SEVEN CONSIDERATIONS I MAKE WHEN VOTING
QUANDARIES AT THE POLLS. Knowing I am an evangelical Christian minister, I was recently asked how I reconcile many Democrats’ stand on abortion and gay unions with confidence that the Bible is true. The inquirer confessed to having the same problem reconciling the Iraq war with Christian faith. Such are the quandaries of national elections.
PARADOXES IN THE PLATFORMS. Earnest Christians are faced with tough choices in the voting booth. Whoever one casts a vote for, it may feel like something less than making a clearly Christian choice. There are paradoxes in the candidates and their platforms. I hope folks struggle hard and long with how they will vote, and then second-guess themselves all the way home from the polls.
BEYOND ELECTION DAY. As I thought about responding to my inquirer, I realized there are seven considerations I make as I vote--and as I live as an engaged citizen and conscientious Christian between elections. This is not a "voter's guide." It's just what I consider when I vote.
1. WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? Echoing the challenge of Nicholas Wolterstorf, I ask of any candidate’s or administration’s positions and proposals, “What does it do to the poor?” Neither domestic poverty nor the impact of American policies on those who are poor internationally factor much into campaigns. Yet it was to the poor who were being crushed by the empire and belittled by religious sects that Jesus of Nazareth primarily addressed himself. The concerns of the poor continue to be lost in political agendas that are influenced more by the preservation of moneyed advantage than a moral compass.
2. BEWARE LITMUS TESTS. I don’t expect the American President or Congress person to be a professing Christian or my brand of Christian. Candidates love to wear righteousness on their sleeves and court faith votes. Beware: personal piety does not necessarily translate into sound leadership or policies that reflect Biblical integrity. Heed the observations of David Kuo. There’s never been a Christian platform or Christian Presidential Administration. Instead of holding them up to a litmus test, I expect the American President and governmental leaders to uphold the Constitution and lead with utmost wisdom, compassion, and diplomacy--with a particular sensitivity to the most vulnerable among us and in our world.
3. AMERICA AND GOD’S KINGDOM ARE NOT THE SAME. I recognize that the priorities of the Kingdom of God and the agendas of American Presidents and governments are not the same. Combining or confusing the two is, to my way of thinking, a potentially lethal mix. I do not think the American President or government can express the Kingdom of God; that is the challenge of the church. I yield necessary and limited obedience to given authorities and hope--and advocate--for a better America. But I give my heart to and live unqualifiedly for Jesus Christ and His Kingdom; that is where ultimate hope for humanity’s future lies.
4. COMPASSION BEYOND CLICHÉS. I look for a candidate who I think will lead compassionately, not just talk about it. Will the candidate give an ear to those who are vulnerable and dominated? Will he or she be moved by more than money and political pressure? Beyond personal benevolence, will the candidate seek to make America fairer, instituting policies that roll back prejudice, disadvantage, and poverty? Will the he or she hold truth and human rights higher than political or economic expediency?
5. LOOK BEYOND “ALL OR NOTHING.” I recognize that most “all-or-nothing” issues cast during election campaigns are NOT “all-or-nothing.” Neither candidate is as extreme or demonic as the other camp says he/she is; neither is as morally right and righteous as his/her own press indicates. Major ideological battles will not be won or lost because either one party or another is given control of Congress or the Presidency. In the end, right-wingers do not usually get their way and left-wingers do not usually get their way. Through tough, extended deliberation, a consensus response that is palatable to most Americans can emerge on most of the issues currently framed as “all or nothing” (though the consensus response may not be Biblically tenable and though I may continue advocate for core Biblical principles behind the issue). I am more likely to vote for a candidate who can be conciliatory and principled at the same time.
6. CONSIDER THE USE OF VIOLENCE. I ask “How has a candidate responded to violence or used violence? And how does he/she plan to respond to and use it in the future?” Life is precious and killing (in the womb, by slowly suffocating neglect, or on the battlefield) has devastating consequences even when “good” results. We also know “violence begets more violence,” the spiral increasing in intensity and breadth every time is it used even “justifiably.” The measured use of deadly force and the threat of the use of deadly force is, to me, a very high concern in this election. Will the candidate use this awful power responsibly and with an eye to ending violence by the hands of Americans? How will he or she influence regimes to abandon nuclear weapons programs? Will the candidate lead, not so much by violence, but with the winning power of personal influence and persuasion?
7. AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD. Finally, I consider how candidates envision America’s place and role in the world. I am very concerned, as are many Christian missionaries, about an emerging aura of “empire” or “Pax Americana” that American actions are foretelling. In what appears to me as outright hegemony, we flex our muscles and other people must cow tow to our might or else be cut off (or receive reduced support or be left to fend for themselves against their enemies). Simultaneously, goodwill toward America appears to be dissipating around the world. In more places Americans are deeply resented, hated, and threatened like never before. This is making it more difficult for Christian missionaries, particularly those from the United States, to convey a trans-national gospel. Is it not also making it more difficult to develop congenial commercial markets?