Monday, November 3, 2008

How Should a Christian Vote?

Here is a copy of a talk I gave before the 2004 election. Some of the examples are outdated and there are points that still need to be fleshed out, but I think this will give you a framework of my thinking on this. I submit this to your perusal.


Should Christians Vote?

Greetings. The title of this seminar is “How Should Christians Vote?”. However, in many of your minds, this title may have assumed too much, that is, the real question might be, “Should Christians Vote?”

Mark Noll, a well-respected professor at Wheaton College, has declared his intention to not vote. This is because, he says, that no candidate fully supports his seven convictions. Therefore, he has no party and will not vote.

Many Christians take this “all-or-nothing” approach. This is ostensibly why 4 million evangelical Christian voters stayed home in the 2000 election—they didn’t want to vote for Al Gore, and couldn’t in good conscience vote for a candidate that had a DUI on his record. The Democrat’s October Surprise almost worked.

Some Christian take a milquetoast approach that abandons the culture war. In 1999, Paul Weyrich, a prominent conservative activist that co-founded both the Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, stated in his Letter to Conservatives that we should “drop out of this culture” and that “politics has failed us.”

Understanding the context of these quotes and noting that he continues to feverishly work for the transformation of our societal institutions, we understand that Mr. Weyrich was not proposing that we stop attempting to change things through the political process.

But some have taken his words to mean that we need to have a nihilistic “who cares” approach, because “it’s all going to burn, anyway!” The fairly recent theological element of the rapture has also contributed to the idea that our responsibility is limited, and we’ll be taken out from among the heathen when things get rough.

A third, more historically sound approach, is that of pacifism. This has a tradition among those who believe that Christ’s commands to the individual to turn the other cheek applies to nation-states as well. And participating in the political process would then impute guilt to them whenever a nation might go to war.

In my view, these three approaches fall short. The first approach allows the perfect to become the enemy of the good. In an effort to maintain personal integrity while voting, the Christian non-voter sacrifices the common good.

Many Christian non-voters fail to recognize that compromise in the political arena is not akin to compromising the call of Christ. Faced with the realities of the world around us, compromise on issues must happen in order to anything good to take place.

In fact, one of the seminal liberties that we have, religious liberty, was enshrined in a document that protected the right of man to own other men. This was a compromise. Granted, it was a compromise with the intent of putting slavery on the path to extinction, but a compromise, nonetheless.

Should the Christian founders have walked out of the Convention because compromise was taking place, as George Mason did? What would have happened? Almost certainly, the United States of America would not be united. The North American continent would resemble the patchwork of Europe, with neighbors warring against neighbors.

Policy compromise also displays humility. Understanding that we are not perfect receptors of all truth, we allow for some differences of opinion on tangential issues. For instance, one can hold firm on the sanctity of life, but compromise on exactly how to protect life.

The second approach has characterized the majority of evangelical Christians for most of the twentieth century. We withdrew from culture and apologetics and allowed the social evolutionist philosophy flourish in law, politics, education and philosophy. We developed a haughty disdain of argumentation, science and rigorous study.

This disdain of the cultural interaction left us with a tradition of non-involvement that evangelicals have made valiant attempts to change in the last twenty years.

The third approach is faulty, in my view, precisely because the individual has different responsibilities to God than nation-states. Although, as many of our founders rightly believed, nations, because they cannot be judged in the afterlife, will be judged in this life.

So, why should a Christian vote? The following points are taken from For the Health of the Nations: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility a statement from the National Association of Evangelicals.

First, we should vote because God has given man dominion over the earth. That is, God has placed this world under our sphere of influence, and we are to be stewards of this gift. One way in which we can be stewards is through the policies that governments enact, as these policies greatly influence how we manage the world around us.

Second, we should vote because Christ is Lord over every area of life. To abandon our engagement of public life and concern ourselves only with private matters is to cede our sphere of influence to the evil one.

Third, we should vote because it is our responsibility to urge our government to live up to its divine mandate to render justice (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). When we promote justice within our society, we provide the structures that enable God to be glorified through the actions of government.

The Foundation of Justice

For the remainder of these talks, I want to focus in on the concept of justice. In the Old Testament, the Scriptures instruct Israel how to conduct affairs, and invariably, one of the main concerns of the nation is to promote justice.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20 says,

"You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
19 "(19) You shall not distort justice; (20) you shall not be partial, and (21) you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.
20 "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that (22) you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.

Psalm 99:4 says,
The strength of the King (1) loves [1] justice;
You have established (2) equity;
You have (3) executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

These verses emphasize the foundational aspect of justice. Throughout history, philosophers have discussed the elements of society, and justice continually reoccurs. It is widely noted that an unjust law contributes to the dissolution of society. A society cannot long exist that embraces injustice. This is because, as Aristotle states, a society is essentially a partnership. Partnerships cannot long endure when one member commits injustice against another with impunity.

In addition, where justice reigns, God’s righteous character is shown. A proper understanding of “good” shows that all that is good is an imitation of the character of God. Whenever we pray that “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, we are praying that God’s character be manifested in our earthly lives.

A just government points its citizens to the One who is just. For, as I point out in my POD class, justice has no meaning if it is subjective. There must be a supreme Law that is the final arbiter of justice. If such a law exists, then there must by necessity be a Mind behind the law, giving it imperative force.

A just government then, is the goal of Christian cultural engagement. So, what does justice look like? How is the vague notion of justice worked out in the many policy debates? How should a Christian vote?

Well, if you think I’m going to tell you who to vote for this election, you don’t know me very well. Though this election is extremely important, most of you aren’t old enough to vote. I’m going to lay out principles that you need to consider in the future as a Christian voter. Individuals come and go, but principles remain and guide you through the murky swamp of half-truths that make up the political landscape.

