By Bryan Fischer
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Evangelical voters have engaged in considerable debate over marital qualifications for public office as the GOP primary campaign has progressed. This is entirely healthy, and a sign of a vigorous community of faith.
Those who say that a candidate’s troubled marital past should not be a consideration for values voters are quick to point out that we are choosing a president, not a pastor. The qualifications, they say, are different for pastors than for politicians.
Yet if we allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves, we are in fact choosing a minister when we select a president. No less than three times in Romans 13, Paul uses words that emphasize the sacredness of public service.
The one who serves in public office is “God’s servant” and the “servant of God” (v. 4), and statesmen are “ministers of God” (v. 6).
The word translated “servant” in v. 4 is the Greek word “diakonos,” which elsewhere is translated “deacon,” referring to one of the divinely ordained offices in the church. Another form of this word, “diakonia,” is frequently translated “ministry.”
So if in fact we allow the Scriptures to be our guide, then public service is a form of ministry. One who holds public office is serving in a divinely ordained role, just as much as a pastor in the pulpit. The role of a statesman is every bit as sacred as that of a clergyman.
The word translated “minister” in Romans 13:6 is the Greek word “leitourgos,” from which we get the English word “liturgy.” It is as if Paul is going out of his way to emphasize the sacredness of public service.
And clearly it is a sacred role, because, as Paul makes clear in v. 1, “[T]here is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Every politician, whether he knows it or not, is using delegated power, delegated authority, authority delegated to him by God himself.
Now elsewhere in Scripture we read of the qualifications for sacred ministry. An elder, the apostle says, “must be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:1). Since polygamy was illegal in the Roman empire, Paul is declaring that one qualification for pastoral ministry is that a man be still married to his first wife.
This phrase, in fact, ought to be the easiest phrase in the Bible to interpret. We all know what a husband is, we all know what a wife is, and we can all count to one.
Some argue that the phrase should be translated “one-woman kind of man.” But even those who take this construction would be very unlikely to think this means unlimited affairs, divorces and re-marriages. How many would be too many? If two is okay, why not three? If three is okay, why not four? At some point, everybody’s threshhold will be crossed. If there is in fact a threshhold - and there clearly is - why not take the unambiguous standard set down in Scripture?
It is my view that the same qualifications that make a man eligible to serve in the pulpit are the same qualifications that make him eligible to serve in the statehouse. Both are exercising authority which has been delegated to them by God and are therefore involved in sacred work.
Many if not most of the qualifications that the Scriptures list for pastors or elders are in fact standards that most people instinctively apply to candidates for public office. We want men (generic use) who are “above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, not arrogant, not quick-tempered, not drunkards, not fond of sordid gain, self-controlled, disciplined, etc.” (1 Timothy 3:2-7, Titus 1:5-9).
And regardless of how we feel about serial adultery, sexual misconduct is often considered a disqualifier for public office. You can ask Anthony Weiner about that.
In my judgment, this is a minimum qualification for public office: a prospective president must be “the husband of one wife.”
Now I understand that many Christians will take vigorous exception to this construct, and I understand that. We are all engaged in a critically important dialogue on this very important issue, and the debate should be robust and direct.
In the final analysis, each values voter will need to decide for himself how much weight to give the “husband of one wife” standard. With so many conservative candidates who do meet this standard, it has enough weight for me to narrow the field by one.
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)