How Should a Christian Vote? Pt. 3

Election Day is tomorrow! So let’s draw some conclusions! If you would like to read Part 2, you can click here.

I have spent a lot of time laying the foundation of the Lutheran understanding of church and state. Let’s begin by reviewing what has been said so far.

The Bible teaches that God works in two different ways here on earth. He works in His right hand kingdom, and He works in His left hand kingdom. The right hand kingdom is the church. What is God’s purpose in the church? Justification- that all mankind would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth. How does God accomplish His purposes in the church? Through His Word of Law and Gospel. However, the Gospel always predominates in the church.

God’s left hand kingdom is the state. God has established human authority in this world and has given earthly governments the power to wield the sword- to punish wrong-doing. What is God’s purpose in His right hand kingdom, the state? Justice- that good behavior would be rewarded and evil behavior be punished. The state should be concerned with good order. How does God accomplish His purposes in the state? Through the Law. The Gospel has no place in the state. The Gospel belongs to the church alone.

Remember that both church and state belong to God and matter to God. And while they must be kept distinct, they do not have to be kept separate. And while they can cooperate, they must never be confused. In Part 2, I described a book called Christ and Culture which explains different ways that Christians have tried to reconcile church and state. Martin Luther’s explanation of the Two Kingdoms of God falls best under the category of “Christ and Culture in Paradox.” Christians live with a foot in both church and state. We recognize the primacy of the church and the Gospel, but we also can have something to say about the state.

After all, we are involved in “Left-hand Kingdom” stuff all of the time, even in the church. Schools fall under the category of “state” as do voters’ meetings. Both have to do with human authority and establishing good order. It may surprise you to know that the Bible does not endorse one form of government over another. Democracy is not a God-given right. God can work through dictators and republics and empires. The Church of Jesus has been able to survive and thrive in any form of government.

That being said, we are blessed to live in the United States of America in which “We, the people,” have an opportunity to vote for candidates and laws that we feel best represent us and our values.

However, can we truly “Vote the Bible” as some Christians claim? What does that look like? Are you really casting a vote for God when you check one candidate or the other? How much freedom does a Christian have in the voting booth? What can help guide the Christian who seeks to be active in the state by casting their vote?

Let’s turn to Martin Luther again. Luther has this great quote on Christian Freedom: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.” There’s another one of our lovely, Lutheran paradoxes. What does this mean? As people living under grace, freed from the demands and condemnation of the Law, we are not obligated to anyone or anything. Christ is our one and only Master. However, as people who have been given a new life in Christ, we have also been given a purpose. We are not here on our own, and we are not to live for our own benefit. We live for the benefit of our neighbors.

So the only guidance that we get from Scripture in terms of voting is the “law of love.” You have been freed from the demands of the Law. Salvation is yours. Eternal life is yours. You are secure in Christ’s arms forever. You have nothing to worry about or fear. You are free. And it is because of this security and freedom that a Christian can then turn their attention to their neighbor and their neighbors’ needs.

This turns voting in our elections on its head a little bit. Most often, people vote for the candidate that they believe will be better for themselves and their own life. They want a candidate that will ensure their own future. The union worker votes for the candidate that will defend the power of the union so that they can keep their job and be secure. The rich business owner votes for the candidate that they feel will best protect their assets and wealth. Voting is mostly self-serving. Voting actually exercises power over other people. Your vote is an attempt for you to get your way. (If anyone actually tells you that you shouldn’t try to impose your beliefs in the public sphere, ask them if they vote in elections. That’s exactly what voting is- trying to impose your beliefs and opinions on others.)

As a Christian, we are liberated from this self-centered way of thinking. Our future is secure. Christ is Lord. He is in control. So as Christians go into the voting booth, they are free to vote not for themselves and their own way of life, they are free to consider “Which candidate or law best serves my neighbor?”

Granted, we can answer this in several ways. First of all, we have to ask “Who is my neighbor?” All people in this world are our neighbors. However, I think we can narrow this down a little bit more. Who does God seem to have the most concern for in this world? God, over and over again, says that He cares for the downtrodden: the widows, the orphans, the poor and sick. In other words, God is concerned that those who are lowest in society also have justice!

Again, there are many different opinions on how we can help the downtrodden. Some people believe that the government should be more involved. But if giving is forced, is it really giving? Others feel that help for the lowliest in the world are best served through the generosity of others. But what if people are not generous enough, and those who are in need still don’t get the justice they deserve? There are no easy answers here, and I am not going to give you my own opinion.

