by Stephen Foster
Now that U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has won the Iowa Straw Poll and Texas Governor Rick Perry has officially entered the Republican nomination race, and according to Gallup, is suddenly the front runner, it is perhaps high time to consider the prospective implications of either a President Bachmann or a President Perry. This from the perspective of those who believe that overtly religious — yet politically ambitious — Americans are prophetically dangerous.
The adjective ‘dangerous’ in this context is admittedly provocative; but it is appropriate to describe these two politicians in provocative terms. Bachmann and Perry certainly have histories of making news in fashions that generate controversy.
This is not to say these two presidential candidates are unique in this regard. There are, and have been, any number of lightning rod political personalities about whom there is no middle ground of opinion. It is to say however, there are no muted ideological tones with either of these two, only bold pastel colors.
Again, some contextual perspective is in order. The prophetic danger we reference relates to an interpretation of Revelation 13, of America as being represented by the beast with lamblike horns; and that an image of the first beast (of that chapter) is formed as religious observance of a day of the week that is legislatively mandated. Some believe that in order for this to occur, the secular governmental authorities will at some point have to be under the effective control of religious individuals and institutions that have fostered such legislation.
Admittedly, this is a Seventh-day Adventist view point; undeniably informed and/or reinforced in large measure by the eschatological exegesis of Ellen G. White in The Great Controversy. Although this is an Adventist perspective and obviously subject to dispute, what is not in much dispute at all is her sweeping historical observation that, “Whenever the church has obtained secular power, she has employed it to punish dissent from her doctrines.”
So, what do these contenders, along with their fellow presidential competitors have to do with prophecy? Maybe nothing, then again, maybe a whole lot; let’s take a look.
Of course, few of us would regard prayer as anything other than the highest privilege afforded to created human beings. The opportunity, as my Dad is fond of saying, “to commune with the Creator of the universe, and address Him as our Father, is practically unimaginable," yet we can do so whenever we want to, without an appointment, and in fact are welcomed to do so “without ceasing. However awesome prayer is in concept, the reality is, it is an activity that is unmistakably and unabashedly religious in nature. Atheists and agnostics may well consider it superstitious — one person’s faith is another person’s superstition.
No matter what faith tradition the majority of America’s founders may have been, we know that in the nation’s founding document they simultaneously provided for the free exercise of religion/superstition, and for separate spheres of civil law and religion/superstition. God is not mentioned once in the U.S. Constitution and the name of Jesus is never invoked.
This was no unintentional oversight. The self-evident truth that, “Whenever the church has obtained secular power, she has employed it to punish dissent from her doctrines,” though not-yet-penned by the not-yet-born Ellen White. This was nonetheless understood by the majority of the founders as they wisely — if not providentially — enshrined protections against this syndrome in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The governor of Texas, as a then-prospective candidate for the presidency, and eventual-prospective front runner for his party’s nomination, co-hosted and led an Evangelical Christian, revival-style, mass prayer and fasting meeting in a stadium, under the auspices of his public office, called ‘The Response.’ This should at least get the attention of those who believe there is wisdom in separating the church from the state.
The potential public policy implications of having the chief executive of the government initiating, sponsoring, and leading a prayer and fasting meeting featuring a specific religion is noteworthy.
Likewise, fellow GOP presidential nomination contender Rep. Michele Bachmann has a history of religiously motivated activism and in fact got her political baptism in her role as an education advisor for the Minnesota Family Institute. This is a ‘pro-family organization’ whose officially stated mission is, “to strengthen the families of Minnesota by advancing biblical principles in the public arena.” The Family Institute holds a Statement of Principles where it outlines, “The Church has primary responsibility for the equipping of believers for their role in society, thus MFC [Minnesota Family Council] is committed to assisting churches in partnership with them to equip and mobilize Christians for Christ-centered political engagement.”
There is little doubt the American people, though heterogeneous, are largely a religious people. The U.S Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life revealed that only 5% of American adults say they do not believe in God (or a universal supernatural spirit). Only a fourth of these individuals go so far as to describe themselves as atheist. So, the natural impulses of the American citizenry tend toward piety; and they are attracted to professions of piety by the political class.
These two members of the political class, have clearly not been reticent about the role of God and religion in the their lives, which is understandable and even laudable to a degree. More to the point, neither have they been reticent about the role God and/or religion should play in the consideration, formulation and implementation of public policy, and this is the point of departure or, the rub.
This is not to say that others in the prospective presidential field are much different in this regard. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) is proudly the so-called ‘values’ champion of moral and cultural issues. According to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, “for social conservatives who is with them on every issue, he might well be the guy…” According to the Santorum campaign’s National Communications Director Hogan Gidley, “the former senator is the only [presidential] candidate who has a record on social moral and cultural issues…, among other things uniquely combining to qualify him among the current GOP presidential hopefuls to take on President Obama in 2012.”
In fairness, it should be noted however that Santorum helped introduce the Workplace Religious Freedom Act in 2005 which “would require employers to make reasonable accommodation for an employee’s religious practice or observance, such as holy days (e.g. 7th-day Sabbath observances),” according to Wikipedia. It should also be noted in this context that this legislation was supported by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In an interview conducted for the Catholic News Agency with Kathryn Jean Lopez, Online editor-at-large with National Review, Mr. Santorum says, “Americans want our leaders to have a reliance on God…we want leaders who understand that faith is essential to the sustenance of democracy, that faith is an agent for good, that it protects the weak and defenseless, that it motives people to confront injustice;” which sounds almost…liberal. He has also said, “I am certainly compelled by my faith to help engage in making this a better country, supporting a culture of life, and confronting the enemies of freedom. Faith and freedom are dependent on one another, and our founders understood this. Freedom was meant for a virtuous people, and virtue is forged out of faith. Without faith, without religion as an active agent in our personal and public life, we will not be able to maintain the freedoms that we have been so uniquely blessed with. The two options to freedom rooted in faith are a spiraling into moral and cultural anarchy, or the replacement of internal restraint with external restraint, which is called totalitarianism.”
He went on to say, “An overwhelming percentage of Americans are religious, and religion matters to their daily lives. I am no different. I’m someone who needs and relies on God. I feel and see his work everywhere around me, every day. And I couldn’t imagine life without him.
I actually believe that Americans want our leaders to have a reliance on God. It shows that they are humble, and understand that they are under a higher authority. And we want leaders who respect religious conviction, not demean it. We want leaders who understand that faith is essential to the sustenance of democracy, that faith is an agent for good, that it protects the weak and defenseless, that it motives people to confront injustice.”
Santorum continued, “Look at all of the great social movements in America over the centuries; most were led by religious leaders. And importantly, it is not just generic faith in God, but the understanding of the world that my Catholicism gives me – the world as it should be, an understanding of human nature and the ordering of our common affairs – that is important to me as a public official. Being religious, and my being consciously Catholic, is something to be proud of.”
As the President does not take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the culture, the term “cultural anarchy” is something that Mr. Santorum — or someone — should define. This is yet something else to consider for those who are concerned with what is next.