I know that according to Nancy, Presbyterians aren’t supposed to yell “Amen!” when they hear something they really like. Well, I must not be one, then, because that’s what I wanted to do when I read Peggy Noonan’s latest. A snippet:
It’s not as if faith is unimportant, it’s always important. But we are asking our political figures–mere flawed politicians–to put forward and talk about their faith to a degree that has become odd. We push them against the wall and do a kind of theological frisk on them. We didn’t use to.
And the kicker:
There are some people who believe faith doesn’t belong in politics. But it does, and it is there inextricably. The antislavery movement, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, the antiabortion movement, all were political movements animated in large part by religious feeling. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. You bring your whole self into the polling booth, including your faith and your sense of right and wrong, good and bad, just as presidents bring their whole selves into the Oval Office. I can’t imagine how a president could do his job without faith.
But faith is also personal. You can be touched by a candidate’s faith, or interested in his apparent lack of it. It’s never wholly unimportant, but you should never see a politician as a leader of faith, and we should not ask a man who made his rise in the grubby world of politics to act as if he is an exemplar of his faith, or an explainer or defender of it.
We have the emphasis wrong. It’s out of kilter. And the result is a Mitt Romney being harassed on radio shows about the particulars of his faith, and Hillary Clinton–a new-class yuppie attorney and board member–announcing how important her Methodist faith is and how much she loves wearing her diamond cross. For all I know, for all you know, it is true. But there is about it an air of patronizing the rubes and boobs.
We should lighten up on demanding access to their hearts. It is impossible for us to know their hearts. It’s barely possible to know your own. Faith is important but it’s also personal. When we force political figures to tell us their deepest thoughts on it, they’ll be tempted to act, to pretend. Do politicians tend to give in to temptation? Most people do. Are politicians better than most people? Quick, a show of hands. I don’t think so either.
The task Ms. Noonan set out for herself in writing this column was a difficult one. She herself is a woman of faith, and she isn’t trying to say faith isn’t important — or even, as many do, that it shouldn’t affect one’s politics. But she performed masterfully, refusing to attack faith or faith in politics per se, but pointing out that she is disturbed by the “theological frisks” (I love that phrase) we are now doing on politicians. I am, too.
And I think her second point is an even better one. We’ve pointed out here many times that there’s a difference between pastors and presidents, and we’ve even argued that evangelicals should get that distinction on self-interested grounds — because if we don’t, our people are going to start getting torpedoed in politics on theological grounds. But Ms. Noonan adds a key, and quite commonsensical idea to this. And that is: We shouldn’t try to make our political leaders spiritual leaders, because they’re politicians.
Say it with me now — even you, Nancy: Amen!