In a Facebook conversation recently, a friend asked whether Christians should bother voting, and on what basis should they vote. Several comments derided politics as divisive and corrupt, saying that neither party has it right, so it’s not worth taking too seriously. I hear similar things from Libertarian friends, but it is both naive and self-righteous. It’s true that politics gets dirty. People mislead, exaggerate, blame and bicker.

Just like all of us.

The interesting thing about politics is that it represents the embodiment of all our collective hopes, yet it can never deliver on them. The tension between our ideals and reality is precisely what makes politics so ugly—it is a reflection of human nature that most of us would rather not face. But it is too important to look away.

Fr. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, recently said “there are no perfect pastors or priests, so why should we expect perfect politicians?” While we hold our public role models to high standards—as we should—the leaders of groups and congregations receive grace for two reasons. One, they have closer relationships to their friends, fans and followers. Two, their circle of influence is relatively small. Politicians, at least in Washington, represent us all in a way, and our relationship to them is merely contractual.

The “higher” up a politician goes, the more people he represents, the more people there are to please, the more superficial our connection, the more he is likely to be criticized for every little misstep. And for this reason, his steps have to be carefully planned. Of course, people recognize canned and planned responses and, ironically, they use this as more fodder for their criticism. There is no winning strategy for a politician without excellent rhetorical skills.

It gets under my skin every time someone says they wish politicians could just “be real.” I want to reply, “No you don’t! You want them to ignore the tough problems, tell you everything’s going to be fine, and tell you how they have a 5-point plan that’s better than the other guy’s, but without boring you with specifics.” You don’t want to hear about how balancing the budget will require cuts to something you like. You don’t want to hear that the economy is not something a president can fix (though he can do tremendous damage). You don’t want to hear that people should take responsibility for their decisions.

Politicians know this, so they frequently get caught between trying to do what they know is right versus what their constituents think is right, then balancing all that with pressure from lobbyists and party leaders. When they’re put on the spot they end up sounding like their skirting the issues or making false promises. This is what happens when you try to please everyone. But isn’t that democracy?

I enjoy politics, but I don’t expect you to. What I do expect is for Americans—Christian or not—to think seriously about their choices, evaluate their convictions, and vote for the party that is more likely to advance the values and principles they feel are important. But I have two caveats here: 1) stick to the two major parties—anything else is either a wasted vote or a vote for the person you least like. 2) vote on practical solutions, not just idealistic goals.

I vote Republican because I believe that freedom and opportunity for the whole of society are achieved through small government and strong families, communities, churches and businesses. Divisive though they be, these are not just “political” issues, they are human issues. We cannot shy away from our duty to stand up for justice in the world just because someone might disagree with it. Be engaged in the discussion, but do so thoughtfully and respectfully.

While elected officials in Washington have been debating over the debt ceiling, another robust conversation has been materializing at the intersection of faith, poverty and economic policy.

In July, an ecumenical coalition of Christian leaders met with President Obama to present a statement—the “Circle of Protection“—casting welfare programs as a moral imperative. Claiming a commitment to the values outlined in Matthew 25 (“…whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”), groups like Sojourners, led by God’s Politics author Jim Wallis, insist that “funding focused on reducing poverty should not be cut.” This initiative reflects a larger movement among young Christians toward a view of wealth redistribution as “social justice.”

While the moral appeal for welfare is nothing new, the boldness of couching it as an explicit commandment of Christ adds a new log to the fire. After a bloody culture war in which the church fought at the front lines, many young evangelicals resented the pigeonholing of Christians as a right-wing voting block. Those sentiments were intensified as Republicans in the Bush era were characterized as ignorant and bigoted. The current fiscal debate has provided an opportunity to set up camp alongside the progressive wing in a way that emphasizes compassion. Unfortunately, while they are right in suggesting that “budgets are moral documents,” they confuse individual responsibility with collective coercion.

In response to this shift, and recognizing the lack of sound economic principle in the church, a countermovement has emerged declaring the virtue of free enterprise and the danger of bloated government. Throughout the Twittosphere, Christian capitalists have been critiquing the agenda of the Circle of Protection, making the case that government programs frequently exacerbate and prolong poverty, and that Christ calls us to serve one another as voluntary individuals, not through a bureaucratically adulterated political game. Furthermore, they argue, a burdensome regulatory and tax system slows economic growth and makes it more difficult for individuals at every income level to pursue a fruitful life.

