Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

The President Matters, “Yours” Does Not

The year is 2003. In the wake of controversial military action overseas, troubling economic uncertainty on the homefront, and an upcoming election on the horizon, presidential approval ratings are consistently low. With promises of change, the man in the Oval Office is a polarizing figure: his  supporters ignore his many faults for the sake of the bits they appreciate about him, while his critics do nothing but demean, insult, and disparage every element of his character and behavior. Talk radio, tee-shirts, and campaign rallies all proclaim that the Head of State is “Not My President” while the Commander-in-Chief’s opponents attempt to wash their hands of him by pointing out that they “voted for the Other Guy.” Rather than seeking a virtuous and capable candidate for his own sake, voters are now simply looking for someone – anyone – to displace this person whom they do not like.

The year is now 2012. Save for the colors of the bumper stickers, how much has changed? As the Republican primaries edge towards their climax, how much has the rhetoric centered on the abilities and character of a proposed candidate versus his or her likelihood at successfully challenging President Obama? Sometimes, a candidate’s electability is not even a factor, such as the rather ridiculous assertion one acquaintance made online that she would vote for convicted serial killer, rapist, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer before President Obama (also: she would never vote for Mitt Romney – unless he was running against the President). Since when did the person who would be President not have to be good, but merely “good enough”?

Admittedly, in the light of hotel break-ins and stained dresses, the honor once given to the Office of the President has waned in recent decades. Whether it was over a ballot-counting scandal or a “missing” birth-certificate, our last two Presidents have entered office with their eligibility to do so under heavy suspicion. Over the course of the last fifty years, the very image of the Executive Branch has been covered with mud, so it should be no surprise that little effort is now exerted to find the right person to sit in that chair – we simply want to keep the wrong one out of it.

And yet we cannot be defined solely by what we are against. This is a matter of integrity, not only to our country and the principles of representative democracy, but most especially to ourselves as honest, truth-seeking Christians. The corrupt game of politics is decried so frequently it has become cliché, yet we are more than willing to jump in and play dirty – to vote not for the best, but simply for the better – in the interest of a perceived higher cause. Principled truth cannot be exchanged for prudence, no matter the situation.

And to worry about the devastation that one bad President can wreak is to forget that the Founding Fathers had the exact same fear. From its foundation, this country was built on a political process that minimizes the possibility of one person ever undermining the liberties that define the United States. We have no King Obama; the Constitution and its clear Separation of Powers assures us of that. To remember this truth is to realize the freedom (and need) to put a rational, principled leader in the Oval Office – not simply someone who can play the game of election season.

In short, find the person you feel proud to call “my president” and throw your ballot in his or her direction with complete confidence that, if nothing else, you will be voting your conscience. But remember that, when all is said and done, “your” President is largely immaterial – only The President, whoever that ends up being, matters and that person should garner all of the respect that the office carries. With any luck, he or she will represent you in a manner you agree with and, maybe, will be proud to see.

But if the primary reason you cast your vote for a particular candidate has more to do with whom you don’t agree with rather than whom you do, then you should think twice about whom you may find representing you. He won’t be “your President” either.

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5 Comments

  1. taken from this article:
    “This is a matter of integrity, not only to our country and the principles of representative democracy, but most especially to ourselves as honest, truth-seeking Christians. ”

    And this is what “Christians” do:

    Numbers 31:40

    40 And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the LORD’s tribute was thirty and two persons.

    In Numbers 31, God has Moses destroy an entire city, steal all the loot, burn the city to the ground, and keep all the virgin girls for themselves. At the end of this, God demands that a portion of the spoils be sacrificed to him. This includes the virgin girls that they kept alive.

    Of the 16,000 virgins that they spared, God demands that thirty-two be sacrificed to him. Let it never be said that only heathens perform human sacrifice. God seems to have no problem with having people slain in his name, ritually or otherwise.

    Here’s my point, I’m not really sure that Christians have the qualifications to be writing this article.

    • Aaron: two things should be said about your point.

      A)     Are you concerned with my article at all? Your comment smells strongly of a stock response to any article written from a Christian perspective. By changing the quote at the beginning, it could appear in the comment thread of many different articles on many different websites.

      The sentence of mine that you quoted was the only place I mentioned Christianity at all. If you delete the entire clause after that comma, would you still have a problem with the article? This sentence is merely a buttressing point to my larger argument: I think everyone should stick to principled representative democracy in their voting choices if they want to be honest to themselves and their vote. So, I think Christians should follow this rule too. Do you disagree with that?

