Shortly before the election, former Governor Mike Huckabee narrated an ad urging Americans to vote according to conservative biblical principles.

“Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity,” he says in a Value Voters USA ad. “Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire?” Governor Huckabee goes on to pinpoint the issues that will be recorded in eternity.

“Many issues are at stake, but some issues are not negotiable,” Huckabee says. “The right to life from conception to natural death. Marriage should be reinforced, not redefined. It is an egregious violation of our cherished principle of religious liberty for the government to force the church to buy the kind of insurance that leads to the taking of innocent human life.”

This ad sparked some lively discussion, including in this interview with Jon Stewart.

Now I’m quite sympathetic to those who believe religious faith has a place in the public square. But I find the ad Governor Huckabee appeared in to be problematic, perhaps because I tend to be wary of those who claim we know which votes will have eternal significance and, in the process, can provide us with the hierarchy of God’s concerns.

It’s not at all clear to me, for example, that a vote against the same-sex marriage initiative in Maryland has more eternal significance that our policies on genocide, world hunger, sexual trafficking, slavery, religious persecution in Islamic and Communist nations, and malaria and global AIDS. A study at the University of British Columbia found that George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) saved 1.2 million lives in just its first three years. Might that have more eternal significance than knocking on doors for Todd Akin? 

My point isn’t that Mike Huckabee’s troika of issues aren’t important; it’s that I don’t have confidence that we know the mind of God well enough to declare which legislative votes or particular initiatives matter most to Him.

Nor am I saying that people of faith shouldn’t focus on different issues, given their particular interests, expertise, and calling. That is one thing, and often a good thing; but it’s quite another running an ad announcing with precision the three issues that will be recorded in eternity. Doing so places one right in the thicket of what a “faithful” and “unfaithful” Christian should believe in politics. It begins to move us down the path of a “Christian scorecard,” which I think is a bad idea, and implies that you can’t be a faithful Christian and be a progressive, which is absurd and self-refuting.  

Nor am I saying that we shouldn’t argue for our positions based on what we understand to be biblical principles. But there should be some humility when we do so, and some sense that while justice is a very serious matter, our prudential judgments on the application of justice tend to be imperfect and clouded by our bias and political predispositions. That is, for a complicated set of reasons, we’re drawn to some issues more than others — and those of us who are people of faith tend to build a theological case around the issues we’re instinctively drawn to rather than allow the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament to shape our deepest concerns and commitments.

When people of faith engage in politics, then, it requires them to walk a tightrope. There are responsibilities and temptations, which is why it’s important to act with a special measure of care and thoughtfulness. In this instance, in my judgment, Governor Huckabee fell short.