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The Bible and the law: finding a moral compass in the race for governor

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The Bible or the law: Is it an either-or question?

Lora Hubbel seemed to say it is, with her at least, during a TV interview in Rapid City last weekend.

“My moral compass is the Bible,” Hubbel said. “My moral compass is not the law.”

I was in the kitchen doing something kitchen-like when she said that. And it stopped me. I thought it was an interesting answer to a more interesting question:  How does an elected official with a faith life and strong religious beliefs balance them with the law, and his or her obligation to the law?

And how big a factor should the faith life of a candidate be to South Dakota voters?

So I reached out to the candidates for governor with a set of questions, the first of which was based directly on Hubbel’s TV comment. Since Hubbel inspired the question, I’ll start with her:

Is your moral compass the Bible or the law?

Lora Hubbel: “If the law were my moral compass I would agree with abortion. If the law were my moral compass it would change with every new law or I would be conflicted with every conflicting law. If the law were my moral compass and I lived in Germany in the early 1900’s I would be guided by the Nuremberg Laws … which would be abhorrent.  Another common misunderstanding of a moral compass is to use it as a financial guide. If it is profitable it must therefore be moral. Some candidates let this be their guide. If packing the pipeline in Bentonite and using American grade metal for the pipe costs us more, those extra cost-increased precautions must be rejected. Or if getting billions of dollars from foreign investors to start fake capitalist businesses makes money, i.e. EB-5, then it must be moral. Or if I can buy an election with lobbyist influence it therefore must be moral. I disagree with all of the above. Not me … I view it (the Bible) as the inspired world of god and have found it helpful in my many questions in life.”

* Marty Jackley: “My moral compass was shaped by how I have been raised.  I look to both the Bible and the law.  I have a Christian faith and we are a nation and state of laws.”

Kristi Noem: “The Bible, which teaches us "there is no authority except from God" (Romans 13:1) while also instructing us to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Mark 12:17).

Billie Sutton: “I would view it as my faith being my moral compass. It certainly includes lessons from the Bible and values through my upbringing. But we’re certainly a nation of laws and I would never presume to tell somebody how to believe or anything like that.”

Terry LaFleur: The Bible is God’s word, and the Ten Commandments are God’s laws.  If we all obeyed God’s word and God’s laws we would not need any others. We wouldn’t need armies, judges, attorneys or police. However, we live in what I call a 7-Up Utopia. We never had it and we never will! The federal Constitution is the law of the land, and the state Constitution is the law of our state.
My Moral compass is God’s word and God’s laws. My ethical compass is the federal Constitution. I didn’t say the state because the state constitution cannot afford us anything less than what the federal Constitution affords us.”

What is your faith life like, and do you have a specific religious affiliation or church you attend most?

* Hubbel: “I consider myself Christian and really enjoy several Christian denominations as they all have wonderful histories. Currently I attend Central Church in Sioux Falls.”

* Jackley: “I was raised Catholic and attend Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Pierre.  When in Raid City I attended both the cathedral and Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church.”

* Noem: “Faith is very important to Bryon and I. While this job requires a lot of work on the weekends, Sunday mornings are reserved for church. That is a priority every week. While we may attend other churches in the state if I need to travel, our regular church is the Foursquare Family Worship Center in Watertown. My grandparents helped plant that church, our kids grew up in that church, we were children's pastors there, and we still teach kids church on Sunday mornings.”

* Sutton: “My faith life is a very central part of my life. It directs my relationships and certainly informs who I am as a person. I’ve been a member of the Lucas Baptist Church my whole life.  We’ve always been involved there.”

* LaFleur: “I am United Methodist.  We regularly attend our church in Hartford.”

How do your religion, your faith and your spiritual life affect the way you do your job now, and the way you would do it as governor?

