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Oglesby: Look for candidate qualities that matter most
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Evangelical Christians such as me might do well this election year to remember the biblical admonition to render unto Caesar that which is his, and to the Lord that which is His.

Remembering this, a study of the Apostle Paul’s Christian evangelical life after he was struck blind on the road to Damascus could teach us something as we grapple with the seemingly impossible task of selecting a presidential candidate to support.

The writings and speech of our nation’s founders, both in official documents and private journals and correspondence, show conclusively our nation was founded on Christian principles. At the same time, the founders made clear in the First Amendment our government would be secular, using its power to guarantee freedom of religion to all, and favoring no religion.

When we elect public officials, we aren’t electing a pope, rabbi, priest, prophet or what have you. We should expect them to administer the laws, without regard to their religious faith teachings but in regard to Caesar’s due. It is natural that we might consider religious faith of some sort as one of the several qualifications we consider.

Now to Paul’s evangelical journeys. No doubt, he was led by the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, as fervent a servant as he was, God closed numerous doors to him. Not for punishment, but because God had other purposes for him.

I’ve read and heard so far in this campaign, in local, state and national media declarations that the speakers or writers would not vote for candidate A, B, C because the voters considered a position not to be Christian. Not the only example, but certainly prime, are the abortion and cult issues.

A number of evangelicals say they can’t vote for Rudy Giuliani or John McCain because of perceived pro-choice stances. A number say Mitt Romney flip-flopped on that issue so they don’t know where he stands, and anyhow, they consider his Mormon religion a cult, and they can’t tolerate a cultist president.

Back to the Apostle Paul. He was notorious as a persecutor of Christians. Indeed, he was headed to persecute more when he was struck blind. God closed that door to him but opened far more fruitful doors. God can and does use all things, even those He doesn’t approve of, to accomplish His will in the end. Who are we to say he may not have a purpose in letting something happen (even a vote) he doesn’t approve?

It has crossed this evangelical Christian’s mind that it could be possible that voting for a candidate with whom we might disagree on a religious belief might lead to a greater overall good in the long run, as was with the Apostle Paul.

Romney may be true to his word that he will administer the secular law faithfully, even if it’s against his Mormon belief. President Kennedy was true to his word regarding the pope or threat of excommunication.

Giuliani may be true to his word that he states his beliefs openly but will administer even laws he disagrees with faithfully. Put McCain in the same categories. Same for the other candidates.

With the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries effectively out of the way and the Georgia primary nigh upon us, we’d do well to evaluate objectively secular qualifications actually pertinent to the office. For whatever it may be worth, these are the principal five qualifications I’m evaluating most closely as I select my preferences for each party’s nominee. This assumes all have leadership qualities.

To me the most important current issue is defeating organized terrorism, a key to which is staying the course in Iraq. Second is the candidate’s actually demonstrated true philosophy of government, not the have-it-all-ways doubletalk we’ve been hearing.

Third is ability to recognize where we actually are as opposed to where we wish we were and bring about doable improvement, even if initially short of our perfection, as opposed to adamantly insisting upon and futilely pursuing a currently unattainable ideal solution. Fourth, this third qualification would apply especially to the illegal immigration and border security issues. Fifth, the candidates’ resumes or overall actual real world experience and record as opposed to rhetoric.

I confess to a weird dream. Republican maverick McCain and Independent (former Democrat) Joe Lieberman fit each of these qualifications. Both have demonstrated broad general election crossover appeal. Underdog McCain somehow winning the GOP nomination and selecting a willing (?) Lieberman as a running mate, pledging to maintain party control and platform should he have to assume the presidency, would set the table for a bipartisan, pragmatic, problem-solving administration.

Could they possibly persuade a Sam Nunn or Colin Powell type to become secretary of defense, or a Newt Gingrich-type to lead Health and Human Resources?

That’s real change. Just dreaming; evaluation continuing.

Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. His column appears biweekly and on Originally published Jan. 8, 2008.