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Monday, February 15, 2016

A Presidential Faith

It’s Presidents Day. Another federally determined Monday holiday. A day to pay homage to those who chose to run for the highest office in our land. And win. Our presidents.

The History Channel sets us straight on how this American holiday came to be celebrated on the third Monday in February. “Originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the federal government. Traditionally celebrated on February 22—Washington’s actual day of birth—the holiday became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers…Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.”

Currently, we have several souls vying for the title. One woman among them…Hillary Clinton. A man seeking to become the first Jewish president, Bernie Sanders. The list of Republicans wanting the job is steadily reducing in number. Lack of interested voters means you lack money. The aberration in this year’s election is the possibility of having three finalists who, in truth, don’t NEED money. That would be Donald Trump, Hillary “The Speech Maker” Clinton, and possibly the “Independently Wealthy Independent” Michael Bloomberg.

A candidate’s religious faith is definitely being brought into play whether we value that as a society or not. Several of those in the running have openly stated their allegiance to Christianity. Marco Rubio has gone so far as to create a commercial about his beliefs. Ted Cruz considers himself an evangelical. Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton align themselves with the Christian name. And then there’s Bernie Sanders.

The Washington Post covered his personal beliefs in their recent article, “Why Bernie Sanders doesn’t participate in organized religion.” Sanders grew up in the Jewish faith, attended Hebrew school and was bar mitzvahed. He actually worked on a kibbutz in Israel. Later we learn he drifted from Jewish customs. And today? He says “I am not actively involved with organized religion.”

As the Post reports, “Sanders said he believes in God, though not necessarily in a traditional manner. ‘I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.’” Later from the story, it notes that Jimmy Kimmel questioned Sanders a few months ago whether he believes in God and if that is an important issue to the American people. To which Sanders replied, “I am what I am. And what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.” That last line, repeated, seems to be his mantra.

It’s interesting that the senator finds connection to the Christian faith the same way he finds a connection to other faiths. While speaking at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school to be sure, he stated, “I am motivated by a vision which exists in all of the great religions — in Christianity, in Judaism, in Islam, Buddhism and other religions — and which is so beautifully and clearly stated in Matthew 7:12. And it states: ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets.’”

When you hold the highest office in our land, you’d better have something to hold on to. According to the Pew Research Center for Religion and Public life, only three presidents, (Jefferson, Lincoln and Andrew Johnson) have been unaffiliated with a specific religious group. This certainly does not connote or deny any level of commitment. Just affiliation.

I was recently reading about the debate of whether Abraham Lincoln truly embraced a faith in a personal God. Conclusions from multiple sources say he also (like Sanders) had a season of spiritual drift. But his later years brought clear evidence that he saw the need for a power beyond himself for strength and to heal our nation.

It’s my conviction that most Americans agree with another Jewish man who write political commentary, Dr. Michael Brown. In a recent editorial he wrote, “I am honestly not looking to elect a perfect saint as president nor am I asking the candidates how well they know the Bible or how many hours a day they pray. But I am looking for someone who, along with dealing with our budget and immigration and national security, will stand for righteousness and lead with integrity.”

Given the state of disunity in our country, perhaps these words of King David from the Old Testament give perspective, “The God of Israel spoke; the Rock of Israel said to me, ‘The one who rules the people with justice, who rules in the fear of God, is like the morning light when the sun rises on a cloudless morning, the glisten of rain on sprouting grass.’” (2 Samuel 23:2-4, HCSB)

A president who lacks a healthy fear of God will lead a nation with a lack of wisdom.

Happy Presidents Day.

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