Article Six of the Constitution expressly forbids the government from asking religious tests of candidates. But for some reason, churches have applied the same restrictions on candidates for public office who are also members of their faith community.
Article Six states in part, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”(US Constitution) The Framers wisely understood that the government had no place in determining the orthodoxy or spiritual soundness of any candidate running for office – or those duly elected by the people.
The need for an effective faith in the lives of those seeking political office, though, was never far from the minds of the Founding Fathers. James Madison writes:
Religion [is] the basis and Foundation of Government. (1785) Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe. (1785) We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future…upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God. (Summit Ministries)
There are countless other references to the how James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and others felt about the need of a moral, religious public servant. Yet, how do we rectify this deep felt religious requirement and Article Six of the Constitution?
The answer seems clear – while it is not the role of the government to determine faith and orthodoxy, it IS the role of the local church to do so. Since the majority of the Founding Fathers were either Anglican or Presbyterian (Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers), Article 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith is relevant:
Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto. (Confession of Faith)
It is the role of the church to gather and instruct the faithful in the life and discipline suitable for the following of Christ. In the church, the elders have been given a specific role: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) It follows, then, that anyone seeking to public service – considered a high calling by John Calvin – should be examined by the local church in terms of faith, religious practice, and spiritual maturity. In other words – it is the role of the local church to administer a “religious test” – making sure that those who are elected are first representatives of Christ and then secondly representatives of those who put them in office.
According to a Pew Foundation study, close to 80% of all members of the House and Senate consider themselves Christian. (The Religious Makeup of Congress) Yet, we continually see these Christians vote for abortion and other issues that are clearly in contradiction to the Gospel of Christ.
It is time for churches to make sure that those who claim to be followers of Christ are actually carrying that out in their votes and actions in public office. The Roman Catholic Church has been in the forefront of holding her members accountable – Top Catholic Cardinal Says ‘No Way’. BreakPoint Ministries just awarded Tony Hall their prestigious Wilberforce Award for his commitment to Christ while in public office. But more must be done. Are churches asking candidates in their pews questions of faith and service? Are churches praying for people in public office and meeting with them regularly if they are members. Are communities of faith holding their members who are elected officials accountable for their actions? Will churches go the final step of removing from their rolls politicians who are acting against the Kingdom of God – and who show no signs of changing or repenting?
The Founding Fathers never expected the government to examine the inner spirit and faith of elected representatives. It is about time that the church started doing so.