I am off to the National SBL meeting (Society of Biblical Literature), and whilst I am away I thought I would leave this for you to bat around. I shall return to the blogosphere next week.
A lot of heat, and very little light is about to be shed in the next twelve months when it comes to political races, and we have already seen some truly surprising things happen-- like Pat Robertson endorsing Rudy Guliani! Surely the eschaton is at hand.
I have no idea how the national races will turn out, but we have just had our gubernatorial (that’s an election where you vote for Goober :) contest among others in
In this particular post I want to suggest a series of steps Evangelicals should take in approaching next November’s elections. Some have to do with basic Christian obligation as a citizen of this country who appreciates the freedom and democracy we have, and then some of them have to do with critical thinking about issues and candidates.
1) DO YOUR HOMEWORK—There is really no excuse for laziness when it comes to being an informed voter, especially when we now have such a wealth of information online, and through other viable sources of news about candidates. Do not use the ‘cop out’ of ‘they’re all just the same’, or ‘no politicians are trustworthy’ or ‘I don’t have time for this’. If you have time to enjoy the freedoms you have in this country, then you certainly have time to become an informed voter. Period.
2) PLAN ON VOTING, EVEN IF YOU ARE FRUSTRATED—The percentage of Christians who could vote but don’t is high, much too high, and the end result of such bad behavior is that we often get exactly what we’ve voted for--- Nothing! Or at least, nothing good. Do not let the fact that at this juncture there may seem to be no obvious candidate for a conservative Christian to vote for, for this office or that, deter you. There is better and there is worse, and you’d better figure out which is which, or what we will get is worse. This is particularly an urgent matter since in the last eight years things have certainly gotten worse economically and it terms of our relationships both with our allies and enemies. The politics of fear is trumping the politics of faith and sound reasoning repeatedly, and this leads to disastrous results in the long run for our country.
From here on, in this post, I will be talking about matters that pertain to critical thinking on the issues.
4) THINK ABOUT HOW MUCH CHARACTER SHOULD WEIGH IN WHO YOU VOTE FOR---
Life is complex, and so are ethical issues. One of the things you need to decide is whether it is more important to you what kind of person you vote for, in terms of character, or what the stances are of the person you are voting for. Sometimes we have elected well-meaning good Christian folks who couldn’t govern their way out of a paper bag. Sometimes we have elected very effective politicians, who nevertheless raised some issues for us because of their stances on particular issues. In a perfect world we could wish for candidates who are both skilled as public servants and have impeccable character. Unfortunately, this all too often not the case, especially because of the way our political process now works with PAC money and lobbyists and numerous other unhealthy factors determining who actually can be viable candidates for a major office. In the situation we are in, how much should the candidate’s agreement with me on my list of hot button issues weigh in my decision? How much should their apparent character weigh? What do you do if it’s hard to tell? These are important questions. Personally I would rather have a politician skilled in the art of compromise (which is of the essence of modern democracy and policy making) who is of generally good character, but with whom I may disagree with on this issue or another, than a devout but unexperienced and unskilled Christian person. Let me use an analogy. Would you rather have a surgeon operating on you in a life threatening situation who is a devout Christian, but not all that skillful and experienced in getting the job done right, or would you rather have a surgeon who has an impeccable record in regard to doing his job well, a stellar record of good outcomes when he applied his skills but whom you had some ethical disagreements? I personally would want surgeon B, if there had to be a choice.
5) PRIORITIZE WHAT YOU IN GOOD CONSCIENCE THINK ARE THE MOST CRUCIAL ISSUES—AND EVALUATE THE CANDIDATES ON
THE BASIS OF THOSE PRIORITIES.---
Obviously, this list of vital issues is a moving target which will change in some cases, as our country’s situation changes. I wouldn’t think anyone would be weighing where the current crop of candidates stand on the Spanish-American war many moons ago! I would strongly urge Evangelicals not to limit their list to just personal ethical issues, such as matters of sexual ethics, abortion, and the like. These are very important, but as thinking Evangelicals you also need to weigh where candidates stand on various aspects of foreign policy—the trade deficit, the war in Iraq, or economic relationships with China and other third world countries, the position of the candidate on Darfur, the issue of nuclear regulation (in North Korea, Iran etc.), our relationship with crucial Moslem countries where we have a stake but are not embroiled in military action currently—Turkey, Pakistan, etc. In other words, we need to be global Christians, and think globally, especially if our first commitment is, as it should be, to the worldwide body of Christ and the worldwide spread of the Gospel.
6) BE SMART ENOUGH TO SEE WHEN A CANDIDATE IS NOT BEING HONEST OR FORTH-RIGHT ABOUT HIS OR HER VIEWS
Obfuscation and fuzziness has of course become a political art form, and sometimes this is because the potential emperor has no clothes, or hasn’t thought through the issues themselves. The last thing we need o our current situation is politicians who make it up as they go along, or show signs of constantly shifting their views, depending on which way the political wind blows. A good example of the latter would be stances taken on the gay marriage issue. Thus far, the only Democratic candidate for President that I have personally heard repeatedly say he is opposed to changing the current legal definition of marriage is John Edwards. Others have flip-flopped back and forth, depending on the audience. This may be a telltale sign of a lack of conviction on the matter, a very important criteria for evaluating candidates. Are they consistent in their views, unless they receive new information which legitimately leads to saying ‘I was wrong, and have changed my mind on that issue’?
7) DON’T JUST VOTE ON GUT INSTINCT. THINK, EVALUATE, DISCUSS, PRAY BEFORE PULLING THE LEVER.
I wish I could tell you that the above outlined process of discernment was easy, but it is not. And there will be ambiguities, and you will have to make some judgment calls. You have to accept that you may well make some mistakes, and all the more is this likely to be the case when there is no clear front-runner that an Evangelical Christian of any stripe might think was someone one ought obviously to vote for.
Over the course of the coming twelve months, pay attention to the ads, watch a few of the debates, read up on the candidates web sites, watch the primaries, and be prepared. It would be a great tragedy if only a minority of Christians voted in the next election who are eligible, and the country continued its downward slide as a result. The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ could be changed to ‘you get what you do or don’t vote for’. Remember the old adage—all it takes for something bad to happen, or continue happening, is for good people to stand idly by and let that transpire.