This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Politics and the Christian

Now that the political conventions are upon us, I think it might be prudent to consider how a Christian should view politics.  Of course, this is a very different question than how a Christian should view government.  On that issue, the Bible is very clear—obey the governing authorities, pay your taxes, pray for your leaders (see Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2).  A biblical view of politics, on the other hand, is not as direct a matter.  The main reason for this, of course, is that the writers of the Bible were writing in specific cultural contexts where the idea of voting for the leaders of government was not as pronounced as it is in our nation.  So, here are some principles which I think should help us in this election year.

#1 Be a one issue voter.  Yes, you read that correctly.  There is one paramount issue that trumps all others.  It is not the economy, foreign relations, defense, or health care.  It is the matter of the sanctity of life at all stages of life.  The biblical evidence in support of the sanctity of life from conception to natural death is overwhelming (see, for example, Psalm 139; Jeremiah 1).  There is no other issue if the sanctity of life is not upheld.

I refuse to vote for anyone who is not solidly pro-life.  It does not matter that one pro-death candidate is better than another on some other issue.  I am glad that in Abraham Lincoln’s day there were one-issue voters who sought above all else to remove the blight of slavery in our land.  We must be vigilant on this and never, never compromise, even if our vote is “wasted” on an “unelectable” candidate.  If we compromise on this, do you think that we will ever see our laws allowing abortion on demand changed?  If we compromise, what do you think will happen to our senior citizens as health care costs spiral upward?  No, someone must stand in the gap, and that someone, dear Christian voter, is you.

The issues of fetal stem cell research (which is nothing but a sophisticated form of cannibalism) and euthanasia are real and upon us to say nothing of the horrors of partial birth abortion.  Be a one issue voter!

You might say that you don’t need to be a one issue voter on so-called minor offices.  But you do!  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I helped a neighbor a few years ago in her campaign for the city council.  She was a great alderwoman, but I had failed to ask her about her position on abortion.  This year, based on her effectiveness in city government, she is running for Congress as a very pro-abortion candidate.  I regret having helped her.  Be a one issue voter.

#2 Be an informed voter.  The only way that one can know the candidates for office is to find out as much as possible.  Far too many people ignore politics until the last week of an election cycle.  By then, the full machine of political spin makes it impossible to know where a candidate really stands.  Even if it is boring, it is important to read political platforms.  The devil, they say, is in the details, and voters must read the fine print.

A key principle to governing is that whatever a government subsidizes, we will get more of it.  And whatever a government taxes, we will get less of that.  So, for example, when the government extends unemployment compensation to unemployed people, we should not be surprised that many people choose to remain unemployed, if those benefits approach what a person could get by working.  Conversely, when the government taxes hard work, risk, and ingenuity, we should not be surprised when we get fewer wealthy people, fewer new businesses, and fewer innovations.  We need to know what candidates for office want to subsidize and what they want to tax.  Then, ask yourself, “Do I want more or less of what the candidate wants to tax?”  Ask, “Do I want more or less of what the candidate wants to subsidize?”

 3) Be an unselfish voter.  Sometimes we want to vote for a candidate because he or she favors policies which will personally benefit us, even though those policies are not good for the rest of the nation.  John Adams, our second President, wrote, “To expect self-denial from men, when they have a majority in their favor and consequently power to gratify themselves is to disbelieve all history and universal experience;  it is to disbelieve Revelation and the Word of God, which informs us the heart is deceitful in all things and desperately wicked.”  This is sound reasoning, and it is why I believe that everyone should pay at least some taxes.  Today, approximately 47% of Americans pay nothing in federal income tax.  This means that they have no personal incentive to stop government spending on anything at all.  After all, it doesn’t cost them!

I want to urge you, whatever your tax bracket may be, to look beyond your own selfish, personal interests and vote for candidates who will be cautious and prudent in spending the peoples’ money.  The government does not have any money.  When the government spends money, it is because the government has either borrowed it (postponing the day of reckoning) or has taken it from someone else on threat of jail or fines for failure to pay.  Many candidates brag about what they can do or have done for people by getting “government” money to their constituents.  These candidates are thieves and don’t even know it.  There is no such thing as “government” money.  There is only money taken from the wages and investments of the taxpayer or borrowed so that one day it will be paid back from the wages and investments of the taxpayer. Candidates who regard as precious every penny taken from the work and investments of the people will not become thieves.

4) Be a theologically aware voter.  There are two important principles here.  First, while no candidate is perfect, the more morally flawed a person is in his/her personal life, the greater the likelihood that the candidate will be inadequate to resist the temptations that come with public service.  To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “if a man cannot rule his own house, how can he rule in larger spheres?”

