God Knows How to Pick 'Em
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 12:28:29 AM EST
In the run up to elections at all levels, candidates or their proxies often say that God called them to run.  But if experience is any guide, pols should be wary if they get the call from on high.  They might consider the line from the Biblical book of Matthew, "Many are called, but few are chosen."

This year, we have no less than four God-called GOP candidates for president,  former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), (Mrs. Perry agrees) and now Herman Cain. So far.

Journalist Bill Berkowitz published a widely reprinted article a few months ago that discussed the matter of God calling pols to run for office.  I told him at the time:  
"Politicians and operatives claiming that God spoke to them is as old as the hills," Frederick Clarkson, author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy" told BuzzFlash.  "Whether said in earnest or as a matter of crass pandering, when people say such things, they should be viewed with extreme skepticism. Not so much to question whether or not God spoke to them, but because they were so unwise as to say so."

Let me expand on this point in light of Cain's revelation.  

Much is implied when they make statements invoking a divine call to run for office. The inference is that they somehow embody God's politics.  That their policy ideas are God's policy ideas.  That they are God's chosen pol. That they have God's endorsement.  

While it is hard to top an endorsement from God, what if God has, as seems to be the case this time, several candidates in the same race?   Maybe they were mistaken. Or perhaps God was up to something else.  

Perhaps God wanted people to see the shameless way that pols invoke his name. Perhaps God wanted treat us to some spectacular displays of political sleazebaggery in the way pols will use and abuse God to achieve vainglorious ends.  Perhaps God wanted us all to see the difference between people who honestly aspire to public service and those who are all about egotism and extreme vanity.  (If that was God's intention, Herman Cain was a great pick!)  

Cain and his GOP colleagues forget or ignore the fact that we live in a pluralist society in which as a matter of constitutional authority, plus more than two centuries of legal development, and a profound matter of cultural ethos, we are equal as citizens.  This reality stays the same whatever our religious or non-religious views may be, whether we change our minds and how often we might do so.  As we have seen, faith-based political appeals can lead to some pretty spectacular cases of religious bigotry as well as outrageous pandering that undermines the civic and religious integrity of anyone who engages in, encourages, or otherwise supports such behavior.

Evangelical scholar David Gushee recently called on fellow evangelicals to recognize and end this problem which he sees as inherently corrupting of both Christianity and American politics.  He writes:

Republican presidential candidate can be counted on to turn out for the Values Voter Summit, [sponsored by several Christian Right organizations] perhaps our current best symbol of everything that's wrong with evangelical politics, the old formula of support in exchange for access appears alive and well.

What's the impact?

This version of Christian politics is inherently corrupting to Christian faith, ethics and witness.  It encourages politicians to take God's name in vain, and to do so routinely.  (That would be a violation of the Ten Commandments, if Christians still cared about such things.) It tempts church leaders to abuse their offices and abandon their core vocations as they entangle themselves with politics.  It confuses the message of Christianity with that of the politician of the moment.  It damages the moral witness of Christians in culture. It makes it harder for millions to even consider the claims of historic Christian faith.  It drives many away from God altogether.

That's what advocates of church state separation, especially Baptists, have been saying since before the Constitution was written.  I told Berkowitz:  

"When the framers of the Constitution barred religious oaths and other 'tests' for public office (in Article 6), they were responding in part to the age old opportunism of politicians.

"The framers were wise enough to recognize and address the fact that pols don't necessarily mean everything that they say, and that many will say whatever is necessary to accomplish their ends.  So when we hear contemporary pols and their employees claim that God made them do it, we might ask ourselves whether they are really any more credible than pols who in other contexts say that Satan made them do it."

...to hear almost 1/2 of the Republican pres. candidates invoke God as a endorser, and not consider if 1 or 2 might not be telling the truth? Even in the alternate reality of am Talk Radio, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck-fueled echo chambers, are there no religious right leaders willing to say something about the crass lying; not one?

Man, talk about being in lockstep...

by trog69 on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:08:34 PM EST
maybe God spoke to all four of them to see how they would handle it.  And how we would handle it.

It could be one of the great tests of all time to see how we all handle it.  Wouldn't it be interesting to have this come up at a GOP candidates forum?    

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:23:58 PM EST

we were given for the pluralities was that "many are called, few are chosen". bible is full of unnamed and unknown faithful who never rose to the level of greatness, or historical worthiness anyway. this article gives a "good mocking to" the "voir dire" practices of the republican party. paraphrasing mika on morning joe i'd agree; "it is time for the clowns to leave the stage and go sell their books elsewhere"....

by robertbentham on Wed Nov 16, 2011 at 09:08:40 AM EST

Cain and his GOP colleagues forget or ignore the fact that we live in a pluralist society in which as a matter of constitutional authority, plus more than two centuries of legal development, and a profound matter of cultural ethos, we are equal as citizens. Unfortunately they are of the mind that most of us aren't citizens, at least the way you and I see it. They prefer a hierarchy with them at the top. Very Platonic in their out look. They actually liked the idea that only a small percentage of Americans in the 1770's had the vote. Others of them liked it in the 1600's when the followers of god ruled. Either way those who follow the idea of might makes right, and the rich are blessed and if you are not then you aren't blessed want to take control again. So that their extremest agenda can be forced upon us. They tried and failed when the voters of states like Ohio and Mississippi overruled them concerning personhood for zygotes and limiting Unions and restricting voters. The only way they can get their way is to take over and force the rest of us. Hope that never happens.

