A Shortish Answer to a Longish Question: Can a Christian Vote for a Democrat


(Editors note: a FB friend just asked me for a response to the post going around the interwebs: Could a Christian vote for a Democrat. Here is my rapid response. I will now post this only to wake up at 3 am tomorrow kicking myself, and to have several FB friends threaten to defriend me if they haven’t already.)

Several books are helpful: Glen Stassen’s Kingdom Ethics, Ron Sider’s The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, and William Webb’s Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. I would also give a shout out to Derek Morphew’s Breakthrough in this list (although as a South African he does not have a dog in the fight, nor am I sure he would be happy to be included). Each present biblical ideals for Christian engagement in world with an emphasis on seeing God’s rule enacted in the present world. That said, I believe that there is no perfect party, candidate, or platform. I agree with something Clinton said last night, “no one gets it right all the time.”  That is why I have been arguing that Christians should be concerned with their brothers and sisters align themselves closely with one party or the other.

I am heartened that there are strong Christians in both parties, and I am often saddened that there are strong heathens in both parties. On the right one can salute the attempt to bring values, and character into the public sphere; while stating (rightly) that the Randian economics favored by Beck, Ryan, et al is antithetical to the faith. If you don’t believe me read Rand for yourself, she says as much in her works (she hated Christianity and saw it as the enemy of her objectivism). Likewise one can salute the attempt to honor the poor, and bring both personal and structural justice to America, while being horrified that these same people are OK with the murder of innocent life. Many look at this quandry, scoff, and say that one should just not vote. That, however, is not an option for the Christian called by scripture to seek the welfare of his or her city. As Christians it is our duty to vote and participate in the government. The way through the muddle is to set up a system of priorities: to set what philosophers call first things, and second things , and so on.

For me I heed the words of Paul: true religion is this that one serves the orphan and the widow (elsewhere the immigrant is also listed as a top tier priority, i.e.- Deuteronomic Law commands the Jew to honor the immigrant that it might go well for them in the land). Here both Sider and Stassen point to the idea of the Kingdom Yet and Not Yet. Jesus stated that he brought the Kingdom to earth in part (and will bring its fulfillment on that day). Jesus often linked this idea with the quest for justice. The Kingdom brings God’s just rule. Over and again the Bible links this with helping the poor and bringing freedom to captives (this was why Rand hated Christianity- she hated seeing people she viewed as less deserving being honored and served by the more deserving, in her view the opposite should occur- again this is the basis of GOP economic theory). My first question for any candidate and party, then, is what are you doing for the poor, the widow, and the immigrant. This is of primary importance. Coming second is the issue of character- does the candidate speak truthfully, and live out the values of the Kingdom as found in the beatitudes and elsewhere. Last comes specific positions on issues. I repeat, there are, trades offs here as no perfect person or party exists. I would argue that this is why I gladly supported both the compassionate conservatism of W, and political realism of Obama (speaking of this, Obama’s main theory derives from political realism and not Muslim whatever, by this I mean the political theory of the Niebhur brothers, the Christian theologians of neo-orthodoxy).

So as an exercise in analytic thinking, here is how one can vote for Obama with a cleanish conscience: 1) Obama is for the poor, Romney is for the rich, 2) Obama says what he means, and has been consistent, and exhibits many of the fruits of the spirit in his life, while Romney has been consistently inconsistent as well as involved in forms of business that remain morally questionable even if not  illegal, and 3) his political theory is based on the Christian Realism, while Romney and Ryan base theirs on the atheistic materialism of Rand (again, their words, not mine).

That said such a voter would also be squeamish about the abortion issue; yet it should be pointed out that he believes abortion should be safe, legal, and RARE. In fact recent studies have shown that abortions actually go down during Democratic presidencies and rise during Republican presidencies (this counter-intuitive finding shocked most of us). Yet it makes some sense, Democrats often work to build the safety net for the poor making life feel safer, and allow for some hope of advancement. Meanwhile Republicans throttle such programs making life for the poor seem infinitely worse. In this scenario social programs provide incentives for carrying the pregnancy, while decline in the same provides incentives for aborting. Once again there is no perfect solution: voting for the candidate who supports abortion as a right, but makes it rarely used; or supporting the candidate who states disapproval; yet whose policies have unintended consequences.

To sum up a long reply that no one will read: neither party good, neither party bad. Go to scripture, decide for yourself what you think it values most, be cognizant of the background to political theories, and pray for your leaders.

For additional insight: might I recommend this link to Pangea Blog where Kurt Willems have done typically amazing work replying to and expanding upon  an equally good piece found  at Revelant Mag entitled “7 Things Christians need to Remember about Politics.”

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