Pharisees out to get Romney

Evangelical Christian leaders reportedly agreed to unite behind Rick Santorum in an attempt to block Mitt Romney’s winning campaign. But did they really coalesce? After the first sign of unity, some other religious celebrities in the Newt Gingrich camp protested, “Not so fast.” The resulting confusion is a big mess and a good reminder that religion and politics shouldn’t be mixed, at least as seen lately on our Republican political stage. 

Don’t misunderstand my perspective. I am a devout and orthodox Christian with a decidedly conservative theological perspective. I even think of myself as an evangelical in outlook, but I’m definitely not of the “professional political operative evangelical” persuasion. And because I think the witch hunt to topple Romney is a hugely misguided quest, I am calling out the perpetrators.

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Let me be clear that I am not approaching this matter from my perspective as a pollster, except in one regard that I will get to momentarily. It would be inappropriate to cite polls about opinions of religious voters on topics of theological significance. Cross-tabs of Catholic, evangelical or mainline Christian opinions should not be a guide for faith-based strategies in political affairs. Rather, those judgments should be based on a biblically informed sense of what’s right. It’s not a straw poll issue. My only pollster perspective on these matters is that unless the Republicans nominate Romney, we seriously risk reelecting Barack Obama, an outcome that doesn’t serve the cause of the church universal, given his administration’s outright hostility toward faith-based policies.

My critique of the religious leaders in the GOP today, dare we call them the Pharisees, is that they are doing more to hurt the cause of the Kingdom of God than they seem to recognize. Personally, I think the greatest public affront to the Trinity is the many divisions we see in the Body of Christ — the church. And as I have reflected on the history of those divisions, going back to the earliest centuries of the church’s development, the splits most often occur at moments when political and religious people and policies become intertwined to foster disunity. Today’s Pharisees need to re-read John 17:21 and grasp the importance of oneness: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” As long as Christ followers are divided by lesser issues, like who deserves the GOP nomination, why would unbelievers be turned around?

My own sense is that if our contemporary Pharisee faction in the GOP would spend more time becoming one in Christ rather than publicly and awkwardly brokering a partisan nomination, the cause of Jesus would be better off. This isn’t easy. I understand. Such a seemingly simple matter as defining sacraments and finding common ground on the Eucharist is ostensibly beyond our churchmen’s ability. But that is where the effort should be directed, not toward stopping Romney.

Make no mistake about the Pharisees’ strategies, though: This anti-Romney stuff is more theological jihad than ideological critique. But if mainline Christians cannot even agree on the nature of the last days and afterlife, how do they credibly progress to a political posture critiquing Mormon Christology? Matthew 7:3 says it well of hypocrisy: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” I doubt the extra-biblical notion of purgatory that Catholics such as Santorum and Gingrich presumably endorse. Should I therefore publicly and stridently oppose their nomination because they might encourage others to believe in purgatory? Heaven forbid.

David Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican candidates and causes since 1984.


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