* Hubbel: I have sent Bibles all around the world. I boxed up hundreds of them (as personal donations – not even tax deductible) to Afghanistan, the Philippines, Life light , Minnehaha County Jail and more in English, Spanish and Arabic. When first introduced to the abortion issue I asked God his thoughts and again, immediately opened the Bible to Proverbs 24: 11-12 “ Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death; don’t stand back and let them die. Don’t try to disclaim responsibility by saying you didn’t know about it. For God, who knows all hearts, knows yours, and he knows you knew! And he will reward everyone according to his deeds.”
I felt it applied and learned more of God’s heart for the downtrodden.

* Jackley: “I always have and will continue to seek direction from both the teachings of the Bible and the law.”

* Noem: “My relationship with the Lord is my foundation in all things. As a result, the values I hold according to biblical principles impact my decisions: we are called to love, but we're also instructed to stand for truth. I'm hopeful my leadership reflects that.”

* Sutton: There has always been a focus in our family on faith and public service. I think a lot of times your faith is part of your calling to serve the public. It is how I was raised in my faith. I’ve also been a strong believer that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle. I believe that when one door closes another opens. So after my injury I realized I was following a path that wasn’t mine, but that God had a plan. I’m not going to treat being governor any differently than I’ve treated my other work. I’ll just take on the job and try to do it with honesty and integrity, as I have my whole life.”

* LaFleur: “My spiritual faith allows me to be a better Christian, and being a better Christian allows me to be a better husband, father and grandfather.  I would continue to follow my moral and ethical compasses in the capacity of governor of South Dakota.  Being a good Christian allows me to be better at whatever I do in my life.”

Do you have a spiritual advisor:

Hubbel: “As a Protestant Christian it is customary to have the Holy Spirit  as your Spiritual leader. Anything less would be merely human. I have had mentors but only the Holy Spirit is perfect."

Jackley: I have been blessed with prayer groups.

Noem: “My husband, several pastors, and church elders speak into my life and share their wisdom. I am also incredibly grateful to all those who pray for me and give me incredible encouragement daily.”

* Sutton: “Certainly many people have walked me through my journey. But probably my dad would be my most influential in that regard. He has always been the one to text me Bible verses or share a story. I can still remember riding the tractor with him and hearing the story of Job, and what Job went through and the adversity he faced. It’s still one of my favorite Bible stories.”

* LaFleur: “Occasionally, I consult my pastor.  When my father-in-Law was alive, I would speak of such things with him.  I genuinely miss his sound advice.  I pray to God every night that I may awaken the next morning and earn his good grace.  God’s word and God’s laws are the best advise anyone needs to live a good life.”

Do you regularly read the Bible, either alone or in study groups?

Hubbel:I have been an active reader and studier of the Bible since age 11 when I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham movie, “The Restless Ones”. As a teenager I was in Church three to four times a week for Midweek Bible Study, two Sunday services, and then youth group. It molded me. We did not have “programs” back then. We only had the Bible. I learned how to read it, reread it, digest it and use it for building my moral fabric. I have been in or led Bible studies most of my life.

* Jackley:  "I read the Bible primarily on my own (with kids part of CCD/church). I have two in my office, including the one from my high school graduation.

* Noem: Yes. One of the experiences I've treasured most while serving in Congress is the opportunity to be involved in a bipartisan Bible study. Digging into the Word with people who grew up differently than you, came to Jesus in a different way than you did, and have faced different trials and tribulations than you have has helped to deepen my faith. But I also believe it's important to have that one-on-one connection with God each day that comes through prayer and private devotionals.”

* Sutton: “Yes I do. Not study groups but I read the Bible. It has gotten me through a lot of hard times. it’s something I’ve really relied on. I had always gotten into the Word prior to my injury. But I really dug into it deeper after I got hurt. I was looking for answers. I didn’t ever question my faith but that didn’t mean I wasn’t searching for answers. It helped me dig deeper into my faith and see what life was going to look like for me.”

* LaFleur: “I generally read the Bible alone.  Each time I read it, I take away something new.  Everyone reads and benefits from the Bible in their own special way.  I do not profess to be a scholar of the Bible, but I do find it extremely important in my life personality.”