Are We Electing a Pastor-in-Chief?
How History Will Remember the Election of 2012
I remember the first time I heard the political slogan, “Hey, we’re not electing a pastor-in-chief. . .”
It was twenty years ago. Bill Clinton had just secured the Democratic nomination for president. I thought the phrase was simply another passing political fad, especially when I heard college girls trying it out on each other. They tried out different endings, but came back to the standard refrain. “We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief; we’re electing a commander-in-chief.”
These co-eds happened to be professing Christians making their plans for the big November election. Who were they planning to vote for? I found out from an unusual source. On one particularly hot summer afternoon, the White House called.
“Can you get down here in thirty minutes?”
I was forty minutes away but made it in twenty. For reasons revealed later, the meeting convened in a sultry little room down the street. Three nervous men were taping maps and computer printouts onto blank walls. They circled some letters on the printout, regarding the small figures like an error, or a blemish on the page. This, apparently, was the focus of the meeting. I took a closer look. In a tight row of demographic categories, the words “Evangelical women” had been marked as an unexpected deviation.
The Battle for the White House
The room quickly took on the atmosphere of a military bunker. The strategists present were worried about a new enemy, “that hick governor from Arkansas.” The President wanted to know why Evangelical women thought Bill Clinton was cute. Those printouts were the freshest, most expensive, and most private polling data. I had been called in as a media strategist. I was supposed to tell them why Evangelical women appeared to be the “swing” voters who would elect Bill Clinton president in exactly 126 days. I was supposed to tell them why Evangelical women were being so stupid. And then I was supposed to tell them how to get 8.5 million Evangelical women to come to their senses.
Someday, if I get around to memoirs, they will explain in more detail why history should mark me, on that muggy June day, as the most naïve advisor ever to work for a President of the United States. I was a young Christian. I actually believed the average Evangelical would eventually stop and think through things biblically. I had a lot to learn about the heart, mind, soul, and strength of American Evangelicals.
Daughters of Eve Whisper to Their Husbands
That summer I watched Evangelicals closely. I watched them rally around theological concepts that were short enough to fit on bumper stickers or t-shirts. To Evangelicals, each of these had meaning, even if no meaning could be articulated.
Perhaps the most influential slogan to emerge nationwide was the “we’re-not-electing-a-pastor-in-chief. . .” Evangelical women wielded the phrase authoritatively. It sounded so intelligent. Here was domestic policy, foreign policy, political acumen, and decisive personal opinion combined into a line that could fit on the most fashionably small bumper sticker. Men began to mimic the words. It began to sound like authoritative dogma. But whose dogma?
What exactly did it mean?
Everything is Theological
Historians can determine a lot about what a nation believes by how it argues the issues, by how it votes, and by what it believed about the slogans that informed the voting process.
When historians look back at American elections, all the deciding issues, slogans, opinions, and records are theological are their core. Historians understand this and speak about everyday affairs in theological terms. They have to, because they know every issue is ethical, moral, and religious. Every person holds theological positions. Presidents, legislators, and judges implement their respective theologies because they have strong opinions about what is right and wrong, and they believe, in faith, that the nation should agree with and follow their moral positions, which are ultimately theological positions that can be described in theological terms.
Christians have long understood this, but the 1992 slogan began to drive an artificial intellectual wedge between “pastors” who were theological, and “commanders-in-chief” who were not supposed to be. This was a highly misleading distortion of reality.
The Cult of Secularism
The pastor-in-chief slogan did not go away after the 1992 election. Evangelicals liked it. It was repeated so often for twenty years that by the 2012 election it became more popular with some preachers than John 3:16.
Today many Christians have taken the inference of the slogan to an obvious conclusion:
Since theology is for pastors only, the President doesn’t really need it at all for governing. He can just make decisions on the fly, doing what is right in his own eyes, whether it’s budget stuff, health care stuff, military stuff, or fighting with Congress. If the candidate is a Christian, that’s nice, but that really shouldn’t be a campaign issue, because the presidency doesn’t need anything a Christian might have except perhaps a little emotional sentiment, like crying a sentimental tear when the flag goes past. Christianity is handy for ceremony and ritual, but not much else.
