Thursday, May 10, 2012

Should Christians Vote? (Part 2)

Others, such as Cal Thomas[1] and John MacArthur[2], argue that Christians ought not to worry about politics and instead focus on evangelism.  Thomas states this position well:

No matter how hard they try to protect the gospel from corruption, ministers who focus on politics and politicians as a means of redemption must minimize their ultimate calling and message.  The road to redemption does not run through Washington, D.C.  Politicians can’t redeem themselves from the temptations of Washington.  What makes anyone think they can redeem the rest of us?[3]

Whether the law [concerning government restrictions on political statements from the pulpit] is repealed, or not, churches and ministers would do better to keep their attention focused on the things above, rather than the things below, because politics can be the ultimate temptation and pollute a far superior and life-changing message.[4]

For adherents to this position, while there is no active prohibition on Christians voting or participating in politics, the real focus of Christians should be on evangelism and gospel-preaching.  Ministers are not first and foremost political theorists, and Christians should not be first and foremost political advocates but preachers and servants of transformative gospel.  The world will not be changed by political rallies, they argue, but by the spread of Christianity to all the earth.

Grudem contends that this position is too disparaging of Christian political involvement because it demonstrates too narrow a view of the gospel and of Biblical teaching.  He argues that the gospel is not limited to salvation but is rather “God’s good news about all of life!”[5]  Since the whole Bible is part of God’s good news, it follows that the entire Bible must be considered as part of what Jesus charged the church to go forth and teach.  Thus, we must consider Christian political activism to be worthwhile “if it is part of what God teaches us in Scripture, then of course it does spiritual good, because it is something that pleases God.”[6]  Grudem also says that this “do evangelism, not politics” view is wrong because the gospel includes life transformation as a fundamental aspect of it.  If the gospel changes individual lives, it ought to change them throughout and entirely, including their social and political lives.  It is not as though God only cares about spiritual things, Grudem writes, but also their physical lives.  Christians ought to let the gospel inform their voting just at is it informs the way they do business, maintain friendships, and serve in their communities.

Scripture has powerful words on the subject of stewardship.  Perhaps the most relevant are 1 Peter 4:10-11 which read, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  These verses tell us that God has given us all gifts—and not just in the context of money as stewardship is usually discussed—for edifying each other and glorifying God.  Peter says that those who speak should talk like God.  Those who serve should serve through God’s power and in God’s name.  All that man has God has given him and he should use it all to glorify God.  As people who live in a historically-unique situation, one in which the average person has at least some level of political choice and voice, shouldn’t Christians use the political gift they have been given to glorify God?  Can Christians who abstain from voting really be said to have “made the most of every opportunity because the days are evil”?[7]  Instead, those who take a hard-separation view seem to believe that Christians ought to abstain from some opportunities because the days are evil.  This kind of attitude reminds one of the ostrich that sticks its head in the ground, keeping its conscience unsullied while the world may be crumbling around it.  Christians should vote, keeping in mind the God they must account unto for their vote, while they still have a chance.  Universal suffrage is, as aforementioned, a historical anomaly which may not last forever.

The paper ended here but let me supplement some additional thoughts.

I do not intend to advocate for some sort of kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  In fact, the early Evangelicals of the 1950s and 1960s were very much against political involvement.  In their day the mainline denominations had wed themselves fully to the social gospel and progressivism.  Thus, men like Martin Lloyd-Jones or Karl Barth denounced political advocacy and political philosophy as aberrant distractions from preaching and teaching the Bible (though granted Barth had Nazism AND liberalism in mind).  It wasn't until Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 that Evangelicalism began its passionate love affair with the Republican Party.  Jimmy Carter still hasn't recovered from that bitter divorce, given that he announces his departure the Southern Baptist Convention every year.

Now we young Evangelicals can blog our hearts out about how cranky we are at our parents for engaging in culture wars that left us and all our gay friends jaded and disillusioned.  There's actually quite a lot to be said for this sentiment.  At some point the Reagan-Falwell wedding spawned a generation of dysfunction, some being the Ron-Paul-leaning Neo-Reformed, some obedient and stalwart Republicans, some compassionate-if-naive moderates, and more than a couple rebellious, "look-how-NOT-my-conservative-parents-I-am!" political liberals.  And of these simplistic yet all-too-common archetypes, all would seize upon the label "Evangelical", even if not always the heritage.  All these reactions are understandable, particularly as Christians became a bit too wed to the Republican platforms of the '90s and '00s.  I remember hearing more about welfare and terrorism in church than I did about predestination.  Regeneration and a solid doctrine of the Kingdom (both Here and Not-Here-Yet) were things I missed until college!  That's a damning thing to realize; all three of those have more biblical basis than civic marriage policy or national defense.  No really.

It would be easy at this point to conclude that we Christians should leave our religion out of voting.  After all, we don't want other people forcing their religion on us (like sharia law, a legal code universally bad if you believe in individual rights).  And yet I, being a reckless and self-important bloggerist, have chosen to navigate a rockier, nuance, and I believe ultimately truer course.

If we Christians truly believe what we say we do, namely that the Bible offers a true account of the universal human condition, then we cannot pretend it doesn't exist in civic life.  Our politics must be informed by the narrative we espouse.  It's for this reason that I openly reject John Locke and Thomas Jefferson's assertion that politics is a necessary evil.  I reject wholesale the notion that government is a contractual agreement between citizens.  I reject that a law is just simply because the parties under contractual obligation have assented to the terms of the agreement.  Instead, I affirm that our laws must match a natural standard, something which exists beyond all legislation and predates it.  All our laws are a reflection of this Natural Law, an unwritten, decidedly unscientific account of our souls.  The fulfillment of Natural Law is human flourishing, namely when man begins to live corporately in such a way that he finds his deepest longings and desires satisfied according to his individual and communal nature.  Is the Bible right when it teaches Imago Dei and the Fall?  Is that true even for people who don't believe it?  And--most importantly--can we construct our laws in such a way to counter or even roll back the Fall?  If the gospel of Jesus Christ brings life to all things it touches, why do we regard secular law as the exception?

Or I'll put it plainly: to leave religion out of our voting is to make relative the truest account of our mortal condition.  This is not to say that we should institute Levitical law or ban gay marriage.  It is to say that we oughtn't check our faith at the door just because we don't want to be perceived as fighting the culture war.  I agree with Aristotle that the end goal of all legislation is justice.  Further, the end goal of earthly justice is human flourishing, not fairness or equality (as though all men were the same in faculty or virtue).  So the question on a given issue--like gay marriage, to chose a timely example--is not "Is this fair to homosexuals as compared with heterosexuals?" but rather is "Which leads to greater human fulfillment?  What is best for men individually and corporately (aka 'the state')?  What best fits the purposes of man and the longings of his soul?"  The answer to the flourishing question may be the same as to the equality question, or it may be entirely different.  Such is the nature of particular justice.

[1] Cal Thomas, “Pulpit Bullies,” Tribute Media Services (October 2, 2008). Accessed May 7, 2012.
[2] John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
[3] Thomas, “Pulpit Bullies”.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 45, (italics original).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ephesians 5:16.

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