By tradition and expertise, presidential candidates tend to avoid offering advice on the best way through the gates of heaven. But Mike Huckabee is more than just a political candidate. He is also a Southern Baptist pastor, and his presidential campaign has not stopped him from ministering to primary state voters as he travels the country. On the Sunday before the New Hampshire primary, he spoke at a small congregation in the state called “The Crossing” about the importance of being “soldiers for Christ.”
Then this Sunday, in South Carolina, he gave two sermons at one of the biggest churches in the state, The First Baptist Church of North Spartanburg. The subject of his sermon was the “sin of being good,” a meditation on the importance of being humble, despite one’s own good works. “Heaven is not a place of good people,” he said. “It is a place of perfect people.” Following his church’s teaching, he said that the way humans approach perfection is by accepting Jesus Christ, a decision he made at a bible camp on his tenth birthday. “Sin is a little ‘s’ and a little ‘n’ with a great big ‘I’ in the middle,” he said. “It’s an ‘I’ problem.” He also described heaven as a place without Band-Aids, where the streets were paved with precious metals.
Huckabee’s campaign has attempted to portray these religious services as non-political events. Indeed, the candidate said nothing explicitly political during his sermon, though the church’s pastor, Mike Hamlet, did encourage parishioners afterwards to vote in the Saturday primary. The Spartanburg event was also officially “closed press,” though that phrase does not mean much when you are speaking of a Baptist church, which almost by definition never turns any stranger away. (Traveling reporters were offered a holding room at the church, where they could watch the sermon by simulcast.) It is also no accident that less than a week before the primary, Huckabee chose one of the largest congregations in upstate South Carolina, where he will need a significant evangelical turnout to win.
The more interesting question is this: What does it mean for America to have president who continues to semi-privately preach his personal religious views? At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Huckabee said he would be open to delivering sermons as president, even though he acknowledged it would be logistically tough. He also said he would continue to draw a line between his political and religious vocations. “I don’t try and make it a part of the campaign, and go out there and say, ‘Okay, now everybody at the press conference, open your bibles, let’s read together,’ ” he said. “You know, if I did that, I think people would have cause to worry.”