Even with all the drastic changes in our world, Americans are still versed in the Scripture and find a certain comfort when their political leaders use Biblical texts. Moreover, there is a certain spiritual pride when Presidents in their tenures decide to worship in a particular church in Washington, DC.
As I view the intensity of this election year, I started to reflect on the ways that Scripture is being used. In the book of Deuteronomy, there is an instruction passage for the kings of Israel as they ascend to their thrones: "When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of the law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and it is to be read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel." (Deut 17:18-20)
Many of our politicians are culturally formed by the Scripture. They are aware that in certain parts of the country and with specific political groups, one should use Scripture in order to get votes. These speeches are either written by them (sometimes) or by their speechwriters (most of the times). Sometimes candidates in interviews show they have skimmed the Scriptures as when Senator Obama mentioned that the homosexual position of many evangelicals is based on an obscure passage from the book of Romans or when Senator McCain tried to explain why he became a Baptist without sounding Baptist. Both gave perfunctory answers to please their audiences, but did not deal directly with the Scriptures.
Many historians in assessing the 20th century would argue that Presidents Wilson, Carter, and Clinton were the best versed in Scripture. Others would argue that Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Ronald Reagan had an instinctive natural theology without a systematic knowledge of the Scriptures. Others would argue that Nixon and Johnson had a conflicted relationship - they knew what the Scriptures said, but chose to break the laws of the Scriptures in their lifestyles or their political choices.
The Psalmist said: Thy words I have hidden in my heart so that I might not sin against thee! (Psalm 119:11) In our world, the expanded question of the Psalmist would be: What shapes a politician's worldview? Is it shaped by the Holy Scriptures? Are the Beatitudes foundational? Is the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians practical? Is the Lord's Prayer a model for daily living?
I was surprised recently by a comment made by a non-religious commentator that the most authenticity that we have seen from the two Senators was not during the three debates done by the TV stations, but the question and answer sessions they had with Rev. Rick Warren. Without using that as a religious test for the candidates, one could nevertheless discern in their answers how much their thinking was shaped by the Word of God and therefore authoritative in their lives and how much it was used culturally, and in placating the intended audience.