Before former representative Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) ran for Congress in 1996, many people told him he would not survive politics because of his Christian convictions.
McIntyre, who began a relationship with Christ around the age of 12 as a result of watching a Billy Graham Crusade on television, swam against the generally liberal tide of his party.
“Taking a stand on a policy issue or a spending bill is one thing,” McIntyre said. “But public service to me is about being accountable to the people back home—not someone else’s partisan agenda. It is about being accountable to God’s calling to service.”
It is the duty of Christian men and women—like McIntyre—to offer themselves for public office, Franklin Graham says.
“One reason we’ve had such bad political leaders is because in some places it’s only the bad ones that offer themselves for office,” Franklin told nearly 6,000 people during his Olympia, Wash., Decision America Tour stop.
“We (the church) need politicians who will go into the statehouse and into Washington and wherever and live their life. We need to be the light of the world.”
But do religion and politics really mix?
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) thinks so: “Those of us who are people of faith should go toward areas where there is a need for Biblical truth,” he said.
“I don’t see my role in Washington as a religious leader. I see it as someone who has been saved by grace. My responsibility is to adhere to the principles of the Creator. And those principles inform my voting record.”
And when you’re in the U.S. Senate, sound voting requires divine wisdom. Scott tells of a time when there was an important vote ahead in the Senate. He gathered with four other members of Congress—including Rep. Trey Gowdy, his spiritual accountability partner—in the Capitol chapel and bowed before God, asking for wisdom.
“Scripture tells us not to forsake the assembly of fellowship,” Scott said. “We tend to apply that only to church attendance. But sometimes, it means bringing the church to the Capitol.”
Scott seeks the Lord early in the day, every single day. “I need His discernment in Washington,” he said. “It makes all the difference in the world. He and His Word are the common denominator for my decisions. God’s desire is for me to be a faithful believer in His risen Son and live in a way that exalts the King of kings.”
It was that same God-given discernment and faithfulness that earned McIntyre favor with his constituents, who respected and praised him. He served nine terms, beginning in 1997 and ending in 2015, when he decided not to seek reelection.
“They knew I was trying to do what was best for our district, and they knew I wouldn’t change my mind,” he said. “If you start blowing with the wind, people are going to see through that.”
Having been in public service for more than 20 years, Scott also understands the importance of consistency, and is no stranger to the corruption that seeps into the moral fiber of leadership—on all levels. His strategy, as a believer and as a statesman, has been to stay tethered to God’s Word and to His people.
“I’ve had to create my own faith-filled ‘echo chamber,’ so to speak,” Scott explained. “Proverbs 27:17 tells us that iron sharpens iron. So you need to turn over the reins of accountability to someone you trust. If you are a man, you need another man. And if you are a woman, that person should be another woman.”
Daniel Darling, vice president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention—works daily to build alliances for Gospel purposes. And as a theologically trained pastor, he sees the need for Christians in office to help shape culture.
“The way culture is changing—for example, the definition of marriage or gender identity—makes it a confusing time,” Darling told Decision. “A public square that is void of Christian political witness is really bereft of a uniquely Christian worldview. For instance, the Christian worldview favors human dignity and believes every person was created in the image of God.
“Such a void affects more than abortion—it shapes how we approach other human dignity issues like poverty, joblessness, refugee care and racism. In an America with a strong Christian political witness, every act would be a moral decision.”
Oftentimes a misunderstanding of church and state hinders Christians from offering themselves up for public office.
“Many people think separation of church and state means a secular public square,”
Darling said. “They assume they can’t bring their worldview into those spaces. But everybody comes to the table with a worldview. This gives us a chance to say up front that we are Christians, and this is why we are pro-life, or this is why we care about marriage.”
Darling also explained that serving in office is a way to fulfill a command in Scripture: “We are told to love our neighbors. One way we can do this is to help shape public policy to serve them. How can I say I care about my unborn neighbor if I won’t stand up for him?”
Whether we are called to serve in public office or not, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the citizens. And it’s up to the church to steward their votes well.
“Romans 13 says that God grants leaders power to serve for the welfare of the people. But He hasn’t given authority to only our leaders,” Darling said.
“We the people share that authority when we vote. And we will stand before Christ one day and give account for what we did with that responsibility.” ©2016 BGEA
Photo: Ethan Hyman/The News and Observer/Newscom