December 15, 2017

Vote Utopian!: The Christian in a Quandry

Imagine Jesus lived in a republic, and could vote.

There are several candidates running for Governor of Galilee. The two candidates with the most support are Publius, who wants slavery to continue and expand, and Adrian, who wants many forms of slavery to be done away with, though not all. There are other candidates, like Phillip, who wants slavery totally and immediately abolished. But most Galileans don’t want to abolish slavery, though they are ready to make it less common and more humane. Realistically, Phillip couldn’t be elected for many years to come, but voting for him now would be a show of support for the ideal. It could increase his influence, and hasten the day he could be elected.

Of course, if Publius wins, slavery will continue and worsen. In fact, more persons will be slaves. If Adrian wins, there will be less slavery, and the movement to abolish slavery may also grow as a result of people coming to see slavery as an evil worth abolishing.

How would Jesus vote? Would he vote for the elimination of slavery, but because of political realities, actually spend his vote in the election of someone who would expand slavery? Or would he vote for the reduction of slavery, so that fewer persons are enslaved this year and next year?

An interesting question. One we can’t answer with total confidence. We know what the policy is in the Kingdom of God, but the political realities of the United States are considerably different from the Kingdom of God. Protestants are a minority in America. Christians who oppose abortion in every instance and every circumstance are in the minority. There are no signs that this is significantly changing. Young American evangelicals, who strongly identify themselves as “pro-life,” do not support banning abortion in all cases or prosecuting women who have abortions.

This parable reflects my interactions with friends who are planning to vote for third parties like the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party or one of the many other small political parties vying for the vote of the person looking for a party that exactly reflects his/her views on everything. They believe the Christian political position is to vote for the person who articulates most closely the Christian position, as they understand it. Well and good. But think about it.

What if the “Christian position” is so incompatible with political realities that voting for it deprives a vote from those whose policies might be significant improvements in society, even if they are not the Christian position? What if voting for the “Christian candidate” results in more, not less, abortions? More, not less, same sex marriages? More, not less, government intrusion and expansion? Is it better to vote for less slavery and less abortion, if no slavery and no abortion aren’t possible in a secular society?

One party openly advertises that it will return American government to its “Biblical foundations.” This sort of announcement that “we are a Christian party and will install a Christian government” is frightening to non-Christians, and distressing to those who value our freedom from the domination of a sectarian religious viewpoint. Such a claim underlines the lack of realism that lies at the heart of much evangelical political rhetoric. We aren’t that kind of country any more, if we ever were!

It also indicates the kind of “utopian bubble” many Christians live in when it comes to politics. They believe that America is like their local church or Christian school, where a value can be imposed by fiat and compliance is expected and predictable. They will vote for a Christian utopia, and have nothing to do with the give and take of their community political realities. They believe that somehow, against all reason and evidence, a religious revival will turn everyone into an independent Baptist willing to be ruled by a Jerry Falwell appointee.

It was Luther who said he would rather be ruled by a good Turk than a bad Christian. Today’s utopian Christian idealists are so sure that Jesus would perpetuate slavery until the anti-slavery position came to power, that they cannot see the wisdom- the Biblical wisdom- of Luther’s statement. In the short-term, we go as far as we can in this fallen, non-Christian world, to put the values of the Kingdom into place. Where we have the opportunity to influence men’s lives, we don’t walk by on the other side until our candidate wins, but we take the wounded to the (imperfect) inn and do what we can to alleviate suffering and bring justice NOW.

I never told you how Jesus would vote. That’s not my place. But I know how I will be voting: for the person who has the most reasonable chance of doing the most good.

Update: Scott Ward at the BHT gives a history of third parties in Presidential elections.

Comments

  1. Welcome to democracy. And democracy is NOT theocracy. Therefore, we shouldn’t try to cram the two together. A very good blog indeed today and a further example of how we are tending to blur the law and gospel.

  2. Ryan Cordle says:

    Some in the Constitution Party (CP) do seem to think that we need to have a sort of Christian Utopia in America. A lot of the people in the CP are greatly influenced by people like Finney, and it’s certainly visible in what they believe about government. And, in a lot of respects, they are naive about the founding fathers. Personally, it’s not a matter of whether the CP is the “Biblical Party,” or that Chuck Baldwin is a baptist minister, it’s a matter of the federal gov’t’s role in our lives and in this country as established by the US Constitution. I guess I think of them as Libertarians with a sense of morality? Anyway, that’s enough ranting from me. I think you make excellent observations.

  3. thank you, a very wise and helpful post, it is helping me form my perspective come november.

  4. I am a Christian who is not looking to establish a theocracy, but really want to get closer to the vision of the founding fathers where the society would start with certain assumptions–God, liberty, equality of all men (even though that is now viewed more broadly than the founding fathers viewed it), etc. What I look for is an open playing field–a field that will allow my views to be given open and fair hearing and equal consideration with my non-Christian fellow-citizens. Since voting for third parties that have no prayer of winning (none have won since 1886?) would be a vote for the other party, I have no question that my vote for the party that welcomes people of religious faith is the best and only vote to make. I am voting Republican!

  5. I would be interested in what you think of churches who talk about politics in the pulpit or advertise support of a particular candidate on their signs. All the time around here we see church signs saying ‘We support President Bush’ and things of that sort. Do you think this is a proper thing for a church to say?

    What do you think of churches passing out voting guides or of the stereotype that one cannot be a Democrat and a Christian at the same time? I have heard this said/implied on several occasions and I don’t really see how one’s political views should be a litmus test for their Christianity…

  6. I find the whole logic behind this positively unconvincing, but that’s because of my perspective on the two viable candidates in this country: both are leading us in ultimately the wrong direction, with one taking us there at a relatively more leisurely pace than the other (all the while telling us we’re really going the right direction). It’s not a case of Luther’s bad Christian and good Turk; it’s a case of a bad Christian and a worse Turk. When neither viable choice is good, what is there left to do? Choosing the lesser evil is still choosing evil.