Keep the candidates’ faiths personal

Norris Burkes is a chaplain at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento

“Dad, what will happen to us if you and Mother die?” I once asked my father.

“Your Uncle Bob will raise you,” he said.

The philosophy behind the answer has influenced many choices about life—including how I evaluate political candidates asking for votes in exchange for their confessions of faith.

My father’s answer surprised me, because he was a Bible-toting pastor and Uncle Bob was a beer-toting teacher.

“But Dad,” I said, “Uncle Bob doesn’t go to church.”

“Your uncle may not attend church, but I’m confident he’ll make you go to church,” he said.

My father was certain that his selection of a competent guardian would ensure we would be raised with the faith of our tradition, but he questioned whether a faith-filled guardian equaled a competent parent.

As we prepare for the presidential election, there has been talk about selecting a candidate of faith—which begs this question: Is it more important to have a Christian president than a competent president?

Political strategists from both parties suggest that Democratic presidential candidates who are not willing to talk about their faith on the campaign trail will have a hard time wooing voters.

It’s great to hear reports that our president attends church, but I’d rather know that he’s attending his cabinet meetings and making competent decisions.

Democratic hopeful Howard Dean got some negative press for incorrectly placing the book of Job in the New Testament, but I’d rather read that he knows where to find Afghanistan.

Because the nature of faith is personal, anyone can claim to have it. How do you tell the difference? Christian writings warn of the presence of “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

The problem with electing or re-electing someone because he or she claims to have faith is that it becomes difficult to distinguish those claiming to be “born again” from those who may be “born to be wild.”

Spirituality is a strong motivator for ethical living, but because it is a personal reflection of an inward trait, there is no way any of us can be totally sure of the authenticity of a “spiritual” candidate.

As my father chose a competent guardian to ensure the continuance of faith in our family, so should we elect the most competent guardian of democracy. A choice for competence is always a choice for freedom to flourish.