For instance, President Obama continues to be demonized as a closet Muslim. The audacity of reaching out to the moderate Islamic community has been seized upon over and over again by political opposition as proof that the president is pro-Muslim and therefore anti-Christian.
And just in case that line of argument fails, critics are quick to point out the president’s long-time membership in the Chicago church where Jeremiah Wright served as pastor. Taped sermons of Wright speaking disparagingly about a white hegemony oppressing a black minority has become in the hands of political operatives President Obama’s position, as well.
So much for the president being taken seriously as a Christian.
Meanwhile, the Republican faithful are having their own problems. Hollywood could not have produced a more convoluted plot.
For example, the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney, is a Mormon — a religion viewed by many evangelicals as a cult rather than an authentic expression of faith.
The plot thickened in Texas this past week as a group of high-powered evangelical leaders convened to endorse conservative Catholic Rick Santorum as their chosen candidate.
Never mind that some evangelicals 50 years ago regarded Catholics as a religious cult rather than an authentic expression of faith.
Former GOP candidate Rick Perry, from Texas, talks about Jesus more than most preachers I know. And Newt Gingrich, raised a Lutheran, converted to Southern Baptists during graduate school and is now a Catholic. He is like the Baskin-Robbins of faith. If you don’t like today’s faith flavor, not to worry, it will soon change.
As a general rule, I have never found political piety to be all that convincing. It’s become just one more thing candidates have to do to prove their viability as candidates. To coin a phrase, there are no unbelievers in political foxholes.
And it’s not even about traditional religious beliefs. It is no longer adequate to simply talk about God in a meaningful way. Voters who have their political antennae tuned to religious wave-lengths will not be satisfied by nods towards mere traditional orthodoxy. Belief in God must manifest itself in a commitment to a series of social issues that have come to serve as the real litmus test of a new orthodoxy.
Candidates can talk all they want about how much they love Jesus. But if that love of Jesus does not lead them to the right side of issues such as homosexual unions, abortion, tax cuts, prayer in school and the Ten Commandments, it won’t matter how often they pray — they won’t have a prayer.
Unfortunately, the real loser in this political contest is the faith community. Trying desperately to be a player in the big game, many people of faith are willing to settle for token recognition about ultimate truths.
Far too often, while groveling over these tidbits of public recognition, the weightier matters of our faith — issues like poverty and violence and racism — are ignored or despised.
I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ is really in the kingdom.”
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.