Clergy need a Goldwater rule


This week I learned about the Goldwater Rule from John Dickerson’s chatter on Slate’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, “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

A 1964 issue of Fact magazine led to an APA ethical standard known as the Goldwater rule.

A 1964 issue of Fact magazine led to an APA ethical standard known as the Goldwater rule.

For the cover story, the author/editors of the magazine interviewed psychiatrists and collected “cockamamie theories,” Dickerson says, “by which I mean just made up from what they read in the papers, about why Goldwater was unfit to be president.”


 John Dickerson published a full episode 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 “the Goldwater rule.” The rule says that psychiatrists can offer their expertise about issues in general, when asked about people in the public eye. “However,” they continue, “it 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 statement” (according to Wikipedia).

I wish clergy had such a rule for evaluating the “faithfulness” of presidential candidates. We can 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 clergy—I’m looking at you Falwell, Graham, Copeland, Dobson, et al.—who seem to think they have a role in anointing Clinton, Johnson, or Trump as God’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.) 

Have we forgotten that God’s choice to lead God’s people is not a president but God himself?

That’s the whole point of 1 Samuel 8. When the people of Israel ask for a king so they can be “like all the other nations” (1 Sam 8:5, 20), God sees right through it. “[T]hey haven’t rejected you,” God tells Samuel. “No, they’ve rejected me as king over them.”

It is also at least part of the point of Jesus’ words, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Paul and the early Christians alluded to it when they co-opted titles for Caesar and applied them to Jesus. Christians knew Caesar wasn’t a son of the gods as he claimed. Jesus is the Son of God. Caesar claimed to be king of kings, but they knew Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus summarized it when Pilate, a representative of the Roman government, asked if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world… My kingdom isn’t from here.”

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, let’s expand it beyond presidential candidates, and apply it to all those with whom we disagree.

Let’s also stop misplacing our hope in our favorite candidate.

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