The Reverend Dr. David Gushee reflected on December 15’s Republican debates for Religion News Service:
In Tuesday night’s GOP presidential debate in Las Vegas, Chris Christie was given a chance to answer a recorded question from a young lady who wanted to know how biblical teaching about caring for orphans aligned with GOP talk about banning all Syrian refugees.
It was a fascinating test for the American political party that so often makes explicit references to Christian faith and values — especially in a debate in which much of the conversation centered on religion, in this case radicalized versions of Islam.
Christie’s response: the protection of Americans must come first, and only when refugees can be vetted to rule out terrorists should they be allowed in the country.
This was, says Gushee, reflective of the entire debate – the Bible belongs in the home and how one lives one’s private life, but not in how one governs. In other words, Christ’s teaching of compassion and love have no place in the public sphere.
This means that the Christian politician must be a religious and ethical dualist, a bifurcated soul. In public life, the Christian politician sets aside biblical teachings. In private life, however, she or he tries to practice them. They apply only to the inner, spiritual, charitable, or religious dimension of life. They do not apply to what the government official does all day, which is to make and execute policy.
Gushee suggests that the candidates avoided addressing two points: admitting “to themselves or their voters that their belief in Jesus does not extend to applying most of his teachings in public life” and explaining “why their bracketing off of biblical teachings from a government’s public responsibility does not apply to other policy matters, such as abortion, marriage, and family law.”
My own view is that any airtight ethical dualism is ruled out by a robust belief in the sovereignty of God over all of life. For Christians it is also ruled out by our belief in Christ as Lord over every aspect of our lives. This means that a Christian government official who takes her faith seriously will constantly be struggling with the tensions between the demands of Jesus and the demands of their office.
Does separation of church and state mean the same thing as separation of faith and governance? Should it?
Photo from ABC News.