Many Evangelicals of 2012 would be completely comfortable with a non-Christian as long as he’s a nice guy who is friendly to the Evangelical hot-button issues and keeps the public schools open and free, inflation to five percent, taxes under 50 percent, and an American flag on the uniform of our boys and girls in Afghanistan.
History may harshly judge those Christians who use the 1992 slogan to continue to drive the theological wedge deeper between pastors and presidents. Scripture suggests what they are doing is treasonous to both God and country.
Let me state clearly that not all advocates of non-Christian candidates are deliberately fighting against God. Many have advocated voting for non-Christian candidates for what they perceive to be biblical, theological, and strategic reasons. They are not knowingly attacking the Lordship of Christ in their positions. Yet wittingly or not, this is the effect of their actions — a point worth further explanation.
The Idol of Secularism
The wildly popular “pastor-in-chief” slogan from 1992 is not a Scripture text, but it is thrown around with authority. How should Christians respond to it?
It must first be admitted that the statement is theologically accurate from beginning to end. There’s no such thing as a pastor-in-chief, and, yes, we are electing a commander-in-chief. This being said, God ordained both the church and the civil government as legitimate institutions under His authority. Both answer to Him as the ultimate Sovereign. A president is not an officer of the church, but he is a head of state, a chief executive, and is responsible to God for the restrained application of lethal force in time of war (Rom. 13:1-4).
Yet what does the slogan teach voters? How was the language of the slogan understood in its first 20 years? While this may be a challenge for historians to track, let me help by providing a first-person observation from the summer of 1992.
I remember encountering a general feeling from Christian women who were frustrated by wimpy pastors, wimpy politicians, wimpy, husbands and strong international enemies. There was something about Clinton’s attitude that impressed them.
“We’re electing a commander-in-chief,” they reasoned, “who can send out the army, chew a good cigar, spit out a few expletives here and there, sign bills with a bold flourish, give emotional speeches, order Congress around, and arrest bad guys with compete personal freedom to set his own agenda. We don’t want him to have any accountability to any of the things a pastor is accountable to. We want a president who can be completely detached from any form of biblical law or biblical obligations because he needs to be tough and independent. He can obey the constitution if he wants, but that’s totally secular. The pastor can stay in his sacred little church ghetto, and the president gets to run everything else, secular-style.”
America was about to find out what was wrong with this vision of presidential initiative. A nation might just get a theological commander-in-chief who gave all the wrong theological commands.
Into the Fight
That boiling hot summer of ‘92, I made the decision to oppose Governor Clinton’s bid for the presidency. And things got hotter. I staked out the position that Governor Clinton should not become America’s commander-in-chief. In addition to television media, I wrote and designed full-page newspaper ads featuring a stunning photograph of a bored, contemptuous, resentful boy-governor going through the motions of reviewing National Guard troops in Arkansas. The ads pointed out that Clinton had no principled understanding of just war and unjust war. He would bring with him his own vision of lethal state force, based on his own immature understanding of military engagement.
Some newspapers wouldn’t take the ads, but USA Today sold me plenty of space — but not enough, apparently, to change the minds of the voters who wanted a decidedly “secular” commander-in-chief. They wanted the secular guy with the secular attitude and the secular agenda for the White House.
Evangelical Women Make History
By Election Day, Evangelical women knew a lot about the attitude and the moral anatomy of Bill Clinton. They knew he stood up in the church choir on Sunday, but lived by his own stylish system of morality the rest of the time. They knew he could laugh off any accusation of wrongdoing with charming good humor because he was so enchantingly immature and so irreverently deceitful. They knew he was boldly and wildly secular.
So how did they vote? They voted their morality. All voters vote their morality, and the morality of these women had been strongly shaped by bumper-sticker theology. They voted for Bill Clinton.
