Chaplain Norris Burkes (copy)

Chaplain Norris Burkes. 

The signs are popping up in my neighborhood. Our mailbox overflows and the robocalls light up the evening. It’s election time.

“I’m wading through the material trying to make the right choice, but it’s a formidable process,” I confessed to a neighbor.

“I just try to vote for the Christians,” she said.

“Yeah? How do you know they’re Christians?”

“They say they love God and they are anti-abortion,” she said.

I took a hard look at my Fitbit. It just felt like it was time for me to go jogging. I wanted to check my calendar, too. Maybe I had an appointment, somewhere I needed to be.

Before we vote for the candidate with Jesus in his or her pocket or the one kneeling with a televangelist under glaring camera lights, maybe we should think this through.

Let’s pause to ask two questions concerning the candidate who publicly professes religion.

First, let’s ask what it looks like for a candidate to be spiritual or religious. Is one religious just because he goes to church or his wife is a stay-at-home mom? Does his clean living tell us everything about his faith?

Perhaps, but I’m thinking that sometimes a deeper faith is uncovered by a person's failures. For instance, what did the candidate do when he lost the last election? Or if he has publicly “sinned,” what has he done to confess and make restitution?

Maybe faith is best revealed when one does the hard thing. He makes an unpopular stand with his constituents. Perhaps he stays with a wife who’s been arrested for drugs. Or he supports a son who’s come out as gay. Someone taking this course of action will demonstrate that faith runs a strong parallel with integrity.

Yes ma’am, a strong faith will help a candidate be a good person, but his or her faith insinuates little about their level of competence.

That’s why I suggest we also ask the second question of competence.

After all, I think most of us would rather hire a capable plumber than one who hangs a Fish sign on his truck. It’s nice to employ someone with both attributes, but I’d rather have a working faucet than a praying plumber.

In that same respect, I’ll forgo a religious politician who parades his personal faith for his own good, and I will vote for one who will guarantee that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

My dad taught me the lesson of competence the day my siblings asked my parents a difficult question. “Who will raise us if something happens to you?”

“Your Uncle Lowell will raise you,” my dad revealed.

Questions populated our faces like chicken pox run amok. Our uncle was a smoker, drinker and cusser. It seemed likely that he’d never darken a church door.

My dad patiently explained that while his brother wasn’t one to display his faith in a “Baptist way,” he would make a disciplined and competent parent. “He will make certain you are in church.”

We had expected to live with one of our church-going aunts, but our father’s will cast a vote for competence over religion.

So, my new neighbor friend, I’ll be praying for our candidates, but I’ll not vote for someone primarily because they proclaim to support the Christian agenda. I’ll be voting for integrity and competency. I hope you will, too.

Contact Norris Burkes at 843-608-9715 or comment@thechaplain.net or twitter @chaplain.