Nearly every week someone complains that my column is not about “faith matters.” The accusation is that I write more about politics than faith and should therefore call the column “political matters.”

I readily admit that many of my columns deal with political matters. But how in heaven’s name can anyone talk about faith these days and not talk about politics. For example, right now in Iowa a tight race between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee is heating up ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus.

Do you know what the leading issues are going to be? The war? The economy? The environment? Maybe, but getting almost as much attention as anything is the question of which of the two candidates, Romney who is a Mormon or Huckabee who is a Southern Baptist, is most likely to represent conservative Christian values.

How I am supposed to write about that and not get into politics? And how can I not write about it?

Conservative Christian leaders such as James Dobson have openly expressed their dismay about the slate of Republican candidates. None of the front runners has fully engaged evangelicals for a number of reasons. Giuliani is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage. John McCain once called Jerry Falwell an agent of intolerance. Fred Thompson apparently does not know where his church is, and Mitt Romney, well Romney is a Mormon.

Meanwhile Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, has been saying all along that he is the most qualified of all the Republican candidates to represent evangelical values. Sitting at the back of the pack, Huckabee has openly criticized evangelical leaders for ignoring his Christian credentials because they regard him as unelectable. This became crystal clear when Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani. The former mayor of New York’s status as the Republican front runner apparently trumps his lack of support for traditional evangelical concerns.

Meanwhile, back in Iowa: Romney has spent a lot of money in Iowa trying to convince voters that not only is he a true Christian conservative, but also the most qualified to lead a divided country.

But Huckabee, with far less money, is pressing the case that he best represents Christian values because is a Christian. Without saying it in so many words, Huckabee’s campaign is exploiting the reality that many evangelicals do not regard Mormonism as an authentic faith.

And while the U.S. Constitution states that there can be no religious test for political office, voters can elect who they want and for any reason they choose.

So the idea that faith matters and political matters are somehow separate is simply ludicrous. It is impossible for people of faith to even think about politics without getting their faith involved, and vice versa.

But here we must remember the wisdom of Jesus. We are the sheep of God’s fold, but there are wolves out there in sheep’s clothing.

In other words, we must be constantly on guard against politicians manipulating faith for political purposes. Candidates in some places have been able to ride to victory simply by voicing opposition to gay marriage. It is not smart politics to elect those who only tell us what we want to hear.

And as for me, since faith really does matter, I will continue to explore the links between what we believe and how we vote.

James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

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