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Samuel Wurzelbacher aka Joe the Plumber is running for Congress. Why? Apparently, because God said so. While Mr. Wurzelbacher, or is that Mr. Plumber, did not specifically mention receiving a Divine call, he previously stated in May of last year that any decision to run for office would be in light of “sit(ting) down and talk(ing) to God about it”. Apparently Wurzelbacher and God have chatted, and the Almighty apparently said yes.
Wurzelbacher will compete against already announced GOP candidate Rob Frost for the right to then compete for Ohio’s 9th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives, a seat currently held by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur. However far his candidacy goes, the plumber’s appeal for divine guidance in making his decision will certainly become an issue for many in the race. But is that really fair? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.
Many people will find it easy to mock the spiritual process in which Wurzelbacher likely engaged. They will point to his appeal for a personal calling from God, and to the danger of an elected official relying on something beyond himself to direct him in making such an important decision. They may even raise the question of the propriety of relying on a theological belief to determine the appropriateness of holding a secular office. While those are real questions to be raised about his process, is it really so different from what other, less overtly theological candidates do?
How different is it to appeal to God, than it is to “search one’s soul or conscience” as candidates often describe themselves doing in order to reach a decision about whether or not to run for office? In some ways, it’s not very different at all, and if the issue is Wurzelbacher’s use of God language, then its an unfair critique.
The important distinction between the two approaches is not the use of God, but in the candidate’s willingness to assume personal responsibility for his decision. Having appealed to God for an answer does candidate Wurzelbacher accept full responsibility for deciding to run, for the response of those who will question what expertise he possesses, etc. He cannot simply say, “God made me do it”. Like the candidate who search’s his own heart, the one who turns to God for inspiration, must still accept full responsibility for the decision and its results.
To those who say that invoking God is simply an easy way for religious people to rubber stamp the decision to which they would have come anyway, or worse, to which they had already come, I would caution, some use of caution. It is however something with which all theologically grounded people, especially candidates for public office, have to be careful. Does the God in whom they believe ever surprise them? Does the God to whom they listen always agree 100 percent with their beliefs? If so, then they probably are just listening to themselves.
Seeking guidance from a greater power is neither problematic, nor should it be mocked. But I hope the Joe the Plumber, like any candidates who claims to do so, treads lightly and with great humility about the answers they receive. That’s often the most important difference between appealing to faith in the public square and abusing it in the same location.