Beginning with President Ronald Reagan, Republicans sought a moral high road, courting the Christian vote to eventually claim both the House and the Senate.
The sexual indiscretions of President Clinton seemed to foster a resurgence of interest among many churchgoing Americans, convincing them of the importance of being politically active in order to restore morality to the West Wing.
Whereas many of the political issues dealing with foreign affairs, national security and legislation, are too complicated or time consuming for the average American to follow, having sexual relations with an intern and then lying about it to the America people was easy to understand.
So the idea seemed plausible to many that Americans should seek to elect leaders with more moral fiber, beginning with the president. To many the idea that God’s kingdom could be legislated seemed plausible. If enough Christians voted for enough Christian leaders, who in turn voted for Christian legislation, America could be propped up through the morality of its leaders.
Large numbers of Christian conservatives bought into this simple methodology of electing leaders. Many solid Christian conservative leaders have been elected through this method.
In time, however, many candidates learned the language of the core group. Even if they didn’t have the same heartfelt religious convictions, they knew if they belonged to the same party, held to the party’s conservative platform and used party code words, they’d have a good chance of also getting the Christian vote.
Meanwhile, because of the huge block of votes Christian conservative leaders feel they can deliver, power has been brokered into the hands of select clergy and para-church leaders who have used their positions as much for political posturing as for advancing the gospel, if not more.
The scary part is that these leaders blur the lines between politics and the gospel. When they speak, they seem to speak as if they have THE truth, which is not open to debate. Otherwise one is calling into question God’s agenda.
The reason the issue of separation of church and state has been such a hot topic over the last decade is that those on the outside of this Republican/Religious Right partnership have seen the lines being dangerously erased.
Those who are a part of this partnership explain that the separation of church and state has been used as a wedge to keep religion out of our government unfairly. Thus they see nothing wrong with a fresh interjection of Christianity in government affairs.
It is easy to acknowledge that we need a moral government. To say that all morality ultimately stems from God also is not a hard step.
What is dangerous is to hand the agenda of what’s moral to one group or for one group to believe they are the only ones who have a corner on truth. That was a major sin of the Pharisees.
The fresh wave of moral failures of leaders in Washington indicate that the efforts to return America to its moral center through legislation and most importantly, through the exemplary lives of those whom we have voted for and placed into office, have for the most part failed. It should be clear to all but those who refuse to see that no political party has a corner on morality.
Far too many of our politicians, Republican and Democrat, have demonstrated that there is more interest in self-preservation and party preservation than in the preservation of the ideals and principles that make America great.
Wrong is wrong. It’s time that elected officials worried less about circling the wagons around one of their own and drew a circle around unacceptable behavior, whether that behavior comes from a Democratic president or a Republican congressman.
As disappointed as I am in many past and current political leaders, I am equally disappointed in the clergy who strongly identify themselves with particular candidates and a particular political party but do not stand up to condemn their party’s leaders when they have abused their power, misled the public, and destroyed the trust of the people who placed them in power.
In times like these, the voice of the prophet is needed. No one seems willing to apply for this job.
The clergy who adamantly support candidates and a single political party should have enough backbone to also condemn the same when they contribute to the moral breakdown of the government they were elected to preserve.
The biblical prophet never worried about party loyalties. The prophet was only concerned about loyalty to God and protecting truth. Where have the prophets gone?
Some things should remain unchanged. The American people should continue to demand moral leadership from our governmental leaders. The American people still have power at the voting booth to make changes.
We can and should continue to pray for our leaders, both Democratic and Republican. We should continue to seek legislation that is moral and just. However, we need to forget the notion that one particular group in Washington has a corner on the truth or morality.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.