Does it bother you that Vice-President Mike Pence proudly shares that he talks with God? I have to admit it bothered me a bit – but not for the same reasons many other people became uncomfortable with Pence’s revelation.
I understand why some people are dismayed by the vice-president’s faith in open display in the public square. In fact, a “faith standard” is a pretty high bar to meet in terms of public service. For instance, how credible is the faith of a man who thinks Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio is a shining example of the rule of law, a man to be honored? If Pence’s faith-based political judgment whispers that Arpaio is an honorable man, what are we to think about Pence’s judgment on a wide array of other political topics?
In this light, I understand the concern displayed by many people about religion in politics. I see it too, I get it and I agree in large part. But what I do not get is the wholesale dismissal of the idea of God and what a real, tangible God means for people of faith in public service. If I say I have a personal relationship with God, does that statement preclude my public service? What if I say God told me, after much prayer, to vote no on an issue of moral importance? Or, better yet, what if God told me to vote no on a transportation project? Is your discomfort that I shared with you my conversation with God? Is your discomfort that I might prioritize my relationship with God over my relationship with my constituents? Or is your discomfort my faith generally? Do we trust elected officials who talk with God? Or do we distrust anyone who claims to talk with God.
Those are big questions anywhere but no bigger than in Utah. Nearly, 80 percent of Utah’s Legislature is comprised of people who claim to talk with God. They talk with God about their personal behavior, their marriages, their children and grandchildren, their financial and professional decisions, and the welfare of their neighbors. They want God’s input on all of these relationships. Is it beyond the pale to think they might talk with God about political matters such as how to vote and for whom to vote? Are political constituents the only measure of guidance?
Compounding the issue in Utah is a belief in God’s ordained servants. For many people, an elected official with a belief in God is not a problem nor is the concept that an elected official talks with God. But a line seems to be crossed when an elected official talks with God’s ordained servants. In other words, believe what you want personally but taking policy guidance and legislative counsel from the LDS Church is an abrogation of civic independence. But what if an elected official’s conscience includes alignment with her chosen faith? Is she any less independent if she votes her conscience regardless of the source of her conscience?
Speaking about the relationship between a legislator and his constituents, Edmund Burke said, “Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is [a legislator’s] duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Can a politician’s better judgment include faith? Of course it can. What it cannot include is partisanship. Mike Pence cannot have it both ways. He cannot brand himself an exemplary person of faith and then turn around and provide unconditional endorsements of his lying boss, Donald Trump, and a racist sheriff, Joe Arpaio. I know this because God told me so.