If I were to pose the question to you, “What does the Bible say about the qualifications for a presidential candidate?” what would your response be? Many people believe that the Bible is silent on such issues. However, Scripture is very clear about what characteristics mark a qualified leader for a nation.
Too often, Evangelicals compare presidential candidates with Ronald Reagan. I say this not in opposition to Reagan, who undoubtedly was a great President, but in recognition that we need to look deeper into what God’s standards are as opposed to man’s standards. Scripture outlines three core characteristics of a godly national leader. Let’s look at each one.
“It seems what we have here is a failure to communicate.” -Cool Hand Luke
Without the ability to clearly and persuasively communicate his or her message, a leader will always be marked by stagnation and ineffectiveness. The current bog that is Washington, D.C is primarily stagnant because many of our current politicians have traded sincere and genuine discourse for sound bite rhetoric. Gone are the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates or the wholehearted impassioned orations of Patrick Henry. We have replaced these basic necessities of governing for a vote of cloture. When we examine the biblical attributes of candidates, we must look for one who will say, “Come, let us reason together,” not “My way or the highway.” We need a reasonable communicator who can bring people together, while standing firm on his or her principles. When a person can effectively communicate, there are obvious measurable results. Take, for example, the biblical account of Nehemiah. Here was a man of great influence, the Cup Bearer to the King, who spoke so passionately and persuasively that he inspired his countrymen to journey thousands of miles to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem, even convincing the King of Babylon to finance the operation.
Being a great speaker does not necessarily make one a great communicator. Communication involves persuasion. Only when one can persuade his opponents to join him in action does he move from being a gifted speaker to true communicator.
“Words and deeds must be consistent. Exemplary leaders go first. They go first by setting the example through daily actions that demonstrate they are deeply committed to their beliefs.” -The Leadership Challenge
Consistency in politics is closely related to character. A candidate with character will either show consistency on the core issues, or will admit when he has changed his views and will proceed to fight for them in a consistent manner. Anyone can be crafty (as many lawyers are) and speak truth in technicalities, but it takes a consistent person to be wholly truthful.
In order to be consistent on core issues, one needs the wisdom and discernment necessary to come to accurate positions in the first place. Take for example Hebrews 5:14, which describes mature Christians as “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Discernment is sharpened by consistently adhering to the principles laid before us in God’s Word. Even non-Christians can exhibit some level of consistency in accord with the biblical principles, as many of these principles are shared in our nation’s values.
When assessing the consistency of presidential candidates, go back and examine their entire record — not just what kind of legislation they introduced, but the principles they fought for and who they fought with. Did they actually take the lead in the fight? Or did they just jump on a bandwagon and then take credit by talking the loudest? Biblical leaders are consistent in principle and unswerving in the fight. They don’t just fight for what they can accomplish, but for what God can accomplish through them.
A great example of this is the politics of abortion. The easy path for “pro-life” politicians is to fight to defund Planned Parenthood. This is of course the right fight to have; a kindergartener could tell you this is the right thing to do. But it is the bare minimum. The truly courageous path would be to invoke the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which declare that each citizen has the right to life, liberty and due process under the law. Yet few have taken up this fight, which makes one wonder: How many politicians are truly consistent in their conservatism? And how many are being consistently courageous in the fight for human dignity?
“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” -Stephen Covey
During his 1992 presidential campaign, after being attacked for his questionable practices as Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton exclaimed in frustration, “Character doesn’t matter!” During his second term as president, however, it became quite clear to the American people that his character — or lack thereof — did in fact matter, and should have been more heavily scrutinized during the campaign.
Regardless of how brilliant or seemingly beneficial a president’s policies are, character cuts to the core of who they are, and it inevitably affects the way they govern. The character of a leader is ultimately what gives people a sense of peace and trust in their government. Take the example of George W. Bush. Scores of Americans disagreed with his economic and education policies, but after observing his resolute response to the 9/11 attacks, they felt a sense of peace. Seeing his courage, they trusted that he would do what was needed to protect the country.
This is the effect that a president’s character has on millions of Americans. The Old Testament uses the term “upright” or “uprightness” interchangeably with ”character.” In Proverbs 11:2-3, Solomon depicts the life of those with character and without it.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”
In assessing the presidential candidates, be sure to press beyond their talking points and look for these three biblical virtues. Don’t be swayed by shallow, technical truths that have no foundation in the candidate’s personal character. In political debates where empty sound bites are ubiquitous and two-minute answers are the norm, it is easy to be swayed by a candidate’s rhetoric and not by his actual record. I encourage you to press deep into your candidate of choice, to discover who he is and what he has done. Listen to those who have worked with him in the past, to what they say about his character and effectiveness. It is only when we uncover a candidate’s core beliefs that we can accurately judge his communication skills, consistency and character.
If all else fails, follow the advice of a former presidential candidate: “If you really want to know where you candidate stands, there are three words to remember. Follow. The. Money.” Where has it come from, and how does that align with your candidates positions.