However, I believe that one issue cannot be ignored by Christians. If we are to look out for the lowliest in the world, those who cannot defend themselves, then we must turn our attention to the lives of the unborn. Who is more helpless than a human being in the womb? And yet, these human beings are being destroyed, and they cannot speak up for themselves. For me, the sanctity of human life and the horror of abortion have become the number one issue when it comes to voting. I hope and pray that someday the abortion laws in this country will be reversed, but for now, I will vote for the candidates and laws that I believe will limit abortion as much as possible. At the same time, we cannot rely on the government to right this wrong. It has to be done in relationship, and that is where the Christian carries the most influence. It is about educating others about the sanctity of human life, which means that Christians must be informed on this subject. Click here to read an article by Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute. This helps clarify some of the issues on abortion. Again, if we truly live by the law of love as Christians, caring for our neighbor, I do not believe that we can ignore the horrors of abortion.

So now you have a basic framework with which to sort through some of these issues. We have to be careful to maintain the distinction but not the separation of church and state. Our goal is not a “Christian” nation. Our goal is a just and moral nation. But how do we determine morals? As Christians, we believe in a divine moral law-giver. God establishes morals and justice and values, so in that sense, yes, we can vote “Pro-God.”

I’m going to leave you with a few more links and helpful material on these issues.

Here is a great summary of what took me three, probably confusing, posts to write.

Basically the government rules by the sword, punishing the evildoer to keep law and order; that is to keep everyone from turning on their neighbor. And the church has the Gospel, not compelling men to believe but by granting faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. So, for example, a political candidate who wishes to legislate belief in the Gospel (using the sword of the state) is mixing the two spheres by which God reigns in creation.

So, the Gospel does not compel you to pick a Christian candidate. If it did, and anyone who preaches this is preaching a false Gospel, you might end up electing an incompetent politician (though he remains a Christian). Rather the Gospel frees you from any law in picking a candidate except the law of love. Your neighbor is your chief concern in choosing a candidate; who will best serve his interests.

This is no easy task in a fallen world. You have your first article gifts to be discerning about who you vote for (First article refers to the first article of the creed which confesses God as creator of all things, including giving you a brain). So, you can pray discernment from God as you weigh each candidate or even political party. Yes, that means being an informed voter or you are not serving your neighbor.

For more information on the HHS mandate which limits religious liberty, check out this website provided by our church body, the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod.

I also promised to talk about the “pro-Israel” part of the church marquee sign that I saw in town. To be brief, there is no spiritual or Biblical reason to “vote for Israel.” This is a purely political issue. For a better explanation, read this.

Finally, I encourage all of you to keep Psalm 146 in your hearts and minds on Election Day.

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord, O my soul!

2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,

in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;

on that very day his plans perish.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord his God,

6 who made heaven and earth,

the sea, and all that is in them,

who keeps faith forever;

7 who executes justice for the oppressed,

who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

the Lord loves the righteous.

9 The Lord watches over the sojourners;

he upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, to all generations.

Praise the Lord!





Vote the Bible?

So apparently there is an election soon…

In the next week or so, I plan to write a couple of blog posts about politics and the Christian, the separation of church and state, and what the Bible has to say. You will hear a lot of different opinions on what you, as a Christian are obligated to vote for and support.  I hope to play the part of devil’s advocate with some of these positions by asking the question (literally asked by the devil) “Did God really say…?”

For now, I just want to put some thought-provoking questions out there. In the town in which I live, a church has a sign up that reads “Vote the Bible. Pro God. Pro Life. Pro Israel.” Let’s ask the good Lutheran question “What does this mean?”

I found a YouTube video that basically says the same thing as the church sign. It’s called “Vote Biblical” (This makes me shudder as a grammarian. It should say “Vote Biblically.” It’s an adverb. And she says it so many times.) So use this video as a teaser to my upcoming posts.

5 Questions for Pro-Life Advocates

Did you miss me? It has been awhile since I have done a new blog post, and I am sorry about that. Even this post is a little bit lazy because I just want you to read an article that I discovered which I have found very helpful regarding the issue of abortion.

Scott Klusendorf is the president of Life Training Institute and was recently a guest on the Christian radio show, Issues Etc. He was discussing the article he wrote that I will post below for your own contemplation and edification. It is a tough subject, but abortion is a subject that I believe all Christians should have knowledge and have the ability to discuss it intelligently. This article answers five common challenges or questions put toward the pro-life movement. Here is the link to the original article: “The 2012 Elections: Five Questions for Pro-Life Advocates.”However, I have also copied the full text below.

