When I got into politics professionally more than 20 years ago, I learned one thing pretty quickly. The worst people in the business to trust were the ones who talked a lot about being Christians and talked about being on a mission from God to change the world by getting elected.
Those were the people most likely to try to cheat me. They were the ones most likely to cut corners and justify their “little” dishonesties with the justification that they were trying to do God’s will. As a Christian, that sickened me. I learned that I could trust most of the rest of the folks in the business. If they had been around for awhile — even if you knew they were liars and thieves — you knew there was an “honor among thieves” that you could mostly count on.
Politicians such as Rick Santorum scare me. It’s partly because of his cavalier willingness to use government force to impose his judgment on other people while spouting rhetoric about liberty. But even more than that, it scares me that he seems to believe he’s on a mission from God.
In a speech four years ago at a Catholic university in Florida, Santorum laid out his view of the world. In his version, the United States is on God’s side. The parts of the world that oppose this country are evil. He seems to have missed the point that when God sees a sinful and fallen world, that includes us, too. Instead, he sees a holy and righteous United States — led by the U.S. government, of course — on God’s side. He said:
“Satan has his sights on the United States of America. Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”
Let me be clear. I’m not taking issue with the notion that evil — in the form of Satan — is active in the world and “seeking whom he may devour,” as the book of 1 Peter puts it. I definitely believe there’s evil in this world. I take issue with the notion that the U.S. government or any other U.S. institution is any more righteous than the governments or institutions of other countries. If you believe the Bible — as I do — we live in a fallen world. There’s nothing special or holy about this country. God isn’t on our side. He’s on His side — and He calls individuals to changed hearts and changed lives. But the government of this country is no more “on God’s side” than Cuba’s government or Iran’s government.
Santorum sees the United States as decent and good, but that’s not a biblical view. In the book of Romans, Paul clearly tells us that nobody is righteous. Jesus saves individuals and makes them acceptable to God, but the fact that there are some Christians here doesn’t make what this country does good. I see a government that lies, kills and shows a callous disregard for people around the world as it uses force to impose its will. To see that as an institution on God’s side is to be blind to the facts or blind to the faith you claim to believe. But Santorum sees the United States as a good and decent country being attacked from the outside:
“This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age? He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions.”
This is an arrogant, prideful attitude that betrays a belief that this country is somehow different from all others. (We’ve talked before about the folly of American Exceptionalism.) What’s more, I see hints in the speech that indicate that he sees God’s hand in electing him to the U.S. House and then to the U.S. Senate. He sounds like a man who thinks he’s on a mission from God. (Cue the Blues Brothers.) Listen to the entire speech and decide for yourself.
Most of the people who are upset about the speech seem to be upset for the wrong reason. In his speech, Santorum decries the modern mainstream Protestant churches as having lost their way completely. That’s a theological point, not a political point, but it’s one I agree with completely. It’s just hard to see how that would be the point for the political left to pick out to complain about in the speech. From the viewpoint of any theologically conservative Christian, the mainline Protestant denominations are Christian in name only, certainly not in theology.
Santorum wants to see the United States as God’s agent in the world, apparently. Haven’t people from pretty much every country wanted to see God — or whatever god or gods they worshipped — as being on their side? In World War I, both sides were equally convinced God was with them. Both sides were ignoring scripture and history in believing that.
Santorum is ignoring scripture and history to believe that there’s something special about the United States. When God sees a fallen world, He sees this country as neck-deep in sin, just like the rest of the world. The idea that there’s something spiritually special about this country is arrogant at best, blasphemous at worst.
Sadly, many who call themselves Christians are going to fall for this great dishonesty. The Father of Lies must laugh at the irony of fooling the religious people most of all.
Note: On Tuesday, Santorum criticized new reports about the speech, but he didn’t disavow anything he said. “If they want to dig up old speeches of me talking to religious groups, they can go ahead and do so…,” he said in Phoenix.