The elements of justice that a Christian needs to consider when casting a vote are: just war, just treatment of the afflicted and just treatment of the innocent.

After severely reprimanding Israel for her lack of faithfulness, God, through Isaiah the prophet instructs them to do good.

Isaiah 1:17

Learn to do good;
(43) Seek justice,
Reprove the ruthless,
(44) Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.

Notice “doing good” is defined as seeking justice, punishing the wicked and defending the afflicted. This is a succinct list of requirements that any government should follow to have success.

Also, through Jeremiah the prophet, the Lord says…

Jeremiah 22:3

3 'Thus says the LORD, "(1) Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his (2) oppressor. Also (3) do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not (4) shed innocent blood in this place.

Added to the elements in Isaiah, this passage instructs that governments are not only required to do justice (in which is bound up the element of punishing the wicked), and defending the afflicted, but governments also must take care not to do harm to those that are afflicted, and especially take care to do no harm to the innocent.

So, to repeat, the elements of justice are 1) just war (“reprove the ruthless), 2) just treatment of the afflicted (“defend the orphan, plead for the widow”), and 3) just treatment of the innocent (“take care to do no harm to the innocent”).

Just War

We’ve established that justice is essential to good government, and we’ve divided our consideration of justice into three parts, just war, just treatment of the afflicted and just treatment of the innocent.

We will examine policies from each of these perspectives and will look at the platforms of the two parties to see how or if they coincide with our best understanding of justice applied to politics.

The first element is just war. Just War theory as developed by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica lays out general principles, extrapolated from Scripture, that govern the declaration and conduct of a war.

Just War theory is typically designated for consideration of one nation going to war with another nation. In fact, this is the context for which it was intended. In this discussion, however, I believe that we can take these general principles and apply them to how we adjudicate within our own political system.

Let’s look at the handout listing the principles of Just War. As we look through these principles, we will consider them first from an international perspective, and second, from an intranational perspective

Handout #1
Just War Theory

8 Principles

Reasons for going to war
1. Defense against violent aggression
2. To restore a just peace (to friend and foe)
3. Military action is to be a last resort after all negotiations have been tried and failed
4. The decision to engage must be made by the highest governmental authority

Conduct of the war
5. War must be for limited ends
6. The means must be limited by proportionality to the offense
7. No intentional & direct attack on non-combatants
8. War should not be prolonged where there is no reasonable hope of success within the preceding limits

Some notable principles

o Just War is an act of love
o It is a greater evil for a Christian nation to fail to go to just war than for unbelievers
o Even a just war is a rough justice

1. Defense against violent aggression –
a. a just war is never conducted out of desire for conquest, power, money, etc.
b. adjudication takes place only against those that have committed crime, therefore all care must be taken to ensure the guilt of the convicted (trial by jury, elimination of corruption)

2. To restore a just peace (to friend and foe)
a. The goal of a war is to bring about a peace that furthers justice, not revenge [Our strategy in Iraq has three objectives: destroying the terrorists, enlisting the support of other nations for a free Iraq and helping Iraqis assume responsibility for their own defense and their own future. – George W. Bush]
b. The goal of legal punishment is justice, not revenge. Punishment of criminals ought not to be done for deterrence, rather for justice.

3. Military action is to be a last resort after all negotiations have been tried and failed
a. Unsuspecting military action is to be avoided. Those against whom military action is to take place must be forewarned and given adequate time to consider halting the aggression [In Thursday's-Sept. 12, 2002-speech to the United Nations, President Bush said Iraq's President Saddam Hussein has violated 16 UN Security Council resolutions resulting from the end of the Gulf War in 1991]
b. Laws are to be enforced only after adequate steps have been taken to ensure knowledge of those laws by the public.

4. The decision to engage must be made by the highest governmental authority
a. A Just War cannot be conducted by civilians
i. What about the American Revolution? The colonies had a government that was ostensibly being abused by the parent-government
b. Vigilante justice is unjust

5. War must be for limited ends
a. The purpose for a war must be well-defined before entering it, and only force necessary to achieve an objective should be used.
b. Civil justice is to be dispensed should only be done to achieve a just end, not consolidate power or suppress populations

6. The means must be limited by proportionality to the offense
a. True justice is proportional. Revenge always intends to cause more hurt than was caused by the original offense.
b. Sentencing of criminals should be proportionate to the offense [poor examples of this: murderers receiving light sentences, drug users receiving lengthy sentences]

7. No intentional & direct attack on non-combatants
a. Self-explanatory
b. Coincides with #1

8. War should not be prolonged where there is no reasonable hope of success within the preceding limits
a. Scripture does not speak of defending one’s honor. Continuing war simply out of ego or defense of honor is not defensible under these guidelines
b. No application to the intranational discussion

Just War is an Act of Love

For a government NOT to act when violent aggression has taken place is wicked and hateful [ex. International community standing by while 800,000 innocents were slaughtered in three months in Rwanda, the world currently standing by while genocide is occurring in Sudan, the international community insisting that the Iraqis were quite happy under Saddam Hussein] [A local government looking the other way when certain ethnic groups are systematically refused equal protection of the laws, a legal system that does not effectively capture and punish criminals]

How does this affect how a Christian should vote? A Christian should vote for the candidate that is most concerned about punishing the wicked out of a desire for justice, not revenge or conquest.

I challenge you to examine the stated reasons for going to war in Iraq, the goals while we are there, and the intentions of leaving once the government is stable. Compare the candidate’s stated reasons for how they would go to war.
Take note that having alliances, though a prudent aspect of war in today’s global society, is not an element of just war theory.

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