Twenty years ago, I donned a modest bathing suit and set out to save souls.
My church youth group was on a mission trip in Cherry Grove, S.C. In the mornings, we performed a Bible-school-style children's program on the beach, complete with skits, songs and stories. The kids sat on little pews we had dug out of the sand.
In the afternoons, we canvassed for participants, knocking on the doors of beach cottages and condominiums. In pairs, we handed out flyers inviting kids to learn more about the Bible.
I never thought that the knowledge I gained as a teen mission volunteer would be useful come election time.
This fall, we will be faced with a ballot. Like my fellow mission team members, the candidates will appear in pairs (not in bathing suits, I hope), and we will decide whether we believe in what they believe in - politically speaking, of course.
Is it also necessary that our religious beliefs match those of the candidate we endorse?
It would seem so, especially after Mormon Mitt Romney entered the Bible Belt last month and was handily defeated by Protestant Newt Gingrich. Romney was back on top after Florida which, politically speaking, isn't exactly Southern.
It was no surprise, of course. We're not called the Bible Belt for nothing. Religion permeates the Southern culture. I am no longer a churchgoer, but I'm in church all the time, because that's where the social events of my community happen.
My son's basketball team plays in a church gym. I've taken exercise classes there and eaten a barbecue lunch in another community church. I've even attended a forum of candidates for local office, held in the fellowship hall of a local church.
It's that last example that scares me. It's not so much that a church, especially a centrally located one with ample seating, shouldn't be hosting a political event. It's that people don't think twice about it.
Just as I never thought twice about knocking on someone's door in the middle of their vacation and inviting them to Bible school.
Just as we don't think twice about asking about a candidate's religious views, much less endorsing that candidate because of them.
As soon as we do, though, we allow religion to be used as a political tool.
Speaking of political tools, Newt Gingrich's moral track record means nothing as long as he's contrite and still on God's side, right?
The moment a candidate purports to know the will of God, much less apply it to his politics, is the moment he should withdraw from the election. The moment we decide between candidates based on their personal religious beliefs is the moment we should abstain from voting.
I don't want to know Gingrich's (or Romney's) religious views any more than I want to see them in bathing suits.
But I'm afraid it's too late. Too many of us take it for granted that because the Bible condemns something, we should make it law.
Suddenly it's necessary to know what God has to say about birth control and same-sex marriage.
I can't really say myself. We didn't perform many Bible skits for the kids about Sodom and Gomorrah.
We did talk about the book of Exodus, and we even taught the kids a song to the tune of "Louie, Louie": "Pharaoh, Pharaoh, oh, baby, let my people go." To a catchy pop tune and under a scorching July sun, we taught children about slavery and liberation.
I doubt the Israelites were as glib as we when it came to being tyrannized.
And while I'm no longer out to save souls, I'm pretty tolerant of those who are. As long as they're not on the ballot.