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Pharisees and Tax Collectors (Part I)


It’ll be a disappointment for the experts, but even though I’m a born-again Christian, Governor Mike Huckabee won’t be getting my vote. I won’t be among the reliable constituency of evangelicals that George W. Bush courted so overtly during his two presidential campaigns and that seems to be the foundation upon which Huckabee is building his own presidential aspirations.

I’m pleased that Governor Mike Huckabee is a professing Christian – my spiritual brother. I might enjoy the chance to sit down with him and discuss the Bible, hear his testimony, and fellowship with him in the name of Christ. But his record as governor of the state of Arkansas doesn’t jibe with what I want in a president. That honor goes to Congressman Ron Paul.

I’m simply not of a mind that thinks that faith-based common ground is all that is required to earn my support come caucus, primary, or election day.

I don’t really care much if a candidate wears his or her religion on their sleeve, and I don’t really care much what a candidate’s religious affiliation may be. Proclamations of a candidate’s deep faith don’t impress me. I take my faith seriously, place great value on my relationship with God, and I’ve been able to exercise my rights as a voting citizen of Massachusetts and the United States with an independent mind. That is, when you come down to it, what Christ meant when he told us to “render unto Ceasar, that which is Caesar’s.”

Do my beliefs influence my political decisions? Absolutely. But evangelical Christianity holds no monopoly on men and women of integrity. To the contrary; all too often, as I look at those who wear the evangelical label, I see too many examples of the hypocrisy Jesus described in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In telling this story, Jesus warns his followers to be aware of religious hypocrisy, in others and themselves. He says that those who try hardest to show their righteousness may have the most to hide, but quiet devotion gives a clearer indication of who we are and the values that guide us. At a time when religious leaders – and political candidates – seem more interested in trading their faith for political gain, that story takes on new meaning.

I take my responsibility as a citizen seriously – as seriously as I take my religion – and I use the Constitution as my standard when deciding how to vote. Identifying myself as a “values voter” and joining with the religious right as a voting bloc is, in my opinion, a grave error of judgment.

I have hope that I am not alone in holding this point of view. Even as I write this column, it seems that in Iowa at least, the evangelical vote is taking that same, thoughtful, approach to the caucus. Newsweek is reporting that Huckabee’s support among evangelical Christians is slipping dramatically, largely due to the fact that Mitt Romney, John McCain, and even the lethargic Fred Thompson have stepped up advertising focused on Huckabee’s conduct as governor. The flock isn’t as sheep-like as everyone supposed.

But as the candidates travel across Iowa and New Hampshire working feverishly to convince voters they hew most faithfully to the beliefs of Ronald W. Reagan, Jesus Christ, or John F. Kennedy, voters – including Christians – should spend more time looking for candidates who can convince them that they are true to themselves.

True political conviction, after all, is difficult to fake over the course of a life spent in public service.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 1:28 PM | Permalink

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