If one listens to European politicians, the majority of them avoid any talk of God. One may hear the name of God if someone sneezes, but that is the extent. When I attended a seminar for Christian historians, one of the speakers addressed this by stating that historians who want to have their books published by the secular press should leave the “God talk” out.
However, American politicians talk about God often, much to the chagrin of their opponents in other parties. It has been interesting to see how “God talk” became central again in American politics during the last three months.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently gave an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network, where she said that God "wanted Donald Trump to become president." In a February interview, Steve Bannon talked about the unhappy days he spent working for this administration and told the press that he did "the Lord's work" at the White House. In a conversation with some of my students, I found out that Vice President Mike Pence is more hated by many Democrats than the president because Pence believes that he is in the White House in fulfillment of his God-directed destiny.
The Republicans do not have a monopoly on talking about God. Democrats use it just as much, depending on which audience they are addressing. A seminary colleague came back from a trip to Washington, D.C. where he heard someone ask Nancy Pelosi if there is hope in the United States. This colleague was deeply impressed by the House Speaker’s biblical answer when she said that hope always resides between. This is the famous conclusion of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “now remain these three: faith, hope and love. But the greatest one is love.”
Cory Booker, our own New Jersey senator, often quotes Jesus and makes theological comments. The Intelligencer wrote an article entitled “Is Cory Booker the Candidate of the Christian Left?” in a December issue. In the article, the author discusses how Booker’s talk of God excites some people and makes others very uncomfortable. That absence of comfort was evident this past week when Booker was asked if he believes if Trump is a racist. He answered that "I do not know the heart of anyone. I'll leave that to God," which did not satisfy his less-religious friends who pressured him to make a more direct statement.
God’s involvement in government is explained most clearly in the book of the Prophet Daniel where God says that he is involved in kings being brought to the throne, as well as in their removal. That verse and other passages like Romans 13 are foundational for people’s belief that there is divine providence in determining who becomes a leader, whether that is a governor, a president, or a king. That is why talking about God in government seems natural for some Americans, while for some it is antithetical to the idea of democracy, where the will of the people (at least theoretically) should be honored. The Christian Right seems to believe in God’s direct involvement in politics and government, while the Christian Left seems to focus on the guidelines that God has given us for our daily life, including our government.
It will be an interesting two years in politics as people on both sides try to use “God talk” to explain their positions and sway voters. While it may convince some constituents to consider their views, it may also alienate those who are uncomfortable with talk of religion in politics.