COLUMBIA -- Judy Baker could push her faith as a cornerstone as a candidate for public office.
After all, in addition to earning a master's degree in healthcare administration at the University of Missouri, she also holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. And she's married to John Baker, a longtime minister and former pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia.
Judy Baker has a grasp on theological nuances, and has served others because of her faith. She also understands political systems -- serving in the Missouri House of Representatives from 2005-2009 and most recently, as regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Now, she is one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nod for the state lieutenant governor's post.
But what should that experience mean in the public eye? Simply that she as a candidate and Missouri's voters must be careful that faith is not used for political ends.
While Baker believes that "God alone...has the authority to measure faith," she also feels that candidates' actions can reveal "the character and values that demonstrate a heartfelt faith and the heart of God," she said in a recent email.
"However, it must be kept in mind, in our country where the First Amendment guides our civil framework, that each candidate is not really running for priest- or pastor-in-chief," she said.
Baker pointed out that while a candidate's "character and principles" should be considered, voters also must measure "other aspects of fairness, tolerance and competence."
"[B]eing a good Sunday School attendee doesn't necessarily indicate you are the best candidate to lay roads, provide fire and police services or lead the military," she said. "So a balance of the faith aspects and competencies claimed should all be considered. The former is a determination based on character and values, the latter...on competencies in a complex world."
Because no single candidate embodies all the traits and values a voter might hold dear, people of faith often may be faced with determining which beliefs will guide political choices.
"A voter who wishes to follow Christ to make these important decisions should do just that -- follow Christ," Baker said.
She recommends turning to Scripture and prayer. She also believes Christians should reflect on their understanding of Jesus' priorities, which she sees as "love, forgiveness, grace and justice."
"I balance these things always with the dedication as an American to the ideals of religious liberty," she said.
As believers try to determine their candidate choices, they have "a duty to do their homework and carefully consider all the claims" those running for office make, Baker noted. Christians should filter claims "through the lens of the teachings of Jesus Christ" as they focus on "major" issues.
"For me, the majors would include seeing to the needs of one's neighbor, seeking justice for all and building bridges of understanding for greater public good," she explained. "Jesus, the Christ, was foremost a healer. He fed the hungry. He sided with the oppressed. He spoke truth to power."
Jesus also often addressed the corrupting influence of money, she added. In today's climate in which politicians seem to have "unlimited and unmonitored resources," Baker suggests Christians "be diligent to evaluate campaigns carefully and not to believe everything you hear...."