      I’m not sure why you care about my “qualifications” – what do you think of the argument? If it’s good, then it doesn’t matter who I am (see: “ad hominem”).

      B)     Your interpretation is simply incorrect. At no point does God ever command human sacrifice. The phrase “the LORD’s tribute” here refers to the spoils of war given to the tabernacle and the Levites who tended it. Because the Levites (the priests of Israel) were devoted solely to God’s service, they were not allowed to serve in the army (see Num. 1); this method of sharing was set up so that this particular tribe would still reap the benefits of the nation’s success. “The LORD” here is like saying “the Church” now.

      This absolutely does not mean that these thirty-two people were sacrificed! In light of other passages that actually do refer to human sacrifice (Deut. 12:30-31; Ezek. 16:20; Jer. 19:3-9, for example), your charge is particularly silly. The Jeremiah passage is poignant: God gives as a reason for coming judgment on Israel the fact that they had fallen away from His commands and decided “to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I [God] did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind” (Jer. 19:5). Indeed, the God of the Old Testament was not a fan of human sacrifice in His, or anyone else’s, name.

      No, rather these people were given to the Levites – as was the common practice of every culture of the time – to be slaves, not sacrifices. And before you complain about that, be careful to remember the strict laws that Israel had to follow in the treatment of their slaves (as laid out in Ex. 20 and 21, Lev. 25, Deut. 15, and other places), unlike their contemporaries. Pay particular attention to Ex. 23:9 and Lev. 19:33-34. Even in this area, Israel was far more humane than anyone else in the Ancient Near East.

      I don’t know where you’re getting your ideas from, but “I’m not really sure that [you] have the qualifications to be writing [this criticism].” I’m sorry, but your point is simply wrong. This is manifestly not “what Christians do.”

      If you did read my article, thanks for doing so! I wouldn’t mind hearing what you actually think about it.

  2. Anthony: A well thought-out article. Your response to the first commenter is apt.

    I have some practical issues with this article. While I agree with the theory, in what manner can one vote for the ‘best’ is the best is not available? What I mean here is what if there is only one who is ‘good enough?’ It seems that politics in contemporary society does narrow down to the weighing of positives and negatives and the cliche ‘lesser of two evils’ prevails.

    • Mike,

      Thanks for your question (and your compliments!). There are two ways to answer your important concern: a strong view and a weaker (but more practical) one.

      A)     The strong view will champion the option of a “write-in” candidate as the method by which every voter can always pick the “best” person to represent them from the widest pool of potential candidates. Naturally, this is a largely ineffective method for actually electing someone, particularly in light of the restrictions that some states (including Colorado) place on such candidates (requiring them to still register as “write-ins,” for example).

      It is an interesting thought-experiment, though, to ponder what our electoral process would look like if every state required voters to write-in their preferred candidates, rather than simply picking unfamiliar names from pre-printed lists. This, more than anything else, might work to break the stranglehold that the two-party system currently has on our voting booths.

      B)     The weaker option will stress the importance of maintaining the proper perspective on the available voting choices. You ask “how can I vote for the best if ‘the best’ is not available?” to which I say “you simply must pick ‘the best’ person from among the available options.” Naturally, it will be rare to find a candidate with whom you agree on every issue. The important thing is to focus on which person will most accurately and faithfully hold to your own views, opinions, and beliefs (particularly the ones that you especially care about) while in office representing you.

      This weaker view recognizes that basing your vote on the question “who do I most closely agree with?” is very different than voting based on “who do I most disagree with, and therefore want to keep out of office at any cost?” The first concern is a valid question of representative democracy; the second throws any concern for positive personal representation out the window only for the sake of avoiding known misrepresentation. A vote can be for “the best of the available options” and be a faithful one.

      I definitely line up on the second view, which is why my ballots have been a mix of red, blue, and grey for the last several years. I have not voted for a write-in candidate – yet!

  3. Mike,
    I will be writing an article on this issue in the near future (hopefully to be published here). In short, I will argue that a vote in the Presidential election should be more concerned with ideology than specific policy. This emphasis must be made because we get only 2 candidates to choose from. Basically, as the parties lie now, is it more important for you the voter to vote in a candidate that believes more government involvement in the affairs of the citizenry will create a better life, or a candidate that believes less government and the free market will create a better life? 1 Sam. 8:11-18 provides a helpful theological context for what government does.

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