of the Spirit,” and he believed that non-believers could manage the affairs of state as well as believers (Lambert, 89).
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
Though Christ never called on the sword of steel to help the Sword of the Spirit, the devil has often called on the sword of religion to aid the sword of steel. Machiavelli wrote, “Never was there a promulgator of extraordinary laws in a nation who did not invoke God’s authority.” The twenty fourth point of the Nazi’s “unalterable party program” proclaimed that they stood for positive Christianity. In what Hitler called a “state of order, freedom, and law,” soldiers wore “God with us” on their belt buckles, and true religion was suppressed under a façade of religion. The Nazis did not practice what they preached.     

Many political aspirants have good intentions. Daniel Webster said, “The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” These well intentioned politicians claim to worship God, while advocating an adulterous marriage of Church and State and declaring that “The State is god.” Claiming to separate Church and State, they kick God out of government. Actually, they marry the Church (people) to a new god, State. The Bible says, “God will supply your every need” (King James Version, Php. 4.19). They promise, “The government will supply your every need.” God says, “I am the God that healeth thee” (King James Version, Exod. 15.26). These politicians promise, “The government will supply your health care.” God says, “I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime--until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you.” (New Living Translation, Isa. 46.3-4). They promise, “The government will care for you from cradle to grave.” When we say the government should not take on God’s responsibilities, we do not say that government has no responsibilities; government must implement justice. We must understand that “to tamper with man’s freedom is not only to injure him, to degrade him, it is to change his nature, to render him, in so far as such oppression is exercised, incapable of improvement; it is to strip him of his resemblance to the Creator, to stifle within him the noble breath of life with which he was endowed at his creation” (Bastiat, 534). 
via Flickr
We must elect candidates devoted to defending religious liberty. Benjamin Franklin explained, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Tocqueville said, “[Champions of freedom] should hasten to invoke the aid of religion…without morality, freedom cannot reign, and without faith, there is no basis for morality” (Tocqueville, 12); he also observed, “Only God can be all powerful without danger, because his wisdom and justice are always equal to his power” (Tocqueville, 290). We must preserve economic freedom if we would preserve religious freedom; as Von Mises says, “In a system where there is no [free] market, where the government directs everything, all those other freedoms are illusory, even if they are made into laws and written in Constitutions” (Von Mises, 18). In Revelations, we see that an economic sanction forbidding buying or selling without the mark of the beast greatly injured religious liberty. We would do well to follow Patrick Henry’s advice to “guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches this jewel.”  

My vote last election was not cast because Barack Obama belongs to the United Church of Christ, Romney is a Mormon, Paul is a Baptist, or Santorum and Gingrich are Catholics. I voted for the candidate whom i believe stood firmly for liberty. John Winthrop wrote, “There is a civil and moral liberty…which it is the mission of power itself to protect: this is the liberty to do that which is just and good without fear. This sacred liberty we must defend in all circumstances and, if necessary, risk our life for it.” Winthrop was willing to risk his life to defend liberty; we can, at least, give our votes for liberty. Let’s be trustworthy voters; let’s choose candidates whose lives are sermons*. Let’s choose candidates who practice what they preach.  
*If and when such candidates exist.

Works Cited 
Bastiat, Frederic.
Economic Harmonies. Trans. Boyers, W. Hayden. Ed. De Huszar, George B. Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Economic Education, c1996. Print. 

Dionne, E. J. Jr., eds.
One Electorate under God: a dialogue on religion and American politics. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, c2004. Print.

Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print.  

The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America.
Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c2003. Print. 

The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version. 
Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 1998. Print.
The Holy Bible: New Living Translation.
 Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2007. Print.
Tocqueville, Alexis de.
Democracy in America. Trans. Goldhammer, Arthur. New York: Library of America, 2004. Print.  

U.S. Constitution. First Amendment.  

Von Mises, Ludwig.
Economic Policy, Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow. South Bend, IN: Regnery/Gateway, c1979. Print.