By Robert Mann
Like it or not, it’s now widely accepted that running for public office means not only sharing one’s policy ideas but also professing a deep and abiding faith in God and, usually, Jesus Christ. The Republican presidential candidates each declare they are Christians. For some, that declaration is a regular feature of their stump speeches, pitched as a qualification for higher office.
Look at the polls, and it’s easy to understand why. The Pew Research Center found that 68 percent of evangelicals said political leaders should talk more about their faith. Too many voters are easy marks for slick politicians with a prayer and emotional story about their decision to follow Jesus. As for me, I’m more skeptical. If these candidates ask us to vote for them in part because they are people of faith, aren’t we at least entitled to know how that faith influences their policies?
Gov. Bobby Jindal, who often shares his conversion story with audiences, is among the most vocal in professing his Christian faith. At a prayer rally on the LSU campus last January, Jindal took it a step further. He called for a national spiritual revival. “We can’t just pass a law to fix what ails our country,” Jindal told the evangelical crowd. “We need a spiritual revival to fix what ails our country.” Jindal, presumably, hopes to lead that renewal.
But back to our original question: Assuming that Jindal and the rest are Christians, how much should that matter to us? And what does it mean, in a political context, to profess, “I am a follower of Christ”?
In other words, it’s fine that Jindal found his Christian faith as a teenager after reading a Bible by flashlight in his closet, but what does that tell us about how he lives his faith today? And what, exactly, does Jindal believe his faith obligates him to do as he leads the country’s spiritual revival? We know how Jindal’s Christian faith informs his opinions about same-sex marriage and abortion, but what about matters of justice and attitudes toward the poor, two themes Jesus emphasized above almost all others?
Because Jindal and fellow candidates aggressively tout their Christianity, voters also have every right to question their devotion to two central tenants of the Christian faith long accepted by scripture and tradition — our sacred obligation to the poor and oppressed.
If a candidate brags, “I’m a believer in smaller government and balanced budgets,” it’s reasonable to ask, “Well, then, let’s examine your budgets. Show us the evidence.”
In the same way, when Jindal or another candidate implies that he is qualified because of his faith, it’s fair to respond, as the Apostle James did in his epistle, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.”
The evidence thus far indicates that Jindal is a follower of Jesus, selectively. He seems to care much about piety (something Jesus detested) but less about those whom Jesus called “the least of these.” He talks about his conversion but rarely, if ever, about how God has prompted him to care for the poor, the disabled, the sick, the immigrant and the victim of injustice.
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