Elected Officials: Don't Give Up and Pray!

At least 44 percent of Americans believe there is evidence that we are in the “end times,” according to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in March.  While people are free to believe what they want, other people are also allowed to be wary of those beliefs

and the effects they can have on the rest of us who don’t expect Jesus to descend from heaven on a white horse. When evangelical Family Radio minister Harold Camping’s failed Judgment Day prediction earlier this year was mocked as an irrational falsehood, it wasn’t simply because the idea of the Rapture was absurd: it was mocked because Camping had the audacity to name a specific date.  It is similar to calling a person who sees a unicorn foolish, because we all know unicorns are invisible. Both ideas are ridiculous.

Judging someone based on their religious affiliation is inappropriate, but when someone is running for elected office, any actual beliefs that may have a bearing on their actions as government leaders are fair game. That’s because these beliefs may lead to actions that affect all Americans.   Religious beliefs may have an effect on policy and so we, the voters, should be aware of the candidates’ beliefs and what choices they may make because of those beliefs.  For example, being a Catholic does not make a candidate more or less qualified to be an elected official. However, the impact that a candidate’s Catholic faith could have on their views regarding issues such as private school vouchers, abortion, contraception, gay rights, and restricted access to health care should be fundamental concerns to voters.

Mayor Linda Thompson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for example, has decided to let her religious beliefs affect her actions as a secular leader.  The city is on course to end the year with a $3.5 million budget deficit (which will increase to $10.4 million by 2015) in their $58 million budget mainly largely because of an unsuccessful incinerator project in 2003 that went millions over budget and is still costing the city $18 million a year.  So what’s the mayor’s plan to reduce the deficit and get the city back on track? She’s going to spend three days participating in a fasting and praying campaign.

Things are above and beyond my control, I need God.  I depend on Him for guidance. Spiritual guidance. That’s why it’s really no struggle for me to join this fast and prayer.

If only they had planned the prayer campaign in 2003, they could have asked for God’s guidance on whether or not to invest in the incinerator project, and “He” could have let them know how catastrophic it would be!

By turning to God because “things are above and beyond [her] control,” Mayor Thompson is escaping any accountability (at least to herself) because, after all, she no longer has control over budget problems – God does.  Voters should be wary of people who replace pragmatism with prayer.  It is a problem for constituents when an official stops the difficult search for real-world solutions to claim lack of control over anything that happens.  A 3-day financial summit involving economists and financial advisors collaborating on possible solutions, for example, would have more promise than a 3-day prayer and fasting campaign, which will, in reality, accomplish nothing.

At a 2006 fundraiser for a controversial Christian punk band that proselytizes in public schools (which is a whole different can of worms), now-presidential candidate Michele Bachmann offered a prayer.

Lord, the day is at hand! We are in the last days! The day is at hand, Lord, when your return will become nigh. Pour a double blessing, Lord, a triple blessing on this ministry.

A belief that we are in “end times” can have a huge impact on policy. What type of prudence would a person have if she thought she was going to die tomorrow?  What type of prudence would a policy maker have if he thought the world would be ending inside of 20 years?  Issues such as pollution, global warming, and energy sustainability need to be addressed by someone who believes the world and humanity have a future and who wants to fight for it.

Political leaders are supposed to help set a path for our society.  I for one want that path to lead to a healthier and happier planet, not the total destruction of the earth.  For those of us who do not want or believe in “end times,” we need to find someone who can lead us into a future that we want – not throw their hands up and hope that God will sort it out.

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