Second, it is tempting, particularly by political conservatives, to want to get rid of all government whatsoever.  The more that government encroaches on personal liberties, the more that we see so much waste and inefficiency, the more that we are attracted to the notion that less government everywhere would be better.  It is likewise tempting, particularly by political liberals, to see corruption in business and nearly all commerce.  The more that the marketplace dominates, the more liberals see destruction of the environment, corruption and thievery, and a lack of compassion for the poor.

Both the political conservative and political liberal are theologically naïve.  If government disappeared altogether, we would have chaos.  The fact is that people in the marketplace are depraved and will be evil.  On the other hand, the liberal thinks that everyone is corrupt EXCEPT the government!  The liberal wants the long arm of government intervention to reach into every sphere, but he never thinks that perhaps the most evil sphere of all is the one doing the reaching. 
These ideas—that less government is always better or that more government is always better--ignore the plain facts of human depravity.  James Madison, our fourth President, observed, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.  If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”  Be a theologically aware voter.

5) Be a non-utopian voter.  Politicians promise what they can never deliver.  Many of them promise the kingdom of God itself.  Then, when those promises are unrealized, they say, “Well, if we just had more time and spent more on our policies, we would have reached our promises.”  Don’t believe it.  George W. Bush bet his presidency on the shaky notion that a democratic republic could be established on the foundation of Islamic fragmentation in Iraq.  He was reelected in 2004 by saying that we needed more time and more money in the Middle East.  The issues are different, but Barack Obama is communicating that he needs more time and more money to accomplish his utopian vision. Mitt Romney is communicating that he will accomplish his utopian vision. It is important to know that no utopian vision is going to be realized until Jesus returns.  Events external to the politician and his own missteps make utopia unachievable.  Consider the following campaign mottoes and what happened:

1916 Woodrow Wilson “He Kept Us Out of War”   Result: In the next two years, 116,728 Americans killed in WW1
1928 Herbert Hoover “A Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage”  Result: The Great Depression
1976 Jimmy Carter “Not Just Peanuts”                      Result: High Inflation, interest rates, and demoralization
1988 George H.W. Bush “Kinder, Gentler Nation”  Result: Not so kind and gentle to Iraq
1992 Bill Clinton “Putting People First”                      Result: Monica Lewinsky
2000 George W. Bush “Real Plans for Real People” Result: Plans set aside due to 9/11

What this is means is simply not to get too excited about any politician.  It’s fine to be enthusiastic about one’s political preferences, but be careful not to have messianic expectations, or you will be disappointed.  The more grandiose the promises that a candidate makes, the greater our skepticism should be about their fulfillment. God alone is qualified to build His kingdom. 

6) Be a voter! It is easy after reading an article like this to throw up our hands and say, “Why vote?”  However, there are really important reasons why we should vote.  Elections, especially in recent times, have hinged on just a few votes.  If all evangelicals voted, we could affect huge changes in the outcome.  Yet many people are not even registered to vote.  Given that God calls us to honor our authorities, given that we in this country have the privilege of choosing those authorities, given the importance of the issues of the day, given our responsibilities before God, WE MUST VOTE.  No matter how inconvenient, no matter how sick of it all that you are, no matter what hindrances are placed in your way, please vote.  In our country, the people get the government that they deserve because they elect them.  When we opt out of the process by not voting, we are asking God to do what He already has committed to us as a sacred trust.  We are asking God to do what He has already given us to do.  When a student asks me to pray for them about a test, I usually ask, “Have you studied your best?”  If they say, “yes,” then I assure them of my prayers.  If they say, “no,” then I tell them that God generally won’t make up what He’s already given us a stewardship to do.  It’s the same way with our vote.  God sovereignly determines leaders, but He’s given us a moral obligation to work out His will by voting.

7)  Be an unworried voter.  The issues are great, and the stakes are high in the upcoming election (they always are).  The weight of significance bears down on us, and we can become worried and filled with anxiety.  Sometimes, that worry can cause us to withdraw from thinking about politics altogether.  However, there is no need for worry.  “The Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will” (Daniel 5:21b; see also Daniel 4:25, 32).  God wants us to exercise our stewardship; He does not expect us to be God.  So, enjoy this election year in a way that most political pundits cannot.  They fret and worry to the point of destroying their health, thinking that this world absolutely needs their guy or all is finished.  It is the Christian alone who has the proper perspective—doing what God has given him to do and then trusting His Lord for working His will and bringing glory to Himself.

Pray daily, vote, and trust the Lord, Who alone can build His kingdom,

Scott Boerckel

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