Christian faith has painted broad strokes across the American political landscape throughout history. From the five references to God penned in the Declaration of Independence to President Nixon’s historic “God Bless America” sign-off on cable television in 1973, references to Christian faith have existed inside and outside the walls of the White House since the establishment of our nation.
In a nation founded on Christian principles, what is the role of the President of the United States? He is the Commander in Chief, but what about “Pastor-in-Chief?” This term has become a buzzword in recent months, as last fall’s presidential election shined a brighter light than usual on the role of faith in the Oval Office. As voters across the nation attempted to choose between Mormon and Protestant nominees, citizens gobbled up details about how Romney’s Mormonism compared to Obama’s Christian faith and upbringing.
At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about all of the hoopla surrounding the President’s personal faith leading up to the election. After all, didn’t Jesus believe in the separation of church and state? I was surprised to see an article titled “Is the President America's Pastor in Chief?” pop up on Christianity Today’s website last fall. After reading it, I was thankful I did, as it made me start thinking about how much the President’s faith should inform my decision to cast a vote:
In America, we like our presidents a certain way: tall, telegenic, and quick-witted. They should be adept at shaking hands; smart, but not too smart; wealthy, but not too wealthy.
Many Americans would add another job requirement, a more spiritual one in nature. The President, many voters believe, should be a pastor to the people, a pan-Protestant minister-at-large to the church of America.Americans differ widely in their views toward the presidential pastorate . . . Whatever our views of what ought to be, let's not kid ourselves about what is—the pastoral dimension of the presidency is an enduring feature of American life.
During his talk at the 2011 National Prayer Breakfast, Obama was open about his personal faith walk, and included details about his personal devotional time:
"When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, I ask him to give me the strength to do right by our country and our people. And when I go to bed at night, I wait on the Lord and I ask him to forgive me my sins and to look after my family and to make me an instrument of the Lord.”
I was comforted by the President’s transparency during his 2011 address, and was also encouraged by his reference to “Mama Kaye” Wilson. Wilson, an Obama family friend and godmother to both of the President’s daughters, has organized prayer circles across the nation to support the President that come together to pray several times per day. Wilson has been called a “low-profile member of the President’s inner circle,” but I would argue she holds a high-profile position in the kingdom of God. By tangibly carrying out the Biblical call to pray for our leaders, she has recognized that, even though the President has influence over billions of people around the globe, he is still a sinner in need of grace, just like the rest of us.
So during our earthly existence in a kingdom ruled by the evil one, we are called to “submit to the governing authorities that have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1), but also to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). For me, that means joining Wilson in daily prayer for our President—especially today, on a national holiday commemorating the leaders who have led us, and will continue to lead us, into the future. Will you join me?