First, let me begin with two disclaimers. 1. I fully believe there are politicians who are men and women of sincere and authentic faith. 2. I have no ability to judge the faith of another beyond what I see and whether their words and actions are consistent with their professed faith. Even that is shaky.
Back in the '80's we lived in Philadelphia and there was a pastor of one of the larger African American Churches who was elected to the House. He was charismatic. He was bright. e was a good "politician" in that he knew how to work with a variety of people to get things done. He was easily vetted. Everyone expected he would go far, perhaps even to become the first Black president. Then one day he resigned. He said that it was not possible to be a politician and to retain his integrity. He chose his integrity and he resigned.
Again, I don't doubt that there are some people of faith who retain their integrity in the political process, but it clearly is not an easy task. The temptations of power are always present. Doing things the easy way is just easier. Compromises of character are not the same as political compromises but it is easy to confuse the two. As I've been watching Rick Santorum, who presents himself as a man of faith and is often touted as such by the Christian Right, I'm struck that his behavior is not very "Christian." Often, he says things in his campaign speeches that are clearly not true. Yes, that is what politicians do... but it is not what Christians do, at least not real ones. By playing that faith card so prominently, he opens himself to that criticism and calls into question his integrity as a Christian and as a human being.
I'm struck too that the reverse is equally true... when people of faith become overly involved in partisan politics, they too risk losing their integrity. Earlier this week, Franklin Graham was on the television show, Morning Joe, and was asked about the faith of the president. He wouldn't go so far as to deny Obama's Christianity but at the very least he waffled, saying that he couldn't judge the veracity of another's faith. And he clearly does not like Obama's politics. When asked about Santorum, he was sure that he is a Christian. He volunteered the same knowledge regarding Gingrich. When the host stated that Graham was revealing an amazing double standard, Graham responded that Obama seems to be more concerned about the Muslims of the world than the "Christians murdered in the Muslim world." Here's a link to the interview. And here's a response to Graham from Zachary Bailes, an M. Div. student at Wake Forest, on the Associated Baptist Press. I don't follow Graham and so don't know whether he still had any integrity in this area, but if he did, he sure blew it in this interview.
Here's the piece that worries me. I obviously have strong political views (duh!) and even agree with Franklin Graham that my understanding of faith, of who Jesus is, and of his call on my life, must impact my political views. So, how do I avoid losing my integrity? Howdo I keep my faith from being so tied into partisan politics that it becomes co-opted? I try to be honest and to look at the whole picture. I try to be respectful of opinions that I clearly believe are wrong. I try to see the strengths and the failings of my own "side" as well as any other. Still, the risk is real. The best I can say is that I'm trying to retain my integrity as a person of faith while strongly holding opinions regarding important issues.