The field of presidential candidates is nearly complete. Only Newt Gingrich remains to decide - or announce if he has decided - whether he, too, will run for president. His decision is expected in November.
There is one person who is definitely not running, but may be invoked as the ultimate adviser. That would be God.
Writing in Time magazine, essayist Michael Kinsley raises some questions about presidential candidates who want God as their "running mate." Kinsley would like them to go beyond the superficial "God bless you and God bless America" benediction. He wants to know to what extent God and a candidate's understanding of him might affect public policy should that person be elected.
Kinsley asserts that former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was unable to be a "good Catholic" and simultaneously a good governor of New York because he differed with his church's teachings on abortion, among other controversial social issues. He also says he thinks it impossible - or at least very difficult - for Mitt Romney to be president and a good Mormon for the same reason.
"I want to know what God is telling them," writes Kinsley, "just as I would want to know what Karl Rove was telling them if they claimed him for an adviser. If religion is central to their lives and moral systems, then it cannot be the candidates' 'own private affair.' "
It is perfectly proper for candidates to be asked whether God requires them to impose his will as they perceive it through legislation and judicial mandate. If not, why not? If one believes, for example, that God created life at conception, does that mean all life is sacred and deserves protection in law, or are certain lives, namely those created in difficult circumstances, such as the tiny number conceived through rape or incest, dispensable?
But this coin has a flip side. If Kinsley would require candidates who claim to know God to come clean about any hidden agendas, should not full disclosure also be required of those who practice a religion of political convenience and even the secularist and the practical atheist (which would include a nontheistic candidate as well as one who simply invokes God's name for political reasons, but doesn't seriously believe in him)?
On what basis does the nontheistic and practical atheist make moral choices, which include going to war and capital punishment? One might answer, "the Constitution," but to many liberals the Constitution is a "living document" subject to constant interpretation, reinterpretation and revision to match "the times." So is it the times that shape such a presidential candidate, or something more permanent?
Democrats, most notably Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have invoked God and Scripture during their campaigns. But theirs is a selective reading. Their theology meshes with the political objectives of their party and personal ideology. They quote Scripture about caring for the poor and interpret that to mean higher taxes and bigger government. They ignore passages that speak of the inner life.
Conservatives can also practice a theology of political convenience, cherry-picking those subjects that rally "the base" and tickle the ears of the churchgoing, while ignoring mandates that make them uncomfortable, such as opposing racial discrimination, injustice and poverty. They want lower taxes and smaller government but often are not willing to take up the slack and get their hands dirty to help the poor, unlike the one they claim to follow. Not always, but mostly.
While Kinsley asks some good questions, who among the journalists and talk show hosts has the background to ask them directly of the candidates? Those without theological training or experience in faith often find such questions embarrassing because they don't want to face ridicule from their mostly secular colleagues. But to hide these issues in the catacombs of journalism is a poor excuse. The questions should be asked of both the religious and the secular to help voters make up their minds which ones best adhere to godly principles and to determine what standards govern the ones who do not.