Let me offer an analysis to future historians. 1992 was the year Christians began abusing a legitimate phrase to confuse and undermine the very legitimacy of both church and state, and the Authority which created them.
Not only was an election affected, but the theology of a generation was re-shaped by a new twist on the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This new idea has had far-reaching consequences. It is a lofty idea raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:3-6). It teaches that presidents cannot lead people into the disciplines of Christ’s commands because only pastors do that, and voters need to protect a president’s complete independence from Christ’s authority. The idea teaches that Jesus Christ is not Lord of the executive branch of the American government.
I believe that historians will discover that many Evangelicals who voted for Bill Clinton wanted him to lead a secular celebration and a secular revolution. They wanted a flamboyant moralist to give national legitimacy to their own moral experimentalism. They liked him because he was just Christian enough in image, but not reverently so. And so a legitimate phrase began taking on an irreverent flair.
This is how America elected a president who could be trusted to never go near one of those embarrassing biblical commands. American voters got a man who could dress up for church and sing in the choir on Sunday. They got a man who, on Mondays, could look like a handsome accessory to the White House china during state dinners with, for example, the Chinese government. They got a man who was taller than the average Chinese diplomat, but they also got a man who didn’t have the moral wisdom or moral stature to know how to deal with China, or any of the other complex challenges of just governance.
They got a man who loved the power-religion of secular statism.
The Abuse of Legitimate Power
Once elected, how did Bill Clinton govern? Well, he governed like every king, prime minister, and president governs: Religiously. With religious devotion to his religious convictions. Clinton’s convictions were religiously and fiercely “secular,” which to him meant decidedly irreverent. He certainly did not let his Southern Baptist background get in the way of his own personal doctrine.
The president’s twelve-year-old daughter Chelsea let some of the family’s religious convictions out of the bag when she informed a White House Marine guard, “We loathe the military.”
This was a guiding Clinton doctrine as commander-in-chief, and he stripped the U.S. military of its fighting power. He booby-trapped its chain of command with bureaucratic land mines. He presided over the transfer of military secrets to America’s enemies. He enacted secret Presidential Decision Directives, like the infamous PDD 25, and kept the contents hidden from Congress. He did not even permit military commanders to know what he was doing until orders would come down that would place American soldiers under the command of foreign generals.
I interviewed one pilot who had been deployed to the Balkans and asked him why he resigned. He told me his unit waited days and days for Clinton to figure out why they were there, and who the enemy was supposed to be. “We didn’t know if we were supposed to be shooting Christians or Muslims,” he said. Clinton’s moral decision finally came: Kill the Christians. The pilot resigned his commission, but the enlisted men obeyed orders.
How Will History Remember 2012?
“I’ve said all along that we’re electing a commander in chief, not a pastor in chief,” said a leading Christian minister in 2012.
It is now a full twenty years since Christians first circulated this confusing political absurdity. On its face, it is an accurate theological statement. But its usage has become a defiant derangement of theological truth.
Christians have embraced the phrase to mean that Christ’s Lordship is limited to the “sacred,” which would be church-related ceremony and ritual. The “secular” would be a zone of moral neutrality over which Christ’s Lordship has no authority.
The problem with this concept is that the universe doesn’t work this way. God created the earth, He created nations, He created men to bring order to them, but every nation has to be governed in his way, in his name, because God says He gave all the nations to Jesus Christ, and all authority over them to Christ. Everybody answers to the King of Kings. Nobody can say, “I’m neutral on Jesus Christ, on religion, on law, on politics, on right and wrong.” This is especially true of people who govern nations. They cannot reinvent nations, or justice, or war, or power, just to suit a vainglorious fantasy.
God defines everything about the world. There is no such thing as “secular,” a kind of safe zone where God’s holy authority can be ignored. What people call “secular” is nothing more than institutionalized irreverence and ethical rebellion. There is no such thing as secularism, no matter how hard we insist that there is secular education, secular justice, secular war, secular economics, or secular government. Christ is Lord of all of it. Jesus Christ is not the silent mascot of a dead religion. The government of the earth is on His shoulders, and He would never give license to renegade commanders-in-chief to be independent of His authority.