by Nightgaunt on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 05:08:01 PM EST

"If God convinced Cain, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum to run for president, that's the most conclusive proof I've seen that God is a Democrat!"

by Rachel Tabachnick on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 05:53:15 PM EST
With this zinger, "If God is that indecisive, he's probably for Mitt Romney" Still I think once charges of sexual harassment come up, you've somewhat lost the mandate of heaven.

by Hirador on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 08:53:35 PM EST

Well, they all say that God told them to run for office, but he didn't tell any of them that He had picked them out to win, like a horse in the Derby.  And there is that old saying: "pride goeth before a fall".  If the Republicans win the election, at least of three of these jokers will fall.

Jim of Olym

by rdrjames on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 06:38:19 PM EST

PS Reminds me of an old book: The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.  Three chronic mental patients in the state hospital there all claimed to be Jesus christ. It was an inspired idea of a psychiatrist to put them in a room together and let them argue it out... I can' remember if any of the guys caved in.

by rdrjames on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 06:42:19 PM EST

The devil made them say God told them to run for office.  

Re:  "So when we hear contemporary pols and their employees claim that God made them do it, we might ask ourselves whether they are really any more credible than pols who in other contexts say that Satan made them do it."

That's the obvious connection, right?

by Raksha on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:18:50 PM EST

Someone ought to ask these candidates about this.

Are you God's candidate for president?  How do you account for the fact that God has encouraged several others to run as well?

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:32:53 PM EST

that God endorses free-market competition.

Re "Are you God's candidate for president?  How do you account for the fact that God has encouraged several others to run as well?"

At least that COULD be the reasoning here.  Just a hypothesis, though.

Maybe we need them to demonstrate which one can pull the sword out of the stone?  

Whoops, wrong mythological system.  Sorry about that!

by Raksha on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 02:10:48 PM EST

we should remember that one of the most important influences upon Madison in that gentleman's crafting the First Amendment was Baptist John Leland.  Early American Baptists were well aware of the importance of the separation of church and state.  After all, it was Roger Williams who first established a colony which allowed total freedom of religion, including not believing in God.  Too often Americans in their learning of colonial history are given distorted views.  The Puritans in Massachusetts Bay wanted a place for their religion and no others, hanging Quaker Mary Dyer and others for their beliefs, and driving Anne Hutchison out.   Penn's Woods, aka Pennsylvania, required a belief in God.  Maryland's Act of Toleration was only for those who affirmed the Holy Trinity, prescribing death to those who denied it.

What we see in the Southern Baptist Convention today is something very different.  First, we should remember why there is a SOUTHERN convention -  the split over the issue of slavery in the build-up to the  Civil War, separating from Northern Baptists in 1845.  Second, that denomination was taken over by those who were determined to impose a particular interpretation and viewpoint a few decades back.  As a result, a number of prominent Americans who were raised as Southern Baptists have over time left the denomination, most notably former President Jimmy Carter.  Al Gore was baptized in the SBC, but the church he attended growing up was not affiliated with them. Still, he was officially a part of SBC until leaving in 2004.

Anyhow, sorry for the digression.  Thanks for the piece.

by teacherken on Mon Nov 14, 2011 at 05:28:52 AM EST

Facts like these, teacherken, and especially these facts, are essential to our developing the kind of culture and politics that can sustain such democratic basics as a commitment to religious pluralism and separation of church and state.

It can be hard for many of us to get our minds around the idea that Baptists were among the great heroes of democracy and key allies of Jefferson and Madison in pursuing the foundational ideas now under attack by the contemporary Southern Baptist Convention and the wider Religious Right.  

Newbies to this site should know that one of the founders here at Talk to Action was Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott, who fought the rightwing takeover of the SBC and is now a leader in the New Baptist Covenant as well as Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  He blogs at Mainstream Baptist and shows up at Talk to Action from time to time as well.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Nov 14, 2011 at 11:01:52 AM EST

Since many of us are non-believers and the candidates say God spoke to them this means they are hearing voices, therefore the only conclusion to which one must arrive is they are schizophrenic and possibly paranoid.

by JerrySloan on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:44:13 PM EST
that they are lying. Or both.

My point remains that it is unwise at best for candidates to claim that God told them to run. It can and will be taken many different ways, not all of them good.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Nov 13, 2011 at 01:51:20 PM EST

And it needs to be addressed by either the candidates, or the Christian-right leadership they kowtow toward. The fact that so far, none have stepped up should leave Republican "Values" voters wondering just who is being talked to, and who are talked down to.

by trog69 on Mon Nov 14, 2011 at 12:05:59 AM EST

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