Has there ever been a clearer gap between a candidate's claim of a divine call toward politics and Michele Bachmann's speech on Wednesday ending her race for the GOP presidential nomination?
She started with a long list of arguments against the healthcare reform law (several of which had long ago failed muster against actual facts.) She added a smidge of humility of the sort not generally found among active candidates. ("And so last night, the people of Iowa spoke with a very clear voice, and so I have decided to stand aside.")
And then there was this clear nod to her faith: "I look forward to the next chapter in God's plan. He has one for each of us, you know. If we will only cooperate with him, he always had something greater around the corner -- far beyond what any of us have ever thought or imagined."
But she seemed far less uncertain about God's plan for her when she entered the race. Ditto for her fellow failed (or nearly failed) candidates Herman Cain and Rick Perry. And for the latest non-Romney favorite, Rick Santorum.
Cast your eyes back to 2006 when Bachmann said: "God then called me to run for the United States Congress." And then last year, just before starting her presidential campaign: "It means I have a sense of assurance about the direction I think that God is speaking into my heart that I should go."
Perry's wife told the world last year about a conversation she had with her husband: "God was already speaking to me, but he (her husband) felt like he needed to see the burning bush. I said, 'Let me tell you something: You might not see the burning bush but other people are seeing it for you.'"
Herman Cain explained his call this way: "Whether that is ultimately to become the President of the United States or not, I don't know. I just know at this point I am following God's plan."
Santorum's wife has said her husband's campaign is "God's will."
For those of us not privy to their faith, this all sounds a bit like a claim of divine endorsement. If I'm good enough for God, surely you should vote for me.
But any hint of an arrogance of invincibility spotlights a long tension between the "name it and claim it" wing of Christianity and the history and traditions of the early church.
The modern "Prosperity Gospel" represents the extreme of one side. The idea that a properly prayerful Christian, truly filled with the Holy Spirit, has but to name a desire and God's grace will provide success. And the much longer tradition of intercessory prayer is based on the belief that a conversation with God can affect worldly events.
But Christianity's early years offers vanishingly little evidence that a call from God leads to success in this world. For a Christian, who could possible have been more directly called than the original apostles?
Judas, of course, ended either by suicide or by his body exploding, depending on which Gospel account you favor. How about the others? We don't exactly have photos, but here are some of the traditional accounts:
Peter, crucified. Andrew, crucified. James, killed by the sword. Bartholomew, flayed alive. Thomas, speared to death. Simon the Zealot, hacked to death. And it doesn't get any better moving forward. Paul, beheaded. And so on. Most of the early saints suffered a gruesome variety of tortures and deaths.
Whatever one believes about eternity, this is not a strong case for a correlation between God's call and political power. If I'm looking for someone likely to win an election, maybe I want someone who God hasn't so directly called?
I'm not questioning the sincerity of the politicians who claim they've heard the divine call. None of us are mind readers. None of us can truly know the thoughts or beliefs of anybody else.
My question is more about their supporters. Perhaps there are other, more appropriate hallmarks of achievement better suited to decide who gets your votes.