When considering a candidate, the first thing I look for is whether the person in word and deed demonstrates an understanding of the fact that they are a “minister” of God. Yep, a thought that would send chills down the spine of any liberal and a number of don’t-talk-about-religion preachers in our state. But, hey, the thought is not mine; it’s the apostle Paul’s. But am I looking for a candidate who could preach a good sermon?
No, I’m not. What I’m talking about is found in Romans 13:3, 4, in which the ruler or magistrate is referred to as the diakonos of God. That word is one from which we get our church word, “deacon.” It’s a word often translated in the Bible as “minister.” But it’s also one that is often translated “servant,” and it is in that sense that I actually use the word when considering who I will vote for.
“Minister” is actually a good word, but it too often carries the connotation of a “preacher” who is trying to convert someone to Christianity. I would hope that any Christian, politician or not, would contend for the faith and seek to bring about a “conversion” in the lives of those with whom they are in relationship. However, it is not the “job description” of an elected official, as an elected official, to “convert” anyone into becoming a Christ-follower, particularly when it comes to using the power of the state to do so.
But if the Bible is to be accepted as revealing spiritual realties, then this word diakonos must mean something. Here are my thoughts. There are three.
First, it conveys the thought that an elected official does “ad-minister” an authority or power that ultimately and in a final sense belongs to God who has, in His providence, allowed a measure of that authority to be delegated to a civil ruler.
What all this theology and doctrine mean is that I’m going to look for a person who knows that there is an accountability beyond the ballot box, an ultimate accountability to God. It is an understanding reflected in Article IX, Section 2 of our state constitution that provides that “no person who denies the Being of God or a future state of rewards and punishments shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.”
Candidates that believe they are only accountable to voters will compromise their values and their principles when it is politically expedient to do so. We’ve seen plenty of that through the Tennessee Waltz and through the way Republicans AND Democrats have governed in Washington. They will become poll-watchers, putting up their finger to feel the current of the political breeze. I’ve had my fill of those kinds of politicians.
Source of Values
But secondly, and related to what I just said, if the person understands he is accountable to God, it also tells me that he is more likely to believe that he must exercise the power he holds in a way that is consistent with the values of the one from whom that power has been received. In other words, it might give me some insight into whether that candidate believes God or a public opinion poll determines good and evil. A politician who understands his or her accountability to God is less likely to be guided only by opinion polls. He or she is probably not going to be too excited about explaining votes to God by handing Him an opinion poll. I don’t think God cares about opinion polls.
All this is probably a bit foreign to someone who has not read history or who has been trained only by political liberals, but these thoughts are sprinkled on the pages of history and reflected in our current governing structure and documents. The examples are too numerous to mention, but the very idea of a republic is to avoid the tyranny of majority opinion. The reason why U.S. Senators were given six-year terms instead of two like Representatives was to mitigate the blow of whatever majority opinion may be prevailing a that particular moment in time. And even the oath your state legislator takes makes the legislator accountable to his or her own judgment, not just an accurate reflection of public sentiment: “I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people …” (Article X, Section 2, emphasis added).
Attitude of the Heart
But thirdly, a candidate that understands this should reflect a servant’s heart. Christ in laying aside the glory that was his to take on the form of a man set the supreme example of servant’s heart. Too many elected officials get the big head, and it becomes all about them (which makes my first two thoughts even more relevant).
What to Look For
So, what do these thoughts mean for me in a practical way? I want to know about a candidate’s spiritual life. I am wary of campaign rhetoric and try to look behind the mere words the candidate speaks. The “good” politician will know what his or her audience wants to hear. That doesn’t mean the politician doesn’t mean what is being said, but I try to be on guard—even with rhetoric that I happen to “agree” with.
- Does the candidate’s life reflect an understanding that they are accountable to God in a final sense? This can show up in lots of ways beyond what they may say on the campaign trail. For example, what kind of church is the candidate involved in? Has the candidate ever referenced a personal accountably group, and what kind of people is the candidate accountable to? What is the person’s charitable giving practices and involvement? The Book says that where your treasure is there your heart is also.
- Does the candidate’s tone and demeanor reflect a servant’s heart, or is there an element of arrogance or pride? Is there any sense of humility? Does he speak of others in a condescending way?
- Does the candidate refer to doing the “will of the people”? And, if so, is it said in such a way as to provide insight into whether the candidate is driven merely by public opinion or by firmly held and articulated principles?
- Does the candidate’s rhetoric reveal an attitude that government is the solution to all our problems? Is there room to let God to be the solution to someone’s problem? If not, government can become god.
Word of caution: Don’t assume that if a candidate is not referencing the Bible at every campaign stop that the person doesn’t get this concept of diakonos. Remember that in Romans 17 we find the apostle Paul reasoning from the Scriptures when in the synagogue and referencing pagan poets when speaking to the gentiles on Mars Hill. Rather, ask yourself, “What message is the candidate conveying, what values are being communicated, and is it being done in a way appropriate to the venue/audience and in a tone that reflects the heart of an accountable servant?” Then consider the other “clues” above to better understand where that message comes from.