Joe Biden, Layman-in-chief

September 18th, 2015

Vice President Joe Biden, like President Obama, is open about his Christian faith. And after his recent appearance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, his moniker one day, if he decides to run for president and actually wins, might be Layman-in-Chief.

Obama has been at times a Pastor- or Preacher-in-Chief during times of crisis, drawing on the lyrical preaching traditions of the African-American church to voice our national pain and soothe our hurts. During Biden’s appearance with Colbert, he confessed his faith but without the piety of a preacher. He was quite open about his emotional and spiritual struggles to reconcile belief with the harsh reality of the death of his son Beau.

“(Søren) Kierkegaard said ‘Faith sees best in the dark,’” Biden told Colbert. “My religion is just an enormous sense of solace.” Biden, a Catholic, talked about the benefits he gets from going to Mass and saying Rosary. He talked about the comfort the theology and culture of his religion give him. Yet, he conceded his doubts. “The faith doesn’t always stick with you,” Biden said. “Sometimes it leaves me.”

That revelation made for compelling television. But it also struck a nerve for those of us who, like Biden, are believers but also struggle with doubt. And the longer I live and the more Christians I talk to, I believe that many of us are like Joe Biden. Many of us, like the father in Mark 9 whose son was afflicted with seizures, have times in our lives when we can honestly say “I believe; help my unbelief!”

 It takes courage to admit that faith and doubt sometimes co-exist in the same heart, battling for supremacy. And it was that candid admission that made Biden’s faith real and relatable, very layman-like.

Biden already had the “regular Joe” image going for him. He was, after all, the gaffe-prone candidate during the 2008 Democratic primary who described fellow candidate Obama as “very articulate,” a phrasing that easily could be mistaken for a racial dog whistle because of the historic stereotyping of black men. And it was Biden as vice-president, who whispered to Obama that the passage of the Affordable Health Care Act was a big “f***ing” deal.

But it is this Biden – the grieving, gaffe-prone Biden, faithful father and Catholic, seeking solace in his religion while fending off doubt – who stands apart from all other potential presidents, even the overtly religious ones such as Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. Of course neither his great Late Night appearance nor the recent bumps he’s gotten in the polls guarantee that he will decide to seek the Democratic nomination.

And even if he does, this regular Joe will need more than religious transparency to convince Democrats and ultimately the nation that he should be our next president. But it won’t hurt his legacy, regardless of whether he runs or not, that Biden’s conversation with Colbert revealed a real flesh-and-blood person of faith, not a zealot, an ideologue, an angry prophet, or even a preaching president.

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