As the American political season heats up like an August day in Phoenix, I notice more and more mention of God by political candidates and their surrogates. Some people, fearing that we are becoming too secular, might look on this as a good thing. I find it mostly disturbing.
One way to look at it is through the lens of the third commandment: “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” We often assume that this is mostly about inserting OMG in our texts or letting slip with a profanity when we hit our thumb with a hammer. The most pernicious violation of this commandment, however, is using God’s name for our own ends. And that’s exactly what we hear a lot of during this season.
It happens in a number of ways. There is is the often-heard underlying assumption that the United States is somehow more special, more important to God than other nations, or that we are a “Christian nation.” This idea goes back all the way to the Puritans who first landed on our shores hoping to make this land a shining “city on a hill.”
Or there is the attempt to promote a certain candidate because he or she is a God-fearing person or a faithful church member, or promotes what is understood to be God’s will on certain issues. We sometimes hear the even more blatant accusation that the politician’s opponent is not God-fearing enough, or that his or her faith is lacking or even absent.
People on the left and on the right sometimes claim that their brand of politics especially aligns with the will of God. The term “Christian Right” is widespread in the media and among its own followers, but there’s also an official website for the “Christian Left.” The point is that with this kind of terminology, we seek to baptize our political views with the name of God.
It may be true that a candidate is a believing Christian and his or her opponent is not. It may even be true that a particular politician’s views, or a political party’s platform, generally seem to some Christians to be more in line with biblical truth. That still does not give them the freedom to use God’s name for their group and its policies as a sort of divine endorsement. Is God particularly in favor of limited government or single-payer health plans?
God is above all politics. As Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That’s not to say it has nothing to do with this world, but that it is independent from the politics of this world and should not be identified with any politician or party. To entangle God’s name with political candidates or parties in an attempt to curry favor with the electorate is a grievous and dangerous form of taking God’s name in vain. It sullies the glory, holiness, and greatness of God.