No civil office is a secular office, nor can it be discharged in a way that denies the will of Christ as Sovereign.
Yet this is precisely what American Evangelicals seem to be demanding in 2012. Candidate Mitt Romney is appealing to Evangelicals by repeating their own rhetoric. “I’m not running for pastor in chief and I’m not running as someone who defends my religion or explains my religion. I’m running for a secular office, the presidency of the United States” Romney has stated.
Romney is pleading his case by repeating the falsehood that the office of president is entirely “secular,” and that Christians can depend on him to keep it that way. He implies that he will govern in a completely secular way. In essence, he is pleading with Christians to trust him because he agrees with Christians that theology belongs in sermons, not the Oval Office.
The Secular Legacy
Future historians are very likely to report that the American Christians of 2012 preferred their president to be even more sovereign than God; to be wildly “secular” and free from any biblical limitations of any kind. Christians seem to be demanding a leader who can represent a secular counterculture as normal and lead the nation by keeping biblical obedience in the shadows of life or the corners of the Sunday School room. America appears to want a leader who will secure a secular culture for a secular nation. American Christians seem to want to keep their theology confined to bumper stickers, or perhaps to a corner on a dollar bill, somehow labeling America externally as a nation whose trust is in God.
But Americans seem unwilling to let God speak about magistrates or through magistrates about money, transportation, economic justice, contract law, military law, agricultural law, family law, or the Lordship of Christ over civil society and culture.
How Can America Be Fixed?
We need to be careful with slogans. We need to be careful with our theology. We need to be careful what we speak to one another. The people of a nation need to be careful what they speak to the ruler, and he needs to be very careful what he says back. Every ruler always speaks in the name of the god of his society. If the god is the king, and he claims a “divine right,” then that king is the god and his word is law. If the President truly believes he can govern according to his own wit and wisdom, he’s no different from a pagan tyrant. His word is law, and he becomes the god of that nation. It is chillingly horrific to hear a people say, “Our civil government has ruled that it is completely legal to kill babies, and we believe this is an acceptable theological position because it is our government speaking.”
Governance is theological, whether it’s God setting up the rules of the universe or a Mommy setting up the rules of the nursery. “Don’t bite your little brother, Cain.” This is a theological admonition based on God’s theology. Mommies traffic in theology every hour of every day. Officials of the civil government traffic in theology every hour of every day. Every ruler in the world needs to govern in the name of Jesus Christ and carefully articulate the law of Jesus Christ, or that nation will be opposed by Jesus Christ in history and shattered like earthenware (Ps. 2:9). It is God’s favor that sustains any nation, and God’s word that guides the nations on the earth (Ps. 67:4). “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17). “For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (Psa. 22:28). These are basic rules of the universe, and we need to learn them and practice them.
The pragmatism of clever men will never save a nation in trouble, but a restoration of Christ’s sovereign authority over the family, church, and civil government will. All men can begin working in those jurisdictions where their authority is honored. Daddies can start with the nursery and teach Cain why it is ethically and theologically wrong for him to be angry with his baby brother.
As all leaders honor Christ by their obedience to his specific commands, discipling those under their authority, the intimate blessing of God on the culture may reverse our serious historical failings. And there may be opportunities in the future to disciple candidates and to see men exalted to the biblical offices of civil government who honor the authority of Christ.
Candidates Should Be Briefed About the Way the World Works
I’ve had the privilege and responsibility of advising five American presidential aspirants. Only two ever admitted that their theological positions were theological and that they needed to know more about real theology. The others were happy enough to make up their own theological positions, as though they had the divine right to govern like a god, or a “brain lord,” as one Republican put it. Only one candidate ever understood the duty he would face as President. Only one had the humility to take Psalm 2 seriously. America didn’t want him.
