Oversized red, white and blue balloons and matching tablecloths decked Simmons Great Hall as students, faculty and staff gathered to discuss the interaction between faith and politics on Tuesday evening.
More than 150 students attended the discussion and panel, hosted by John Brown University’s Residence Life and Honors Scholars Program. The College Democrats and College Republicans clubs also set up booths at the event, and other tables provided information about how to register to vote, how to stay informed about the election and asked students to vote in a mock election.
The panel consisted of University President Chip Pollard, Honors Adviser Maria Lehr, College Republicans President Phillip Todd, College Democrats President Allan Aguilar and Professor of Biblical Studies Robbie Castleman.
“I’m really glad we were able to do this,” Pollard said. “I appreciate the spectrum of opinions here.”
Panelists answered questions ranging from the integration of faith and politics to important issues of education and immigration reform. The audience texted in questions to supplement the questions prepared in advance.
“Scripture should influence our political decisions,” Todd said, answering the question of how Christians should engage politically.
Aguilar agreed, explaining that God created government and put leaders over people, and we should follow and respect that institution. However, Castleman pointed out the importance of separating faith from politics.
“We must keep our kingdoms straight,” she said. “It is clear in scripture that we should separate church and state.”
“I would never bedeck the cross of Christ in red, white and blue,” Castleman said.
Castleman also referenced 1 Timothy 2:2, saying, “The Bible tells us to pray for those in authority.”
In response to a student who asked whether it was better to vote for someone you disagree with or to not vote at all, the panelists agreed that it is better to vote anyway.
“Compromise is part of the political process,” Pollard said, explaining how there are no perfect candidates.
“If you don’t vote, you’re voting for the worst possible candidate,” Todd said.
Castleman added, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”
The panelists shared their opinions on the different candidates and most told how they had voted that day in primaries; three voted for Marco Rubio, one voted for Ben Carson and Castleman declined to answer, but said she did not vote for Donald Trump.
The conversation also brought up the problem of fear and how it has driven American politics.
“People have a lot of fear,” Pollard said. “Trump has tapped into that. However, the Bible’s most often repeated phrase is ‘do not fear.’ Fear feeds some of our basest instincts, and fear decisions are typically bad decisions.”
Pollard explained that, while Americans do have reasons to be concerned about terror attacks and other disasters, “it is usually overblown.” Other parts of the world have it much worse off, he said.
Castleman agreed with the president, and referenced the Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who lived through the Nazi reign in Germany and actively criticized the Christians who joined Adolf Hitler. Castleman told the story of how Barth gathered with his students at the end of the war, stood on the rubble of their former school and gave lectures on the Apostle’s Creed. Even after the horror of the war, Barth reminded his students that God was in control, Castleman said.
“That’s what we should say after the election: God is on the throne,” she said. “Whoever wins the election will not determine your life. Christians should be the least fearful people. We need to live like it.”