Andrew J.W. Smith
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Christians should be involved in the political process but remember their ultimate hope lies beyond any office or vote, said evangelical thinkers R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Cal Thomas at the April 25 “God and Politics” event at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, and Thomas, a political pundit and syndicated columnist, discussed their views regarding the religious beliefs of political candidates before a full Alumni Memorial Chapel. Although the event came about after a public disagreement on this issue, Mohler and Thomas agreed that ironclad biblical promises transcend those of waffling political candidates.
“If Christ is king and God is sovereign and our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, then we shouldn’t have our equilibrium thrown off too much by any election,” Mohler said.
Thomas said American efforts toward nationwide moral improvement have failed because they misdiagnose the root problem. America does not primarily suffer from failed leadership, Thomas said, but human sinfulness. Christians should then start by recognizing true change is spiritual.
“We who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth have been given a greater power than the politics of our country. It is the power of redemption,” Thomas said. “We are not going to redeem America from the outside through political leadership — as important as that may be. The only power that is going to redeem people comes from within.”
Thomas argued in a February USA Today column that Republican presidential candidates should “cut the God talk” from their campaigns and instead run on their political qualifications. Mohler disagreed during his February 10 edition of his podcast “The Briefing,” noting that religious beliefs are inherently bound up with a candidate’s policy-shaping worldview. Thomas then contacted Mohler and recommended they discuss the matter publicly, which led to the “God and Politics” event.
The evening began with some brief rhetorical sparring between the two thinkers, an extension of their February disagreement through public discourse. Mohler maintained Christians ought to know about each candidate’s religious beliefs because those beliefs shape decisions made in office. Thomas countered by arguing those ostensibly religion-influenced policy decisions are often not as cut-and-dried as they seem.
Mohler noted the modern dichotomy between candidates’ political platforms and their personal religious belief systems began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s. Kennedy emphasized the distinction between being a “Catholic candidate” and a “candidate who happened to be Catholic,” Mohler said, rendering his personal faith less decisive in the election.
In response to Thomas quoting the late evangelical leader Chuck Colson, who said Jesus won’t return to save his church on Air Force One, Mohler warned Christians might swing from over-zealous patriotism to passive political apathy.
“I think Chuck Colson was certainly right when he said national revival was not going to ride in on Air Force One,” Mohler said. “Here’s my concern: I’m afraid that a lot of evangelical Christians are going to decide it now doesn’t matter who rides on Air Force One.”
Although Thomas acknowledged the upcoming 2016 presidential election was deeply important, perhaps determining the direction of the United States Supreme Court for the next 40 years, he said, “the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Judge.” Quoting at length Abraham Lincoln, who once wrote that America needed to humble itself to its Creator and ask for forgiveness, Thomas said only repentance — not any political candidate — can restore the United States.
“That’s the road back, it is the only road back,” Thomas said. “It is not through the Republican or Democratic party, it’s not through the Socialist candidate, it’s not through Washington. It is through the cross.”
Audio and video from the “God and Politics” event will soon be available online at sbts.edu/resources.