Most mornings, our bedside Bose clock radio sounds an alarm ten minutes before the time I wanted, the night before, to get out of bed. This interval allows my brain and body to communicate over the prospect of arising. Often this dialog takes the following format:
Brain to Body: “Get up, you’ve spent too much time in bed.”
Body to Brain: “Mind your own business. I’ll get up when I’m ready, and I’m not ready now.”
Sometimes this dialogue continues for up to an hour until my brain finally overcomes my body. One morning last week, with the radio tuned to our excellent local National Public Radio station KUT, I became instantly awake, alarmed at the story being broadcast: A politically savvy initiative is being organized to recruit evangelical Christian pastors to run for political office, beginning at the local level, e.g., mayors, members of city councils, boards of education, and county commissioners. We may expect this initiative to progress to electing evangelical pastors to state and national offices.
David Lane, a born-again Christian and self-described “political operative,” leads this initiative, termed Issachar Training after one of the 12 tribes of Israel, a tribe that according to the Bible (I Chronicles 12:32) was led by men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. “Our goal is to get men and women who know the Bible to move into the public square,” Mr. Lane said. “They’ll know what to do when they get there.” According to Mr. Chad Connelly, a former state Republican chairman in South Carolina and currently director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee, five percent more Christian evangelicals who are serious about the word of God and voting Biblical principles will forever change the United States.
Mr. Lane opened an Issachar Training session in Charleston, S.C., with a prayer citing what he regarded as the nation’s sins, from deficit spending to abortion. “Fifty-five million babies dead. Red ink as far as the eye can see. Homosexuals praying at the inauguration. … Lord, have mercy.” The recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, apparently added more impetus to the movement.
Church and State: Separation Of, or From, Each Other
When the news broadcast ended, I went to my writing den to see if I could find a transcript of the broadcast. A Google search revealed the transcript and a written account of the story. I heard correctly. Issachar Training exists and may be generating real excitement in some Christian evangelical circles. Will the excitement lead to action in the political arena, at least in the way Mr. Lane and others hope?
As I reflected upon the information I had elicited about Issachar Training, my non-lawyerly opinion suggests that nothing in the US Constitution prohibits evangelical pastors from running for elected political office. Yes, many people may believe such a course of action to be unwise, especially if the evangelical pastors retain their pastorates. These pastors will need to be astute concerning how they conduct religious services and other religious activities in order not to run afoul of Federal laws that could result in loss of tax-exempt status for their churches. Perhaps, loss of tax-exempt status does not bother many of these pastors and congregants in view of the goals of the movement?
The Constitutional principle of separation of church and state primarily means the Founders did not envision a nation with a state supported religion or church. The Founders did not want a Church of England situation in our democratic republic. Within this restriction, I have long argued that Judeo-Christians must be involved in politics at all levels; but my perspective is separation of church and state, not separation from each other. Even so, I am leery of Judeo-Christian pastors, as well as rabbis, imams, etc. taking up political office.
A History of Failed Experiments
I contend that the pastors involved in Issachar Training would better serve this nation by working to ensure a level playing field for all religions. The Gospel message, when properly explained and witnessed to in words and deeds, will lead to the time when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ as Lord.”
If we get to the “nitty-gritty” of Issachar Training, we can see that Mr. Lane and his followers are simply trying to legislate their view of Judeo-Christian morality upon this nation. I am certain that not all Judeo-Christian citizens of this country will accept the Issachar movement’s vision of morality enforced through legislative dictates establishing Judeo-Christianity as our state religion. Yes, even with the harsh often lethal tactics the Islamic State employs in its version of Islamic morality, true morality does not result because hearts and minds are not changed: At best, fear may change behavior in some instances. We may look no further than at Prohibition and homosexuality to understand that morality cannot be forced or legislated.
Prohibition Joyful excitement and relief erupted in conservative religious and political groups upon ratification of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920. This Amendment prohibited the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. People who supported the 18th Amendment considered alcohol, specifically drunkenness, a threat to the nation. Prohibition proved difficult to enforce and failed to have the intended effect of eliminating crime and other social problems to the contrary, it led to a rise in organized crime, as the bootlegging of alcohol became an ever-more lucrative operation. That is, many citizens wanted to drink alcoholic beverages, despite the legislation and harsh penalties. In 1933, widespread public disillusionment led Congress to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition.
The 21st Amendment did not infringe upon the religious freedom of opponents to consumption of alcohol: This Amendment did not force anyone to drink alcoholic beverages against their will nor did the Amendment prohibit anyone from exercising Free Speech rights under the 1st Amendment to speak out against “the evils” of alcohol.
Homosexuality (This discussion should be viewed in the overall context of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer rights.) The recent Obergefell v. Hodges decision from the Supreme Court seems to have both disillusioned and galvanized many evangelicals, including supporters of Issachar Training. This decision declared hetero- and homosexual persons have the same Constitutional right to marry within all jurisdictions of the US. We may now confidently expect evangelicals and some conservative politicians to exercise their religious freedom and Constitutional rights to agitate for a Constitutional amendment prohibiting same sex marriage and, possibly, homosexuality within the US. We may also expect the amendment not to be ratified.
No generally accepted scientific explanation fully accounts for why 5 to 10% of the human population can be classified as homosexual. This trait, however, has been a consistent feature of human affairs throughout history. Many societies, such as Victorian England, Islamic governments, and some US states, have attempted to legislate homosexual behavior out of existence. Homosexuality continues despite legislation and draconian punishment.
Actions, not only Words and Legislation
The way Judeo-Christians live by example always trumps legislation. Judeo-Christian moral behavior must reflect God’s laws written on the heart, not on legal documents and not even on stone tablets reproduced on courthouse walls. Judeo-Christian evangelicals, including those within Issachar Training, should be especially aware of this foundational principle. For example, if these persons believe so fervently in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, they should offer a cogent explanation for why divorce rates among conservative heterosexual Christians are statistically significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than for atheists and agnostics.