“Christ calls us to serve one another as voluntary individuals, not through a bureaucratically adulterated political game.”

A full-page ad by the American Enterprise Institute’s Values & Capitalism project appeared in Politico, in opposition to a previous ad by Wallis. In turn, Sojourners’ communications director Tim King attempted to clarify the Circle’s position, albeit ineffectively. King writes that the Circle does not seek a “blanket exception for all poverty programs under any and all cuts,” yet everything in the statement communicates otherwise—including the aforementioned quote that such programs “should not be cut.” If what King says is true, the authors of the Circle’s statement were merely sloppy and irresponsible in their prose.

Adding depth to the conversation, the Values & Capitalism project, represented by Eric Teetsel, is helping to build a new coalition—Christians for a Sustainable Economy (CASE)—to provide a counterweight to the Circle. Teetsel co-authored CASE’s Letter to the President, requesting their own meeting with Obama. The letter dismisses the idea that the Circle of Protection represents a majority view among Christians, and provides a freedom-oriented, values-based approach to fiscal responsibility. The letter, like the Circle, is signed by a wide array of respected Christian leaders. The letter was made available for the public to sign, and continues to add names. (You will find my moniker at #33. sign here)

This discussion is a very important one for the Church body, though there is a tendency to shy from such complex and controversial topics. Religion and politics are ostensibly forbidden from friendly discourse—especially in the same sentence. But there are some issues that cannot be passed over. Public policy must be rooted in ethical purpose, and if the church is silent, others will fill the gap. We must engage fully in a search for understanding about humanity and social institutions, and we must do so with grace and cordiality. We are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ, and secondly agents of His justice on Earth.

For those interested in exploring this debate, Remnant Culture has posted a convenient round-up of responses from various Christian writers on the “What Would Jesus Cut?” question.

He spent his teens as an Eagle Scout, lived two years as a foreign missionary, earned his B.A. in International Politics, became fluent in three languages, served four presidents and reached 90 percent approval ratings as a Republican Governor of Utah. Jon Huntsman has an uphill battle to climb with the GOP base, but if he plays his cards right, his experience and centrist appeal just might place him among the most serious contenders this election season.

If this happens, many voters may face a double dose of what has been termed the “Mormon Problem.” A third cousin of Mitt Romney, Huntsman shares more than DNA with the man who made the issue national in 2008, and with both men in the race, the likelihood of a Mormon GOP nominee is looking probable. This would force many Christians into an uncomfortable reconciliation of their personal convictions with their public concerns, as Mormon theology is commonly understood to be at odds with Christian orthodoxy.

One approach says that we should select candidates as professionals, not pastors. If we need heart surgery, we do not care what the doctor believes, so long as he knows how to make us well. There is merit to that argument, but we must be cognizant of the important distinction between a position of leadership and a position of mere tactical knowledge. Leaders determine direction, and direction stems from values. Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.

“Decisions in a business, church or body politic reflect the values of its leadership.”

Still, there is a more important criterion for measuring a candidate against his religious faith: the extent to which a president’s beliefs support the fundamental claims upon which a free and just society is built. It must revere and hold responsible the free choice of individuals; it must place a sacred value on both the human person and the family unit, including the institution of marriage; and it must allow room for the tough decisions that Commanders in Chief must make in the face of hostile evil.

Not all belief systems can support these concepts, but the “Church of Latter-Day Saints” does. Responsible stewardship and the strength of the family, for example, are central features of the Mormon faith, and members are urged to engage fully in civil service. Significant theological disagreements do exist between mainstream Christianity and Mormonism, but when it comes to the confluence of core values and social institutions, they are much more likely to stand together on key issues.

There is no reason to believe that a Mormon president would lead America in a direction counter to Christian principles. Furthermore, it is not guaranteed that a Christian candidate would not. Regardless of the faith a candidate identifies with, we must be attentive to the decisions that are made and the results they produce. If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.

“If a president’s policies betray liberty, dignity and family, then it matters little what book or deity they claim to follow.”

Though the American Founders believed in the value of a strong religious—primarily Judeo-Christian—influence in society, they did not envision a nation governed by a particular doctrine. They viewed the roles of church and state as separate, and for good reason: the church should not wield the sword of law, nor be yielded by it. Therefore, our Constitution was designed to preserve freedom no matter the ruling party, and each president is sworn to protect that document by oath. It is not a president’s particular theology that should concern us, but whether or not that oath means anything to the person taking it.