Please Pardon Me: Why I’m Not Excited about Sarah Palin for President

I drafted this blog shortly before Sarah Palin’s announcement that she is resigning as Governor of Alaska later this month. I think I’m not overstating anything to say that her speech the other day confirms some of the concerns I raise here. While Palin’s political future seems uncertain at this point, I am posting the blog in order to point out what I think are some problems with the way some evangelicals think about matters political. I also need to add-since some will likely make a mistaken assumption about my position-that my lack of excitement about Sarah Palin for president has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman. I have no particular objection to the prospect of a female president; I believe it would be good for our country were there serious women candidates in every presidential election.

In a recent beliefnet.com blog, David Gibson asks, “Now that the GOP hopefuls are flaming out, is Sarah the Savior?” He reports that a recent Pew Poll shows Palin generating a great deal of excitement among voters and leading the Republican pack for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, ahead (“well ahead,” he says) of the nearest rivals, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. (It is notable that Mike Huckabee is missing from the survey-though you shouldn’t mistake my observation for enthusiasm about a Huckabee candidacy).

It is interesting to read comments by Palin supporters on the blog. One person is certain that “Sarah is the hope for America to keep the principles of the Founding Fathers.” Of course, given some of Palin’s replies to questions during the election, one wonders how much she knows about the Founding Fathers. She may know much about them, but she hasn’t given cause for confidence about this. I’d also have to ask which principles the commenter hopes Palin will keep for us. Is there a set of the principles of the Founding Fathers?

The Declaration of Independence I know, and the Constitution. And we have writings like the Federalist Papers from which we glean insights. But I keep hearing about these “principles” as if there is some “Principles for Governing America” pamphlet that my teachers failed to show me, one that confirms, by the way, that we are in fact a “Christian nation” in the sense that people like David Barton suggest. If there is in fact such a document, then of course we’d need someone like Sarah Palin to keep these principles. Ah, the light dawns.

Another person says that “America needs a true Christian president.” He presumably thinks Palin is just what the preacher ordered. The logic is impeccable: What America needs is a “true Christian president,” and Sarah Palin is a “true Christian.” Therefore, Palin is what America needs.

Somehow, amidst all those principles they forged, the Founding Fathers failed to specify being a “true Christian” as a primary qualification to be President of these United States. I have no opposition to a Christian occupying the White House. I agree that there may be much good in this. But I know plenty of “true Christians” that I don’t want to organize the community yard sale, much less lead these United States. At the same time, there are some people who may not be “true Christians” who may lead our nation quite effectively.

As Christians, and as Christian citizens, we should be thoughtful about what qualifies one to be an effective president. To say that we need a “true Christian” usually means, “We need someone who believes what I believe!” (on the narrow set of issues that really are important to me) . To select a president on this basis sounds something like everyone doing what is right in his own eyes, not wisely exercising one’s right to vote in a democratic process.

Nevertheless, a number of people, social conservatives and evangelical Christians chief among them, are very excited about Sarah Palin. Perhaps she would be a fine candidate and an effective president. But nothing she has exhibited so far leads me to believe that is true. She will have to do far more than with folksy charm agree to a set of “principles” and check off on a set of social issues (yes, I know she is the Governor of Alaska, at least for a few more days). She must demonstrate that she is fit to govern our nation, that she has the wisdom, intelligence, and skill to do so. Whether she does remains to be seen.

So, please pardon me for not being excited about Sarah Palin for president.

Two New Articles

Yesterday afternoon Baptist Press published a “First Person” (editorial) I authored titled “Gender and the Vice Presidency.” I argue that, biblically speaking, gender should not disqualify a political candidate. Christianity Today’s online edition published my review of David Dockery’s Southern Baptist Consensus and Renewal (B&H, 2008). It is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it.