In 2008, a handful of notable pro-life evangelicals and Catholics threw their support behind a presidential candidate sworn to uphold elective abortion as a fundamental right. They argued that doing so constituted an enlightened pro-life vote that was morally superior to the narrow party politics of religious conservatives. Instead of passing laws against abortion, so the argument went, the candidate and his party would “reduce” it by addressing its underlying causes.1 True, he was mistaken on abortion, but he was right on other, important “whole-of-life” issues such as opposition to war, concern for the poor, and care for the environment. The candidate’s political strategy was simple: shrink the significance of abortion so it was more or less equal with other issues.2
It worked. Twice as many white evangelicals age eighteen through forty-four voted for Barack Obama in 2008 than voted for John Kerry in 2004. Catholics, meanwhile, supported Obama at fifty-four percent, up seven points from what they gave Kerry four years earlier. The candidate got just enough pro-life votes from these groups to tip the election his way.3
I submit that each of these alleged pro-life votes represents a profound misunderstanding of the pro-life position. The fundamental issue before us is not merely how to reduce abortion, but who counts as one of us. How we answer will determine whether embryos and fetuses enjoy the protection of law or remain candidates for the dumpster. As Francis Beckwith points out, a society that has fewer abortions but protects the legal killing of unborn humans is still deeply immoral.4 Given what’s at stake, it’s vital that pro-life Christians persuasively answer five key questions before the 2012 election:

1. Are pro-life advocates focused too narrowly on abortion? After all, informed voters consider many issues, not just one.

Of course abortion isn’t the only issue-any more than the treatment of slaves wasn’t the only issue in the 1860s or the treatment of Jews the only issue in the 1940s. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Thoughtful Christians attribute different importance to different issues, and give greater weight to fundamental moral questions. For example, if a man running for president told us that men had a right to beat their wives, most people would see that as reason enough to reject him, despite his expertise on foreign policy or economic reforms. The foundational principle of our republic is that all humans are equal in their fundamental dignity. What issue could be more important than that? You might as well blame politicians like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt for focusing too narrowly on defeating the Nazis, to the neglect of other issues. Given a choice, I’d rather pro-lifers focus on at least one great moral issue than waste their precious resources trying to fix all of them.5

2. Why don’t pro-life advocates care about social justice both here and in developing countries?

They do, which is why pro-life crisis pregnancy centers vastly outnumber abortion clinics in the U.S. and why committed evangelicals, most of whom are pro-life, give more than their secular counterparts.6
Nevertheless, pro-life Christians should reject the premise that because they oppose the intentional and unjustified killing of innocent human beings, they must therefore take responsibility for all of the world’s ills. Is the American Cancer Society wrong to focus on one deadly disease to the exclusion of others? It’s highly unfair to demand that local pro-life groups take their already scarce resources and spread them even thinner fighting every social injustice imaginable. This would be suicide for those opposed to abortion. As Frederick the Great once said, “He who attacks everywhere attacks nowhere.”
True, as defenders of human dignity, we should care about the poor, clean water, and the rights of others everywhere. The U.S. government, however, is not going to solve those problems in developing countries the way it can solve abortion here. For example, our government can’t ban poverty or stop the sex trade of young girls in Thailand. That is the job of that nation’s citizens and government! However, the U.S. government can and should ban the killing of unborn humans within its own borders. That is why prudent pro-lifers have always sought both moral and political solutions to that problem. While poverty and the sex trade are evil, no one in America proposes legalizing them.
Abortion is different. Far from reducing the practice, our government currently advocates it both here and abroad. For example, during his first week in office, President Obama restored funding to organizations that promote and perform abortion overseas. A year later, he signed a healthcare bill that subsidized insurance plans that fund it here in the U.S. At the same time, he rescinded federal regulations that protect doctors from forced participation in elective abortion and threatened to cut off Medicaid funding to any state that denied tax funding to healthcare entities that provide abortions.7 Finally, he nominated to the federal courts justices sympathetic to the abortion license whose rulings could set the pro-life cause back for decades to come.
Because ours is a government of the people, Christians have a fundamental duty to work within the political system to limit evil and promote good. Shouldn’t social justice start in the womb?

