This week I got an email asking from someone who reads my column from my internet site. He claimed to be Alan from Baltimore. While it wasn’t possible for me to confirm his identity, I can confirm that there are people asking what he asked.

“More and more Christians (including myself),” he added parenthetically, “believe that God is trying to tell us something with the Florida hurricanes for unjustly electing Bush in 2000. Do your church members have the same views?”

The e-mail seems to point to the growing division between those of faith over what side of the political fence God is on. But what I’d like Alan to know is that I suspect God has more interest in the reasons we vote than over the candidates we elect. For instance, do our votes reflect more concern for our own individual agendas? Or is our vote steeped in prejudice or intractable traditions?

Years ago, my father unknowingly gave me the best advice on how I should vote. His advice came as an answer to my question: “Dad, what will happen to us if you and mother both die?”

“Your Uncle Bob will raise you,” he said.

The philosophy behind the answer has influenced many of my choices about life–including how I evaluate political candidates asking for votes in exchange for their confessions of faith.

My father’s answer surprised me, because he was a Bible-toting pastor and Uncle Bob was a beer-toting teacher.

“But Dad,” I said, “Uncle Bob doesn’t go to church.”

“Your uncle may not attend church, but I’m confident he’ll make you go to church,” he said.

My father was certain that his selection of a competent guardian would ensure we would be raised with the faith of our tradition, but he questioned whether a faith-filled guardian equaled a competent parent.

As we prepare for the presidential election, there has been talk about selecting a candidate of faith–which begs this question: Is it more important to have a Christian president than a competent president?

It’s great to hear that a candidate attends church, but I’d rather be certain that he or she will attend cabinet meetings and make competent decisions.

Political strategists from both parties suggest that presidential candidates who are not willing to talk about their faith on the campaign trail will have a hard time wooing voters.

You may recall when democratic hopeful Howard Dean got some negative press for incorrectly placing the book of Job in the New Testament. The truth is that I’d rather read that our candidates know where to find Afghanistan.

Because the nature of faith is personal, anyone can claim to have it. How do you tell the difference? Christian writings warn of the presence of “false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13).

The problem with electing or re-electing someone because he or she claims to have faith is that it becomes difficult to distinguish those claiming to be “born again” from those who may be “born to be wild.”

Spirituality is a strong motivator for ethical living, but because it is a personal reflection of an inward trait, there is no way any of us can be totally sure of the authenticity of a “spiritual” candidate.

As my father chose a competent guardian to ensure the continuance of faith in our family, so should we elect the most competent guardian of democracy. Next month as we vote, we must remember that a choice for competence will always be the best choice for freedom to flourish.