Thirteen days (at press time) until the Iowa caucuses when the question everyone is asking in coffeehouses, churches and civic clubs will be answered: Who will win Iowa?
Embedded in the question for Christians is: What will it mean for the future of American Christianity?
On Feb. 1, Republican and Democratic voters in the rural farm-state of Iowa will gather in “town halls” to debate who is the best candidate, to wrangle about state party leaders and to cast ballots for their candidate. The candidate who garners the most ballots wins the caucus.
The Iowa caucus is a colorful, rich American tradition of organizational pull, political arm-twisting and deal-making that offers the media lots of drama.
Unlike Iowa, most states elect candidates in primaries by direct vote. But with Iowa begins the escalating grand American media obsession with presidential elections.
So, who wins Iowa?
Ted Cruz has the best chance on the Republican ledger with Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ledger, based on the data-driven blog on American politics FiveThirtyEight.
“Cruz has a 51 percent chance of winning Iowa when national and state polls as well as endorsements are taken into account. In that forecast, Donald Trump trails Cruz with a 29 percent chance of winning,” reported Politico.
Clinton has a 66 percent chance with Bernie Sanders at 34 percent.
Whoever wins Iowa gets a big bounce. Whoever loses spins the bad news to better news. Then, winners and losers move on the New Hampshire primary.
Republicans are waging a tough campaign for the so-called “God vote.” Democrats aren’t godless, but the “God vote” doesn’t seem to matter much to Democrats unless they’re in a narrow partisan race.
Both possible Iowa winners have their faith passport stamped. Cruz is an outspoken evangelical. Clinton is a modest Methodist.
Whether Cruz or Clinton or another candidate wins the national election, the winner will get to prioritize their values. Christians and faith-based organizations will react to those values – approving or disapproving, eagerly or disappointingly, even angrily.
So, what does the Iowa caucus mean for the future of American Christianity?
It will no doubt generate passion – anxiety or reassurance – about immigration, abortion, gay marriage, poverty, Muslims and other issues about which Christians often talk.
Could it also trigger American Christians to review what Jesus prioritized and how we live into those priorities, those moral principles?
What if it activated a serious consideration of what the Bible teaches about leadership?
Churches need neither sit on the sidelines of the presidential campaign, nor cross the line into partisanship. Churches can leverage the cultural context for substantive discernment about moral priorities on issues and leadership characteristics.
Two rewarding Bible studies are a good starting point for pastors and churches to engage the 2016 presidential campaign experience without congregational division and mission distraction.
One is an online curriculum “Questions Jesus Asked.” Thirteen undated lessons respond to Jesus’ questions as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. They explore ethical issues Jesus raised and show how these same issues relate to our lives today. These lessons help us understand who Jesus is and what demands he places on our discipleship.
The other is another online curriculum “Looking at Leadership.” It examines traits of faithful leaders, actions of failed leaders and knotty experiences for leaders. The study uses accounts from 1 and 2 Kings to explore the lives of people like Solomon, Rehoboam, Jeroboam, Ahab, Elijah, Naaman, Gehazi and Josiah.
These two EthicsDaily.com studies are designed for Sunday school or Wednesday night Bible studies.
They could also provide grade-A fuel for sermons.
Watch the Iowa caucus and future primaries. Vote when it’s our turn. Take advantage of the cultural context for Bible study and moral reflection.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.