This week I learned about the Goldwater RuleÂ from John Dickersonâ€™s chatter on Slateâ€™s Political Gabfest podcast, one of my favorites. Dickerson shared that in the 1964 election, a magazine called Fact published an issue with this provocative title on the cover, â€œ1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!â€
For the cover story, the author/editors of the magazine interviewed psychiatrists and collected â€œcockamamie theories,â€ Dickerson says, â€œby which I mean just made up from what they read in the papers, about why Goldwater was unfit to be president.â€
Â John Dickerson published a full episodeÂ about this on his Whistlestop podcast.
As a result of this story, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) agreed to section 7.3 of their ethical practices, known informally as â€œthe Goldwater rule.â€ The rule says that psychiatrists can offer their expertise about issues in general, when asked about people in the public eye. “However,” they continue, â€œit is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [about an individual] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statementâ€ (according to Wikipedia).
I wish clergy had such a rule for evaluating the â€œfaithfulnessâ€ of presidential candidates. We canÂ offer our expertise on issues, but it should be considered unethical for us to evaluate the faithfulness of individuals who have never been members of our congregations.
There are members of the clergyâ€”Iâ€™m looking at you Falwell, Graham, Copeland, Dobson, et al.â€”who seem to think they have a role in anointing Clinton, Johnson, or Trump as Godâ€™s choice for the next President of the United States. (BTW, I listed the candidates in alphabetical order, in case anyone reads bias into that list.)Â
Have we forgotten that Godâ€™s choice to lead Godâ€™s people is not a president but God himself?
Thatâ€™s the whole point of 1 Samuel 8. When the people of Israel ask for a king so they can be â€œlike all the other nationsâ€ (1 Sam 8:5, 20), God sees right through it. â€œ[T]hey havenâ€™t rejected you,â€ God tells Samuel. â€œNo, theyâ€™ve rejected me as king over them.â€
It is also at least part of the point of Jesusâ€™ words, â€œGive to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.â€
Paul and the early ChristiansÂ alluded to it when theyÂ co-opted titles for Caesar and appliedÂ them to Jesus. Christians knew Caesar wasnâ€™t a son of the gods as he claimed. Jesus is the Son of God. Caesar claimed to be king of kings, but they knewÂ Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus summarized itÂ when Pilate, a representative of the Roman government, asked if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus replied, â€œMy kingdom doesnâ€™t originate from this worldâ€¦ My kingdom isnâ€™t from here.â€
So, clergy and the rest of us Christians, can we adopt a version of the Goldwater rule for our very own? Like our colleagues in the APA, letâ€™s expand it beyond presidential candidates, and apply it to all those with whom we disagree.
Letâ€™s also stop misplacing our hope in our favoriteÂ candidate.