Here is the brief every president should get when he becomes a candidate:
Mr. Candidate, when you become president, you do not attain a greater authority than that of Jesus Christ. You will answer to God for your personal attitude toward his commandments, for every word you speak, and every decision you make (Matt. 12: 35-37).
Mr. Candidate, God warns presidents to respect, fear, and honor God in their office, or else both they and the entire nation will suffer for their impertinence (Ps. 2:1-12).
Presidents are commanded to govern according to what is written in Scripture as their only source of justice (Prov. 8:15-16).
Mr. Candidate, one duty presidents owe the people is to know God’s word, which is theology. Presidents cannot make up their own creative theology, ethics or morality. This is why kings were required to study, and write down the written law as the higher law, because it is binding on them and they are to make it binding on everyone else. Presidents must be thoroughly acquainted with real theology (Dt. 17:18-19).
Presidents cannot default to their own reason to invent alternatives to justice, like fairness or revenge (Dt. 32:35-36).
Presidents are commanded to rule on behalf of the Lord in every decision they make (2 Chron. 19:6-7).
Presidents are warned not to sign any legislation that would deprive biblical justice from anyone (Is. 10:1-2).
Presidents must construct all policy positions on a foundation of reality: God is the higher judge, the higher lawgiver, the higher king, and the higher savior (Isa. 33:22).
Presidents are warned to make Scripture their policy. They are also reminded that personnel is policy. Presidents are forbidden to make any presidential appointment that would pervert justice (Dt. 16:18-20).
Presidents must make every decision based on their deep, abiding respect for the revealed Word of God (2 Sam. 23:3).
Presidents are commanded to announce the whole counsel of God to their people and model obedience to it (Matt. 18:18-20).
They are commanded to announce the wisdom of this law to other nations (Dt. 4:5-9).
Presidents are to represent God as his servants, in all humility (Rom. 13:6).
In addition, presidents must never forget that they are subordinate to Christ’s authority (Matt. 28:18-20) and that they must be in complete subjection to Christ’s authority. Presidents are reminded that they bear deadly authority given to them by Christ and must wield it in the fear of Christ and his law. They can never abuse the great authority they have been granted in Christ for the purpose of bringing order, justice. and civility to all society under their care.
Presidents are the servants and ministers of God and his justice. That is their job description as spelled out in Romans 13:1-6. A president’s job is to see that the will of God Almighty is done every day on earth just as it is done in heaven (Matt. 6:10).
Presidents are always the “2IC”, the second-in-command under Christ; they’re never the sovereign authority. The White House is not an independent kingdom or a law unto itself.
Voters Have Theological Duties Too
Men who want to build a barrier of “secularism” between themselves and Jesus Christ must never be entrusted with the office of magistrate or with the privilege of voting. Voters are to only elect men of wisdom, discernment, and experience (Dt. 1:13), able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain (Ex. 18:21). Moreover, voters are not to elect men who are complete strangers to the authoritative ways of biblical justice and righteousness (Dt. 17:15), or who have proven themselves dangerous in using the legislative apparatus to harm the innocent (Ps. 94:20, 21).
God invented the civil government to be administered by men who are wise, because they are subordinate to God’s wisdom. He created the chain of command that goes through Jesus Christ to human representatives who care for the state in the only way that will give men law, order, peace, justice, liberty, and prosperity. Every attempt by men to be “secular” like all the other nations has been an experiment in some form of tyranny. Every attempt by men to place independent rulers in the office of civil government leads nations to destruction.
“They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction” (Hos. 8:4).
Let This Indictment Not Be Our Legacy
In the book of First Samuel, we have the story of God’s people telling the prophet Samuel they didn’t want God to rule over them; they just wanted a commander-in-chief who could call up the chariots and look good at state dinners, “that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20).
The voice of the United States of America will be recorded in how Evangelicals vote in the 2012 election. How will historians someday analyze that united voice?
In 1 Samuel 8:7, we read an indictment on Israel that could well be our own, “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.’”