Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Texas Faith - Gods' will and the presidency

The fourth Texas Faith blog in the Dallas Morning News can be read here.

Rod Dreher
Note: The answers from panelists will be updated as late entries arrive. Keep checking back with us. -- Ed.

Another week, another political question. It's that time of the year. But inasmuch as there is no such thing as a separation of religion and life, it's not surprising that faith has come up yet again in the presidential campaign. Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin caused some buzz when a video of her asking her church to pray for God's blessing on a pipeline project emerged on the Internet. Similarly, she was filmed once discussing the Iraq War in light of divine providence. Now, there was some controversy over whether or not she prayed for God's blessing for the pipeline, or whether or not she invited God's blessing on it. And it was not exactly clear whether she asked for prayers that God's will would be done in the Iraq war, or whether she asserted that the war was God's will.

The distinctions are important, but that's not what this week's query is about.

Now, some critics of Palin found it unsettling, even offensive, that she would invoke God in this way. The pipeline business seemed to some to be trivial either way, and the war - well, if she was claiming that the war was the will of God, then the grounds for theological objection there are obvious. But defenders of Palin's prayers pointed to the prayer that Barack Obama left in the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, in which he petitioned God to make him an "instrument" of the divine will. How is that different? asked the Palin defenders.

So, with that background, here is this week's question:
If you were the spiritual advisor to the next president, what would you advise him on how to discern and implement God's will in the execution of his duties?

(Answers from our Texas Faith panelists below)

KATIE SHERROD, independent writer and producer, Fort Worth, and progressive Episcopalian laywoman:

In Galatians, Paul tells us a work of the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, and peace while sinful nature is full of hatred, fighting, jealousy, and fits of anger." We are then given a list that sounds like the Karl Rove School of Political Campaigning: "It is interested only in getting ahead. It stirs up trouble. It separates people into their own little groups. It wants what others have."

So a huge first step for whoever is elected would be learning the difference between governing and campaigning.

The most obvious danger for anyone seeking to "do God's will" is that of confusing God's will for her or his own. Since humility is not a quality often seen in political leaders in any nation, the danger is even greater for a president seeking to "do God's will" in the execution of his duties. I think American voters are right to be wary of such talk. After all, the men who flew those planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers believed they were doing God's will.

How is one to know? The Gospel of Matthew gives us some excellent guidelines: 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' And conversely, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

So the president could ask the question, "Does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] help the stranger, assist the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick or imprisoned, or does it make their situation worse while helping the most fortunate among us?

Or more simply, "How does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] affect the least of us?"

I fear such behavior in a president would terrify most voters, even the most "Christian."

BOB DEAN, executive director, Dallas Baptist Association:

I would advise the President not to make statements declaring that a certain action or decision is God's Will, but to cultivate a vital personal relationship with God through daily reading of the scripture and prayer.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Through this relationship, God will give wisdom and guidance in making the important decisions as the President.

DEAL HUDSON, president, Morley Publishing Group and director, InsideCatholic.com

First of all, I would not tell the President of the United States "to implement God's will in the execution of his duties." I would tell the president that is the wrong way to look at the relationship of prayer and worship to the job in the Oval Office.

Such an approach to the spirituality of service to country can only lead to egotism and self-deception. It's as if the president should be encouraged to rule the country as God would rule the country, as if any human being could know how God would act each and every day doing anything.

This is a kind of theocentric version of WWJD, which is a more reasonable approach to pastoral counseling for the president, but not one I would indulge either.

I would counsel the president to have a regular prayer life, one that includes his family and a few friends. I would also suggest Scripture reading on a daily basis, especially the Psalms. The president should worship, if possible, with ordinary people, not with the folks who assemble across the street from the White House.

Prayer, worship, spiritual reading, these would put the president's life in the context of a larger narrative than that of the United States. The president needs to think in the context of the beginning and end of life.

I would suggest to the president that he seek to be charitable and just in all things, rather than "implement the will of God." In theological terms, I would suggest a virtue-based approach to the exercise of the president's office rather than any discerning of the divine will on a daily basis.

Heroic attention to acting with love and justice may well bring the presidency as close to the will of God as is humanly possible.
Read all the responses here.


Wormwood's Doxy said...

Great answer, Katie!

What do you think Deal Hudson meant by this:

The president should worship, if possible, with ordinary people, not with the folks who assemble across the street from the White House.

Is that a slam at St. John's, Lafayette Square? Because I've been there, and the parishioners seemed like perfectly ordinary people to me...


Frank Remkiewicz aka “Tree” said...

Where are we going with this sudden emphasis on religion and politics? I am astounded and the continuing dialog on this issue. What happens if we get a president that is Jewish or Islamic or Hindi or take your pick. I have no problem with the individual practicing their religion but please, just not on me. How about servant leadership and leave it at that? See the Robert Greenleaf website. And closet religion and politics is probably worse than open religion and politics.

LKT said...

Apparently you didn't get the memo that you are supposed to draw from the book of Proverbs. What's up with this quoting from Paul? And the gospels???? There was entirely too much scripture in your answer, if you ask me. :-)