American Politics and a ‘Call from God’

On June 1st the Washington Post posted a discussion thread on its “On Faith” blog that asked its contributors to comment on the relationship between political candidates and their decision to run or not run for office and the allegation that God has either called or not called a particular candidate to that mission. This strikes me as a particularly timely discussion given the ramping-up of political campaigns in anticipation of the 2012 Presidential election. Additionally, more and more potential candidates (particularly those affiliated with the GOP) are talking about God in their speeches. Here is the way the discussion was started:

Several of America’s most prominent potential Republican presidential candidates have recently said that they received divine guidance on the decision of whether or not to run for the nation’s highest office. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced that he will not run for president, calling his decision “a spiritual one.” Huckabee said, “Being president is a job that takes one to the limit of his or her human capacity. For me, to do it apart from the inner confidence that I was undertaking it without God’s full blessing is simply unthinkable.” On the other hand, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R), told Iowa Public Television that she, too, has prayed about the decision and received an answer:”Yes, I’ve had that calling and that tugging on my heart that [running for president] is the right thing to do.” Does God endorse candidates? Is politics a religious vocation?

Now there are already several responses posted online by a variety of Washington Post commentators (to view the discussion go here). Here I will offer some initial responses to the two questions posed by the “On Faith” blog editors, namely “Does God endorse candidates?” and “Is politics a religious vocation?”

I believe that these two questions need to be asked in opposite order, for the question of one’s vocation — the mission, purpose, exercise of divine-given gifts, etc. — must be addressed prior to discussing whether or not God “ordains” (literally sets apart or selects) this or that candidate for political office. So the first thing that must be asked is what is meant by religious vocation.

To ask whether or not political office is a “religious vocation” seems to presume a certain definition (not explicitly identified in the initial discussion thread) about what a “vocation” is and whether or not there are “non-religious vocations” as indicated by the presence of the qualifier “religious.” From my perspective each person has a vocation, by which I mean the invitation to live a certain way in response to the call (the latin: vocare, the etymological source of “vocation”) from God found as the coextensive feature of one’s “True Self.”

Now, some people will certainly critique my use of “True Self” as if I subscribed to a form of quasi-platonism that identified an ideal to which an imperfect iteration of that ideal (namely the “false self”) could aspire. But the notion of True Self I speak of here has to do with the Scotist principle of individuation, popularly called haecceitas, that is radically unique and incommunicable. It is “who we really are” and it is coextensive or really identical with our very existence. It is absolutely unrepeatable. It is who God intended “me” or “you” or “that other person” to be and it is not universal.

I believe that every iteration, then, of vocation is de facto “religious,” because what it means to speak about vocation — at least from a Franciscan perspective — has little to do with what one does and more to do with how one does it. If you live out your life as you are in God’s eyes, you are living out your vocation and certainly there are some who have the gifts, skills, patience, leadership, and so forth to be a political figure. How one exercises that office is a reflection of who that person is as living his or her vocation more than the office (the what) itself.

So to the first question, “does God endorse candidates?” I think the answer is yes.

Now, that will likely upset some people, but we see in Scripture a clear description of which sort of people — politicians, leaders, etc. — God “endorses” (although the word “endorse” is not entirely helpful). God always takes the side of those who work for justice, who speak out for the poor, abused, marginalized and voiceless. God is the one who empowers people to bring good news (literally, the Gospel) to the afflicted and supports the people who speak Truth to power. We call these folks prophets.

There are very few prophets, I would wager, in the American political system. It is not often that we see those who gain the “endorsement” of God. People like Huckabee, Bachmann, Pawlenty, Romney and others who claim divine support for their particular agendas have not exhibited those qualities that we understand to be representative of those who have “God on their side.” Instead, God is invoked to garner the support of the naïve believers who desire only to hear the evocation of their religious tradition (usually some form of Christianity), even of the most vacuous sort.

Do I believe that there are politicians that are “called by God” to serve the world and society? Sure. But I have not seen any yet. And these folks who so easily let the name of God slip into their political rhetoric are in that sense charlatans of the highest order, because a real prophet could never be elected by Republicans (or Democrats for that matter); the real prophet, like so many before, would likely be stoned or crucified instead.

Photos: Stock; Sojourners
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10 Responses to “American Politics and a ‘Call from God’”

  1. matthew Says:

    Excellent post and opinion: You had me going all the way to the second to last paragraph, in which you call out the GOP nom’s and call them charlatans in the last, with only an aside (Democrats). The post was apolitical until this point. I would humbly submit that by saying their (GOP) “divine” guidance is false, goes against the true self theory (which I also fully support, within the context of having formed a right conscience).

    I support your claim that there may be some unintentional blaspheming, or more like some hypocrisy (the man praying in the front for all to see), but it is to the same degree that the other side keeps God in a private box while worshiping the worldly god of the leftist agenda, (i.e. Being pro-choice, redefining marriage, creating a welfare state, etc). I also recognize the social justice issue differences between the two traditional sides and moreover the means to achieve them.

