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Wednesday, October 25

Archive for October 21, 2016


Oct 21

Unity, the Church, and this Election

2016 | by Trent Hunter | Category: Recommended Link

It’s election season. As Americans entrusted with the hard-won privilege of self-government, we have a responsibility to participate in the process of electing those who serve us. Elections are wonderful and yet often unwieldy things. Elections are like giant negotiations between millions of diverse people as to who will lead all of us in a variety of roles: legislative, executive, and judicial.

The very nature of this mass negotiation means that total unity is never achievable. This is certainly true in the election of our nation’s President every four years. Yet, most of the time, a pretty remarkable degree of unity is found around at least two candidates, as various groups within our diverse nation let go of certain priorities in order for the chance to do good on others. America has worked exceptionally well.

Yet this election season reminds us that the political process is inherently tied to the people that engage that process. Winston Churchill put it this way: “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

Unfortunately, this election exposes the reality of an increasingly fractured—and, we must say, spiritually darkened—nation. The parties are pulling farther apart, and within parties there are sharper divisions. The nature of these divisions are often over matters of inestimable importance.

Yet there is a more dangerous prospect than the fracturing of the nation. If we’re not careful, the question of what to do in this election can harm not only the nation’s unity, but unity within local gospel churches.

Kevin DeYoung has done us all another favor by expressing some timely and needed ideas clearly in his piece, “Seeking Clarity in this Confusing Election Season: Ten Thoughts.” After saying that, for his part, he will not be voting for either major candidate, Kevin offers this exhortation to deference among brothers and sisters. We resonate with this spirit.

“This does not mean I think every Christian must come to the same decision in order to be a good Christian. There are simply too many prudential matters in the mix for Christians to be adamant that you absolutely cannot vote for so and so. Someone may think Trump is a lecherous oaf, but still conclude that his policies and judicial appointments have a better chance of being good for the nation. Likewise, someone may find Clinton’s position on abortion utterly deplorable, but conclude that Trump’s pro-life credentials are untrustworthy and that Clinton is less likely to be recklessly incompetent. Others may be convinced that an unpopular Clinton presidency may be better for conservative principles in the long run than a train wreck Trump administration would be. Some people may think voting third party is a waste. Others may figure it is one way to send a message that the system failed us this time around. Or maybe they really, really like Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or whomever. Do I agree with all these arguments? No. But am I able to tell Christians that these arguments are manifestly unbiblical? No. They are conclusions that require prudential judgments. While our church might discipline a member for holding the positions Clinton holds or for behaving the way Trump has behaved, this does not mean we have biblical grounds for disciplining a church member who, for any number of reasons and calculations, may decide that voting for either candidate (or neither) makes the most sense. And if we wouldn’t discipline someone for a presidential vote, we should stop short of saying such a vote is sinful and shameful.”

Kevin has much more to say, and so much of it helpful. Read Kevin’s entire post here. Though it was written in the context of a different election, Kevin’s post, “What Am I Doing When I Vote?” offers us helpful distinctions for more careful thinking about what a vote is and isn’t. Evidence of Kevin’s perceptivity is the fact that this article from 2012 practically accounts for our present situation.

On a closely related subject, seasoned former pastor of Chicago’s Moody Church, Erwin Luther, was asked once as to whether he would endorse a political candidate. He declined. Here’s his thinking:

“First, I did not want anyone to think that the Gospel was tied to a political party. If I were to endorse a candidate, people would identify Christianity with that political label, and this would be a stumbling block to those of the opposing political party. Instead of endorsements, over the years I have preached on those issues which cross the biblical/political divide, such as abortion, the role of law, same-sex marriage, etc. But throughout I have always insisted that the cross of Christ must be held above political wrangling, particularly before an election. We must be able to say to Democrats, to Republicans, and to Independents, ‘All of you are lost forever if you do not put your faith in Christ.’

The second reason for my refusal was that I feared a politician I endorsed could turn out to be a disappointment, and I would then be embarrassed that I had lent my name (and by extension that of The Moody Church) to the man or woman who acted in an un-Christian manner.”

These are wise words.

If you read around the web or track with social media, you’ll be familiar with the strongly prescriptive and often condescending or dismissive spirit from all sides around the question who Christians should or shouldn’t vote for. Strong opinions are good, and even needed for robust self-government. But if we’re not careful, we can end up treating the voices of leaders we trust as a kind of extra-biblical papal authority. Let us remember that we account to God for our decisions, and let us with all seriousness live and vote like that is true.

Lutzer’s tone, along with Kevin’s, really is the spirit to model. Or at least it seems that way to this writer and Christian. Whatever you purpose to do this election, surely you have heard silly, misrepresentative, and wrong-spirited arguments against your decision. It’s good to remember, and even to self-consciously acknowledge, that not everyone who disagrees with you disagrees with you for those same reasons and in that same spirit. Kevin and Lutzer will likely vote differently, and yet they express their arguments and their disagreements reasonably and in a manner appropriate to the murkiness of the moment.

Finally, we simply must conclude with a word from Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. George, reflecting on the difficult options our political process has left us with, looks forward with perspective and offers these wise words on Facebook:

“. . . This is where charity is required. There is no point in getting angry at people for whom what is obvious to oneself in these appalling circumstances is not obvious. Every single one of us needs to do his or her best to think this thing through carefully and then follow the dictates of conscience, acknowledging and appreciating the fact that conscience might lead other reasonable people of goodwill to a different conclusion.

Whatever happens, whichever of these people is elected, those of us who believe in limited government, constitutional fidelity and the Rule of law, flourishing institutions of civil society, traditional principles of morality, and the like are going to have profoundly important work to do. And we will need to do it together. Let us not break the cords that bind us together in friendship and conviction.”

If that’s true for broadly like-minded Americans, how much more the church. As the Apostle Paul commands, let us eagerly “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Let us have strong opinions about this election. Let us speak and persuade and struggle together as Americans. Let us have stronger unity around the gospel as Christ’s church.

There are good men and women among us—even within our own church—who are serving or will one day serve in public office. Let’s pray for them, even as we pray for our national leaders. And if this election season leaves us disappointed, let’s not give up on participating. In a democratic republic, a nation ultimately get’s what it asks for. So let us not withdraw from the process, but participate all the more—with more wisdom, more attention, and more love for neighbor than we have before.