3. Why don’t pro-lifers oppose war like they do abortion?

War can be a moral evil, but it isn’t always so. Careful thinkers make distinctions between intrinsic (absolute) moral evils and contingent ones. For example, the decision to wage war may or may not be wrong, depending on the circumstances. However, the decision to kill intentionally an unborn human being for socioeconomic reasons is an intrinsic evil and laws permitting it are scandalous. True, a general in a just war may foresee that innocent humans will die securing a lasting peace, but he does not intend their deaths. With elective abortion, the death of an innocent human fetus is not merely foreseen; it is intended. The problem is that many Catholics and left-leaning evangelicals are perfectly willing to support a political party that supports an intrinsic evil simply because its members promise to help us avoid contingent ones. This is bad moral thinking.

4. Instead of passing laws against abortion, shouldn’t pro-life Christians focus on reducing its underlying causes?

First and foremost, the abortion debate turns on the question of human equality. That is, in a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, do the unborn count as members of the human family? With that fundamental question in mind, it’s unreasonable for liberals to insist that pro-lifers surrender the legal fight to focus on underlying causes. As my colleague Steve Weimar points out, this is like saying the “underlying cause” of spousal abuse is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men. There are “underlying causes” for rape, murder, theft, and so on, but that in no way makes it misguided to have laws banning such actions.8
Moreover, why are liberals even concerned about reducing the number of abortions in the first place? If destroying a human fetus is morally no different than cutting one’s fingernails, then who cares how many abortions there are? The reason to reduce elective abortion is that human life is unjustly taken-but if that’s the case, then restricting the practice makes perfect sense. Imagine a nineteenth-century lawmaker who said that slavery was a bad idea and we ought to reduce it, but owning slaves should remain legal. If those in power adopted his thinking, would this be a good society? True, politics isn’t a sufficient answer to injustice, but it’s certainly a necessary one. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “The law can’t make the white man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me.”9 Frankly, if  Christians don’t think the government-sanctioned killing of unborn children merits a political response, then they not only misunderstand the moral gravity of the situation, but also their mandate to love their neighbor as themselves.

5. Should pastors challenge church members who support a political party sworn to protect elective abortion?

Yes and no. They should challenge believers and nonbelievers alike with the truth that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a defenseless human being-and that truth should impact which party we support. They shouldn’t claim that supporting a particular party or candidate saves us from God’s righteous wrath against sin (only the gospel does that!) or that members of the opposite party are not Christians.
Nevertheless, in a nation where the people are the government, Christians have a duty to apply their biblical worldview in a way that limits evil and promotes the good insofar as possible given current political realities. At the legislative level in particular (House and Senate races), that usually means voting for the party that, though imperfect, will best protect unborn humans against one that sanctions killing them. The reason is simple: at the legislative level, political parties more than individuals determine which laws see the light of day.
Consider the House of Representatives. If a party committed to elective abortion controls the chamber, it will squash pro-life bills and promote pro-abortion ones. Even if that pro-abortion party has a few pro-life members, those members will likely never get to vote on a pro-life bill unless their party is not in power!
But it gets worse. These same pro-life members of that pro-abortion party almost always put party politics above moral principle when it comes to the most important vote they will cast-selection of the Speaker. Remember, the Speaker of the House ultimately determines the legislative agenda and if the party committed to elective abortion controls the chamber, its candidate for speaker will inevitably be pro-abortion. Nevertheless, these pro-life members vote for their party’s candidate for speaker, which all but guarantees that pro-life bills never see the light of day. In most cases, then, they aren’t reforming their party’s pro-abortion stance; they’re enabling it!10
If parties drive legislation, how should a pastor educate his flock on the relationship between politics and Christian morality? First, he should teach a biblical worldview affirming that all humans have value because they bear the image of their maker. Second, he should challenge church members to live out that biblical view in every area of their lives, including their political affiliations. Third, he should stress that while no political party is perfect, on the question of fundamental human value, some parties are more in line with biblical truth than others.
Suppose, for example, that it’s 1860 and fifty percent of professing Christians in your church are members of a political party dedicated to the proposition that an entire class of human beings can be enslaved or killed to meet the needs of the white race. If you’re a pastor committed to applying a biblical worldview in all areas of life, is this OK? You might be sympathetic to new converts coming to grips with Christian teaching, but mature church members? Pastors can’t use church resources to endorse political candidates or parties, but they can (and must) teach that a biblical worldview informs our political behavior-including which parties we choose to empower with our vote. Saying so is not wrong-it’s leadership.

-Scott Klusendorf