As the dates for the first Presidential primaries race towards us, debates are taking place, candidates are spending money, and voters are making up their minds. Candidates are giving interviews and, occasionally, one says something that is just enough off script or politically incorrect that it makes the news. Dr. Ben Carson did just that when he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation”. Politicos on both the left and the right panned his response. But is he right?

It strikes me as a little strange that his comment is receiving such backlash, for most of the candidates portray themselves as Christians. And, as I write this, the media is full of images of President Obama meeting Pope Francis on an airport tarmac, a rare gesture for a president to make. Surely there must be something special about Pope Francis’ uniquely Christian commitments that invite such a gracious welcome!

But before we look at weather the president can be a devout Muslim, I’d like to first make an argument for why I would prefer my president to be a devout Christian. It’s not because I’m a theocrat and I look for the president to be a Christian leader or even a spokesman for the faith. I, as a Christian, do not yearn for special favors from the government, but really just to be left alone. That is probably the best we can hope for, anyway.

No, a president being a Christian strikes me as good because such a president would have a proper understanding of man and God. Indeed, since Christians believe other faith claims are not true, why would I possibly want my president to be spiritually deceived? I want my president to know who God has really revealed himself to be, as the living God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, and of course, as the Father of Jesus, the only redeemer of the world. I want my president to know that he will be judged by the true God and that he will be held to account for his actions while president.

I want my president to know the Law of God and to bind himself to it. I want my president to know God’s forgiveness as well, so he can be spiritually sane, not burdened by sins that could cloud his judgment and his thinking. I want my president to be a person of hope, for there is much hope in the Christian worldview. I want my president to aspire to Christian virtues, such as honesty, dignity, thrift, faithfulness, and perhaps most of all, modesty. I want my president to fear God, for that is the beginning of all wisdom. I want my president to have a very firm grasp of the doctrine of vocation, so he understands how people of faith live and work in this world, and is able to separate church and state, even while protecting religious freedom.

Finally, I want my president to have an exceptionally clear understanding of man’s sinful condition, so he is not led to a destructive naïveté as he advances his agenda. (Theological liberalism fails on this count.) Our government is structured the way it is precisely because of the Judeo–Christian understanding of man’s sinfulness. America’s forefathers, through the Constitution and its various checks and balances, strove to keep man in check because of this understanding.

Some of these same values, of course, are also found in Islam. Christians and Muslims do share some of the same laws and virtues. But a devout Muslim – who adheres to the Koran – simply could not lead America and still be true to Islam. A devout Muslim does not make a distinction between God’s laws and man’s laws. Hence, many Muslims seek pocket communities where they can live only by Sharia law and ignore western laws. Muslims do not seek religious freedom, but at best, tolerate others of differing faiths. To be a non-Muslim, even in many “moderate” Muslim nations, involves paying a religious tax, the jizya. That is very different from the kind of religious freedom Americans respect.

In short, Islam and the American presidency are simply not compatiable because a devout Muslim has prior commitments to his faith. That a secular government could be an instrument and tool of God is foreign to a devout Muslim’s way of thinking. They have no teaching from Muhammed that resembles Jesus’ “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And you will not find anything like we have in Romans 13 that actually declares that God can and does work through secular governments.

These limitations may not apply to a non-practicing Muslim, a humanist, a Mormon or a Jew. But they would apply to a devout Muslim. That isn’t a judgment, but a simple reading of the Koran, the standard by which a devout Muslim would want to be judged. Since we live in a nation of free elections, there is nothing to prevent a devout Muslim from being elected. But it should not be scandalous to suggest there is a difference between Christian and Muslim understandings of religion’s role in society, when clearly such differences exist.