Some polls have indicated that retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has opened up a lead in Iowa. In related news, recently Donald Trump decided to attack Carson over his faith, highlighting that he is a Seventh Day Adventist and thus questioning if Seventh Day Adventists are actually Christians.
It is true that some people consider Seventh Day Adventists to be a cult and thus not “true” Christianity. Part of this opinion stems from the early days of the church when William Miller incorrectly predicted the end of the world in 1844. In addition, they have several doctrines, such as the keeping of the traditional Jewish Sabbath, that set them apart from other groups.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, declares that he is a Presbyterian. However, church records indicate that his involvement with that group is limited.
These attacks are nothing new. For example, in 2012, some people attacked Barack Obama for being a secret Muslim. Others derided Mitt Romney for being a Mormon. Given their unique theological beliefs, there are many who don’t consider the Latter Days Saints to be Christian. One of my friends declared that it is “better to vote for a Mormon than a Muslim.” However, that issue is a topic for another day.
Back in 1960, the same fears were voiced against Jack Kennedy, with worries that given he was a Catholic, he would be an agent of the Pope. Switching to more local politicians, given the religious makeup of the 6th district of Virginia, I’m surprised that no one has made a campaign issue of Representative Bob Goodlatte’s faith, given that he is a Christian Scientist, which again some people think isn’t real Christianity. Even Ben Carson recently weighed in on the subject of religion declaring that a Muslim should not be president.
Personally, I think these kind of attacks miss the point. Last I checked, we are looking to elect a president, not a pastor or priest. We are looking for someone to save our nation, not save our souls. The government and the church aren’t directly tied together and I think it would be very problematic for our faith if the government decided to get any more involved in religious matters. They have done enough damage already! The simple truth is that we have a wide variety of religious beliefs in this country and if we all decided to elect politicians who shared our theological viewpoints it would be impossible. And yet some people (typically those on the right side of the political spectrum) try to make this matter a central issue.
Yes, religious faith is an important part of a person’s character, but what church, synagogue, mosque, or temple he or she chooses to be a part of, if any, does not necessarily indicate the depth or quality of his or her faith. After all, there are plenty of so-called Christians who don’t practice what they supposedly believe. As the book of James says:
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:20-26 NLT
So, don’t simply judge anyone, whether he is a candidate for political office or not, based upon stated religious affiliation. Remember that some practice what they believe while others don’t. After all, “You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16 NLT. A rosebush may look nice, but it is full of thorns and doesn’t provide much for useful consumption.
Therefore, instead of picking politicians based upon church membership, it is far better to ask yourself which of these candidates share my political views and which do I trust to honor his or her word. Ben Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist. Good for him. But where does he stand on the issues that matter most to you and me?