Dear Friends in Christ.
Over the years of writing this eCare I have been gratified by the generally positive response it has received, both from those I know and those I do not. To do something that I enjoy so much is, as I am sure you know from your own experiences, not a grievous task but a labor of love. I am continually surprised by the interest you show in the topics on which I write, as demonstrated by your responses, both electronic and personal, and not a little bit and gratefully encouraged by your stated desires that I write on topics of interest to yourself and others.
My own sense of obligation has been confirmed by the request of some that I address the issue of our upcoming presidential election. Now, let me calm the nervous hearts of those who will immediately protest that the separation of church and state does not allow me to act on the urging of others and on what I understand to be the movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I have found over the years that most folks do not have an adequate understanding of just how much freedom I have, legally, to address questions of politics either in this forum or in teaching and preaching contexts as a member of the clergy serving a congregation that enjoys 501c3 tax exempt status.
However, let me assure you that I am well within my rights as a clergyman and as an American citizen to comment far beyond what most believe, in error, is allowed by law. Further, let me confirm that it is not my intention to tell anyone how to vote, to suggest what the “Christian way to vote” might be or how I intend to vote which, quite frankly, in nobody’s business but my own.
I have been casting votes in local, state and national elections since the fall of 1968 when I first registered. And, like many of you, I have never experienced anything like what we have been reading, hearing and seeing during this election cycle. Like you I have been on the rollercoaster of emotions – now angry, then saddened and sickened and mostly, embarrassed for our country and for those who ask for our vote but who seem oblivious to the impact what they are doing and saying is having on the American citizenry and America’s standing in the world.
What are we supposed to do? How are we to vote? Is there a particularly Christian approach to this whole mess? Since both candidates appear to be scoundrels is “not voting at all” a faith-full option? These are just some of the questions I have been asked and, frankly, the questions I do not have answers to. So, if I don’t have answers for others because I don’t have answers for myself what am I thinking about? What am I praying about? What are the things that occupy my mind as I contemplate that walk I’ll take up to the front door of Foster School less than three weeks from now?
First, an answer that is shorter and more general but certainly foundational: I do not necessarily decry the absence of a candidate who I might label as a conservative, evangelical Christian. If there was one who, more importantly, was the best candidate for the presidency I’d take great delight in considering him/her but one’s Christian faith does not make him a slam-dunk for my vote. When, during the past three years, surgeons were operating on my wife and my son, multiple times, I was concerned, primarily, about their knowledge, experience, skills and wisdom as surgeons. I’m not saying that one’s spiritual curriculum vitae is unimportant but in my surgeons, machinists, dentists, carpenters, shoe makers and presidents it’s not at the top of my list.
Though both candidates court the vote of the evangelicals – whoever they mean by that term, I’m not sure I would agree with who they identify as evangelicals in the historical and classic sense of the term – I don’t know their hearts. However, I know some of their words and I know some of their actions and I am not so sanguine about the role that Christian faith or any faith, for that matter, other than the faith of thoroughgoing secularism, plays in their lives and in their decisions. Mind you…this is not revelation but my personal judgment.
So, what is required of believers in this election, as in all elections, as in all decisions in life is that we, each one of us, vote by faith. The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11. 6) and All that does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14. 23). Voting by faith is not “letting go and letting God,” it is not taking a blind leap and it is not an excuse for not doing one’s homework; which is why I felt faith-bound to sit through the excruciating experience of the three presidential debates from which I hoped to glean much but from which I felt dirty and only had my worst fears confirmed!
Voting by faith means reading as much as one can, discussing as must as one can, debating with others as much as one can and bringing all that is learned and understood from those exercises before the Lord with the prayer Father, in the light of all of this what would You have me do? This is bringing all things, even and especially our voting, captive to obey Christ (II Corinthians 10. 5).
What else am I thinking about? Not, primarily the candidates so much as the foundation upon which the freedom I enjoy is built and will have to be protected by whoever wins the election. I’ve been thinking about some of the things addressed by the Christian author and scholar, Os Guinness, in his book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (2012, IVP). Specifically I am thinking about what he calls “The Golden Triangle of Freedom.” This is the way I would diagram what he says:
Guinness’ thesis is this: the great expression of freedom is the ability to govern one’s self. But if you cannot govern yourself properly you will need to be governed by someone/something else, by a government of laws and/or authorities. The greatest amount of freedom comes with the least amount of top-down government. But, in order to be free (from top-down governance) one must be virtuous. But to be virtuous one must be guided by faith (of some sort). And, in order to have faith one must be free.
In short (as the diagram attempts to show): Freedom requires Virtue and Virtue requires Faith and Faith requires Freedom. This summary may be so abbreviated as to be misleading or misrepresenting Guinness’ argument so I suggest you buy the book – it ought to be required reading for every student before he/she graduates from high school!
So, I’m asking myself Which candidate appears to be the strongest advocate for and the best guarantor of self-governing freedom that is enabled by personal virtue which is founded upon personal faith which requires freedom? And, I am asking myself Can a person advocate for and guarantee freedom if he/she doesn’t grasp the foundation of freedom, and doesn’t demonstrate the role of virtue in personal life and demonstrates no faith base upon which virtue is built and who will not stand up for the role that faith has and must play in American life?
Sad to say, the answers to these questions do not compute so as to point to one candidate over another; in my judgment the answers disqualify both. However, thinking through the questions and arriving at whatever answers the Spirit of God offers me provides yet another armful of things to bring to my knees and about which I pray Lord, in light of these things, what would you have me do?
And so, let us pray!
Faithfully in Him,