Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Looking for Mr. Perfect

(no, not the pro wrestler)

So over the weekend Sen John Edwards admitted to having an affair and has been beaten to a pulp by the media. I know, I know, I’m trying to post less about politics, I really am. But the media coverage this story has received makes me wonder what it is that we want from our political leaders? This article from Slate, questions why Americans expect their political leaders to be so virtuous. At the same time I find it amusing to read criticisms on message boards of the current administration that call the president a “crack head” or “alcoholic” but would be quick to defend the president before him despite his adultery and previous marijuana use. So is there a difference between lying to the public (“I did not inhale”) and admitting to past wrongs ("I do not have a perfect record as a youth")?

And why do we expect our political leaders to be paragons of virtue anyway? Isn’t David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) and considered to be Israel’s greatest king a really bad example of how to run a country (and family)? So don’t we set our standards a little high? And does it really matter how “Christian” a candidate is when God is sovereign and establishes all authorities (Romans 13:1)? After all, it wasn’t an Israelite king who allowed Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem while Kings and Chronicles are not shy in describing just how bad the kings of Judah and Israel were. So God is certainly capable of using whoever is in a position of authority, no matter his or her beliefs.

At the same time, we should have some expectation of values. This is why I find the moniker “value voter” funny. We all vote our values. We should. If you value personal freedom above all else you’d vote differently than one who values security and safety more. In America, we live in a representative democracy. What that means is that our political leaders represent the people that voted for them. So it shouldn’t surprise us that leaders have faults, because we do ourselves. The struggle is over what values represent the majority of the people. Once upon a time those values were clearly Judeo-Christian. That is becoming less and less so. Some christians (intentional little c) fight this trend by focusing all their attention and effort on supporting christian candidates or christian platforms. I argue that instead we need to fight this trend by focusing our attention and effort on those whom our leaders represent. Not by telling them who to vote for, but instead encouraging them to truly live the Gospel, to be Public Christians. A lot of our social ills can more effectively be addressed by the lives we live than by the laws our leaders pass. If the 85% of us who claim to be Christian are truly living Christ-like lives, then it doesn’t really matter who sits in the Oval Office or which party controls Congress.

So our response to political scandal should be to question our expectations, trust God, be humble and forgive. But if we did that, this election cycle would be pretty boring wouldn’t it?

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