19 October 2008

Can a Good Christian be a Good President?

Back at the beginning of the month, I attended a panel discussion that was put together by the Duke Pathways Program. They're the religious vocational discernment program at Duke, funded by the Lilly Endowment. The provocative title of the program was "Can a Good Christian be a Good President?" I missed the name of the panel's moderator (an English professor) as well as that of one of the panelists. The other four on the panel were Peter Feaver (evangelical; Political Science; served as an adviser to the Bush NSC from 2005-2007), J. Kameron Carter (National Baptist; Christian Theology; author of a new book), James Joseph (UCC; Public Policy; U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under Bill Clinton), and Sam Wells (Anglican; Christian Ethics; dean of Duke Chapel).

Because people from different academic disciplines speak in different languages, the panel seemed to have a bit of a difficult time engaging one another. Nevertheless, the individuals on the panel made a lot of interesting points. Ambassador Joseph spoke out of his experience as a civil servant, a liberal mainliner, and a Democrat. He also won the award for "Most Alarming and (Arguably) Least Christian Statement of the Night". When a student asked a question about the inherent compromise of voting as a Christian ("both candidates have policies that are diametrically opposed to what Jesus says..."), the Ambassador bristled. "Jesus lived in a very different time," he said, "and I don't know how you know what he would've said in these times ... I don't know that Jesus would comment on strategies." Ouch.

Dr. Feaver was, as usual, very engaging. He took a couple swings at Jim Wallis, lumping God's Politics along with the later Moral Majority platforms as "blasphemy".

I'll wrap up just by posting paraphrases of a couple of the things Sam Wells said, because they're worth relaying:
  • "There is the presumption that politics is about how to deal with our problem of scarcity. Politicians are a type of theologian who deal with the hole we're in since God didn't do a good enough job of creating and redeeming us."
  • "There are two broad strands in American religious history: one that seems to think of the Bible as a sort of constitution, and another that sees the Constitution as a sort of bible."

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