Evangelist Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, who is also a preacher, told a group of panelists that she could not vote for an atheist for president. It appears she was in the minority. Good for her. But will she and scores of other prominent preachers and Christian leaders maintain a Biblical standard for civil magistrates? Graham is right to identify as a qualification that the candidate “Fear God“. But the phrase must be defined as the Bible does.
What does it mean to fear God?
First, it means they must be a Christian: Psalm 2 requires that kings, just like everybody else, bow the knee to Jesus.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
This fear of God in Christ means that the candidate must not serve other gods or believe in more than one God. The Bible is clear that if one does not accept the Son, he or she has rejected the Father, as well.
Second, the fear of God means keeping the Commandments: ALL Ten! If the candidate is a habitual liar, adulterer or thief, or if he unrepentantly blasphemes God or worships idols, he is not qualified for office. Eccesiastes 12:13 says,
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man
I have written elsewhere:
Before the U.S. Constitution was ratified, atheists could not serve in the civil realm in most states, because they could not honestly take the oath of office, which required belief in God. Maryland required “a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion.” The North Carolina Constitution of 1776 also required that
No person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority of the Old or New Testaments…shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
It should be also noted that North Carolina, like many other states, forbade a practicing member of the clergy to serve in civil office as well, for the prevailing thought was that his ministry would be corrupted if he tried to be a pastor and governor at the same time:
That no clergyman, or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of pastoral function. (emphasis mine)
By the early 1800s, nearly all of the provisions of the U.S. Constitution were either applied to the states or adopted by the states, including Article 6 which abolished religious tests.
In light of the ban on the religious test for holding office, is it right for Christians to consider whether a candidate fears God or not? Of course it is. The ban only forbids a legal religious test for holding office; it does not keep voters from using this to make their own decisions. Some have argued that keeping the spirit of the injunction requires individuals to block religion from their evaluations. But that is like saying that in keeping with the spirit of the 1st Amendment parents must allow their children to swear, or that in the spirit of the 2nd Amendment all businesses must allow guns on their premises.
A religious test recognizes that men who take oaths in God’s name will be held to a higher accountability than just their own notions, or even fear of being caught by other men in violating the oath of office.
How will the fear of God make governors more able to carry out their duties? First, it will make them rule justly (1Sa 23:3). It will also keep them from ruling with an iron fist or with cruelty (Neh. 5:15), make them personally generous (Acts 10:2), give them respect for the disabled and the aged (Lv. 19:14, 32) and help them to see the plight of the poor and the immigrant (Lv. 25:35f).
Fearing God means that the leader will not be swayed by the ever-changing whims of a fickle electorate. He will strive to obey the commandments of God in his personal life. The Scriptures speak of righteousness and holiness. The world speaks of ethics and morality. What are the differences between the two characteristics? The latter speak of one’s outward behavior only and usually only in relation to fellow men. Christians recognize the Bible requires an inward righteousness as a gift of grace. It demands a right relation to God. Of course, no one claims to be able to read the heart of another. But still, one’s actions and words can display what is in the heart.