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A Plea for Sanity

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Leslie Nielson was dead: to begin with. The great ship had capsized when the wave crashed over its port side and now it was slowly sinking. The passengers left inside were faced with a decision: fore or aft? Two leaders arose, each with a persuasive answer to the dilemma. It was up to the passengers to decide whom they would follow…

It happens every four years. For the two or three months that precede the United States presidential election, the Christians in this country, from the mountains to the prairies, lose their minds. And I’m not talking about the Christians whose minds are lost all the other 3 years and nine months of the time, but normally clear-thinking, deliberate, passionate, and effective Christians, who understand that changing the country will not come through politics, but simple obedience to the Gospel. For these usually sane and rational individuals, the presidential election exemplifies the ultimate opportunity for Christians to demonstrate that they are “in the world, but not of it.”

A recurring argument that you will hear from this sanctified segment during the presidential months is “voting your conscience.” Now this sounds like good advice and it almost sounds like it could be a Bible verse, but it’s not. In fact, you will search the pages of your Bible in vain for the word “vote.” Choosing your governmental leaders is a concept that is foreign to the Bible. When Israel asked for a king, God was the one Who picked him for them; they never “voted” for Saul, David, or any of the kings that followed. Voting is only a process that can happen in a representational government anyway, not a monarchy. When Americans file into the voting booths on November 4, 2008, they are not voicing their choice for king, messiah, dictator, or even judge. They are voting for a chief executive who has specific enumerated powers according to the Constitution, not the Bible.

Before you jump all over that last statement, realize what I am not saying. I am not saying that the President of the United States does not have a responsibility to adhere to and be governed by the God of the Bible. He most certainly does, as do each one of us. The moral character of the man that occupies the presidential office is certainly a consideration, a very important one. But just because a man may be qualified to be an elder or deacon in the Church, does not automatically qualify him to be the President. King David himself would not qualify as a candidate for the President if we were to “vote our conscience.” David was an adulterer and a murderer, yet God still chose him and referred to him as a “man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). Our conscience is important, but it is not an infallible guide by itself.

I am also not saying that the Bible doesn’t offer counsel on what we should look for in a leader. Our political process, while certainly based on biblical principles, is not a theocracy. We are not voting for a national pastor, we are voting for a political leader. The framers of the Constitution were rightfully skeptical of giving one individual the power that most modern Americans want to attribute to the president. Because of their understanding of temptation and sin—not to mention what they saw taking place in England with King George—the framers built a balance of power into our governmental system. At its very core, the American government is a compromise of principle and reality. While the framers no doubt hoped for a stellar individual—filled to overflowing with wisdom and compassion, perfectly suited to lead the nascent country to the promised land—they also understood that putting absolute power into that man’s hand would be too great a temptation for him to bear. Such is the nature of any government, be it family, church, or civil. R.C. Sproul, Jr. describes the Christian’s dilemma quite well:

Voting often presents an ethical dilemma. The first Tuesday following the first Monday of every November is a difficult time for many Christians. Rarely does a candidate have a platform that is entirely faithful to Scripture. Voting leaves us with three choices: We can vote for one of the two candidates offered; we can use the write-in process, saying no to both official candidates; or we can not vote at all. Voting for one candidate amounts to choosing the lesser of two evils. If one vote is an endorsement of the unbiblical, graduated income tax, and another vote is an endorsement of tariffs, for whom do you vote? Not voting endorses neither, but one still takes office. Not voting is one way to demonstrate displeasure with the available candidates. But not voting can easily be attributed to voter apathy rather than to voter anger. We are left with a difficult dilemma.[1]

Although Sproul never offers the answer to this dilemma, I believe the answer lies in rethinking the way the question is posed. While he clearly outlines the three responses to the voting process that citizens possess, I think Sproul overstates (as do many at this crucial time) the significance of the vote. Voting does not necessarily imply endorsement or approval. Voting is simply making a choice. Like the passengers on the SS Poseidon, the voters in this country have a decision to make. And like the passengers, we do not have the luxury to sit around and complain about the choices that we have. Although many of the Poseidon passengers would have much rather been debating about Brahms or Beethoven, beef or pork, tastes great or less filling, those debates were over. The ship was on its back and fore or aft was all that mattered.

The citizens of this country get the candidates that they deserve. Complaining about the choices at this stage in the game is a radical denial of the political process that brought us to where we are. Christians only want to talk about third party candidates when the two majority candidates don’t pass their scorecard. Either we work to make the third party viable, or we work to reform the one of the two major parties. The same Christians who want to “vote their conscience” are the same ones who are homeschooling their children, a grassroots effort if there ever was one. This same grassroots effort is needed in politics; simply voting for a nearly anonymous third-party candidate does not qualify as “grassroots.”

The Church is called to be the agent of change in the world. “In the Letter to Diognetus, an anonymous second-century document, the writer makes an analogy between the presence of the church in the world and the soul in the body. ‘What the soul is in the body,’ the author writes, ‘Christians are in the world.’”[2] Voting our conscience and leaving the rest up to God is a humanistic response if there ever was one. Christians that want to satiate their own personal conscience to the detriment of the country around them are only concerned about themselves. I would love nothing more than to have to choose between two candidates that are only separated by their beliefs about baptism, but we have a bit more work to do before this becomes a reality. Some will no doubt call me a pragmatist and I wholeheartedly agree. Government will always be pragmatic and full of give and take as long as people are involved. Our founders understood this, why can’t we? We are indeed called to be “in” the world and not “of” it. There is only one government that is flawless and perfectly executed and it is that government that we are to be “of.” “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

[1] R.C. Sproul, Jr., Biblical Economics: A Common Sense Guide to Our Daily Bread (White Hall, WV: Tolle Lege Press, 2008 [1985]), 212-213.
[2] Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 19.Who Gets to Narrate the World? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 19. Robert E. Webber
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