Yesterday I spoke to Faith Community Church about a Vote of Conscience. My goal, to describe with broad strokes the options Christ-followers have taken in regard to elections and some issues that the Scriptures address, challenged me as a speaker and I hope my folks as listeners.
I believe the Bible is not partisan but is political. Issues like support of life, care of the poor, widows and orphans, stewardship of the earth, justice, women's role in society, treatment of aliens and workers flesh out in the body politic of any society. Laws either sanction or subvert these Biblical values. Even if we choose not to engage in political activity, we must admit a political element to these issues.
Views of a Vote of Conscience
1. Declare one political party the "Christian" party. Evangelicals as a whole have adopted this view of voting since the mid 1970's. During this time the Republican party has been canonized as the Right party. Those looking at politics through this lense struggle to understand or accept that a Christ-follower could, in good conscience, vote Democrat. This outlook often expresses itself in voting "Straight-ticket."
2. Declare all political parties "Pagan." Some in my particular denominational heritage followed this thinking. The world system is evil and we are "just-a-passin'-through" anyways so leave the government to crooked politicians. Most would associate the Amish with this fortress and separatist mentality now. This view is expressed in not voting or otherwise engaging in the political process.
3. Vote on Issues of Conscience. A middle way between the extremes of #1 & #2 is to set personality and party aside. Key issues involved in each election are weighed against Kingdom building and Kingdom values. This approach requires that the Christ-follower enter into a deliberative process. A clear understanding of Kingdom values, priorities of values, position statements of candidates on the issues and comparisons must be found. Then the informed voter votes for the candidate based on Conscience.
ISSUES that GOD is Conscious of...
Not every plank of a candidate's platform rises to the level of a moral issue. Big government or smaller government, free-market capitalism or socialism or communism or feudalism, representative republic or direct democracy or even monarchy all deal with intricacies important to Americans, but not necessarily any is right or wrong. Christ's Kindgom is growing independent of all of these in every part of history and the globe.
But even a casual look at the Bible reveals several issues that are of repeated interest and emphasis.
God, in numerous places, takes a strong stand for life. God creates life. God commands man and woman to procreate life, to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." He declares life sacred and attached the sternest penalty to any man or beast that takes the life of a person.
God speaks of the unborn as persons. Psalm 139.13-16 describes the intimate involvement of God with the writer, prior to his birth. Isaiah 46.3-4 takes this "from-conception" involvement and shows it extends to the aged. Those at the ending of life are not to be discarded, as many ancient cultures thought, but supported. One's value does not depend on productivity or contribution. James 5.6 also declares God's concern for those wrongly condemned and executed. People are not to be "thrown away" or devalued even after committing henious crimes. The Bible does call for capital punishment, but sets a very high standard for its enactment. The condemned remains a person.
The prophets cried out against injustice more than any other "political" issue. The effects of sin are corporate as well as individual. Whole societies need salvaging and sanctifying. The poor often suffer injustice as those with more resources can present a more developed case in court. Many of our current practices exploit the poor -- exorbitant interest rates and fees from check-cashing companies, the lottery, rent-to-own...
The uninsured are treated differently than those with insurance. Medical and life-changing decisions are made based on ability to pay. The poor receive poor care.
God is concerned about the treatment of aliens and strangers among His people. Those visiting our country need to be treated with care and their personhood maintained. This is often a difficult mandate to balance with the need for safety and immigration control.
The worker who is defrauded honest wages also concerns the heart of God. James decried the abuse of workers that further enriched the wealthy. Today large companies make decisions in favor of profit sharing with stock holders over paying or retaining the workers that produce the profits.
God safeguards the rights of women. In Numbers 27, god affirms the inheritance rights of women. The divorce laws in Deuteronomy provide protection to women who were being "swapped" at the whim of husbands. The law specifically forbids divorcing and then later remarrying a wife after she has been remarried to another man. This effectively put an end to the trade of women as property and emphasized their personhood.
Everyone has certain basic needs. Among these are food, shelter and clothing. Matthew records Jesus' teaching about the final judgement of humanity. There God will seperate persons based on the following criteria: "I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you took me in." The astonished examinee will declare they can't recall doing these things for Jesus and he says, "If you did it for the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me."
Lastly, the Judge recalls that he was "sick and you cared for me. I was in prison and you visited me." Humans also need, in a very basic way, interaction with other human beings. We all too often will give toward charities that meet the basic needs of others. But we do not personally interact with others ourselves. Everyone needs to be looked in the eye, taken by the hand and given a pat on the back. No one benefits from being looked down on or ignored. No one should feel abandoned or invisible.