    But, as for me, I will support the person who at least has Faith in God, and is striving to live according to His will, than someone who bends to every political whim or breeze that flows — a puppet for the left.

    The founding fathers did not intent for a society void of God, and nowhere in the Constitution states “separation of Church and State”. We are not France. (Our country was founded upon Judeo-Christian (protestant) beliefs and the main reason for the “no established religion” clause is because of the religious war history of Europe). Therefore a person’s beliefs and values are very much part of who they are a person, and should not be suppressed because they run for office in an attempt to make a better world for us all. This is the true hypocrisy! And, neither should they be bragged about.

    To say that the GOP nom’s are just using God for political points is just little too subjective, and I do not believe any of them have ever claimed to sent by God, or be a prophet, unlike the attitude of the current regime (or at least the media false portrayal thereof.)

    • Hi Matthew, Thanks for your comment. I name the GOP folks because they are both the impetus for the Washington Post’s discussion and they are the ones who have explicitly named God as the source (and at times supporter) of their respective campaigns. I’ve yet to hear Obama (the Dem nominee) say that his running is a divine call.

      As for your comment about voting for the candidate who says he or she believes in God, this phenomenon is precisely what I am responding to in this post. I don’t think that a person’s alleged religious convictions should be the (or perhaps even “a”) determining factor. I’d be happy to vote for an avowed atheist presidential candidate provided that person’s policies and aptitude for the office align with “my” faith convictions. The issue here is the voter’s faith, not the candidates. I am reminded of the Gospel parable of the two sons who are asked by the father to go work in the field. Who is the righteous son? The one who “says” he will and doesn’t (perhaps many of these God-invoking politicians) or the one who “Says” he won’t and does (perhaps the hypothetical atheist candidate I propose)?

      The only other thing I would add in response to your comment is that you say we were “founded upon Judeo-Christian (protestant) beliefs)” and that is not historically accurate.

  2. george bouchey Says:

    The political call is a vocation. However, now a days, regardless of political party, the calling for most seems to be narcisstic or self serving. Fortunately there are a few who seem to want to do the “right thing” and for them we should thank God.

    Any politician who claims to be motivated by God’s calling is suspect in my mind, and probably will not get my vote. I have found Religion and Politics to be a toxic cocktail! I tend to vote for those who seem to want to protect the pocket books of those with slim pocket books! There are far to many in our political system that seem to have a preferential for increasing the wealth of the rich and powerful and decreasing the wealth of those who are not rich and powerful. All of us would do the majority of people in the USA a favor if we voted for politicians who actually speak up and do something to make the condition of the poor a better one.
    george bouchey – Evening Div ’76

    ps: Dan, this white on black and small print is dammably difficult to work with – would you consider changing it?

    • Br. Dan,

      Since non-violence is such a big part of your blogging, the abortion issue seems to me to make-or-break a candidate, right?

      • Hi Jared,

        No. According the USCCB in their guide to Catholic voters in 2006 and 2008 editions, titled, “Faithful Citizenship,” it is clear that we are not a one-issue electorate. The abortion position is important, but so is war, the economy, international relations, domestic violence, preferential option for the poor and the like. Abortion is not a make-or-break issue.

      • george bouchey Says:

        Using abortion as as issue is a waste of your vote. Abortion is a constitutional right and is always going to be legal in some form. Neither political party has ever done any thing to permnanently reduce the ability to abort, because they can’t. The Supreme Court has a Catholic majority, but don’t hold your breath – they are not going to reverse the Doe/Roe decisions. Don’t waste your vote on empty promises, because legislators can not reverse Supreme Court decisions. Only the Supremes or a Constitutional Amendment can do that.
        Vote a preferential for the poor ticket. If it raises the ‘boats’ of the poor, it will also raise the boats of the rich.

      • Brother Dan,

        Could you help me understand your interpretation of this text from the same article that you directed me towards? I believe I have a different understanding than you do on this document, so I would appreciate your thoughts.

        “Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf
        of human rights—for example, the right to health, to home,
        to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right
        to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition
        for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum
        determination. (Christifideles Laici, no. 38)”

      • I also meant to include this quote: “The direct and
        intentional destruction of innocent human life from the moment of conception
        until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must
        always be opposed.3″

    • Thanks for your comments, George. As for the color of the print, it’s pretty well set. But if you subscribe to the blog by email it comes to your email account as black-on-white text. Hope that works better for you! Thanks for following the blog!

  3. Jared, I’m not sure what you are asking about in your two comments. This is the document, the most recent edition from the US Bishops (USCCB) http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/FCStatement.pdf

    Read the WHOLE text, but pay special attention to Nos. 19-39. Note the frequent and explicit reference to the ‘consistent ethic of life’ — Catholics are NOT just about abortion, but all matters of human life and dignity.

    Note especially sections like Nos. 36-37 where the bishops acknowledge that political candidates often ALL are “for” intrinsically evil acts (For example: Republicans for torture, neglect of the poor and marginalized, war; Democrats for access to abortion), it is up to the conscience of the voter, not the idiosyncratic dictates of another to decide the course of votation.

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