EVANGELICALS AND THE SOUTH CAROLINA POLITICAL SHAG

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The Carolina political shag dance of the primary is in full swing. Every citizen should vote. Every vote counts. As Christians we are citizens of a republic in which our votes count. They do not count if we do not vote. It is fairly (not always pretty) simple to keep in step with this . . . until we start talking about who to vote for.

Some thoughts to consider:

(1) Most of Scripture was written to followers of Christ who lived under imperfect kings, brutal reigns, and ungodly empires. We do not have Scripture where Paul admonishes believers to “vote biblical values” because the concept of every citizen having the equal opportunity to vote was incompatible with the Roman government. The take-away is not that we should not vote. The take-away is that we must recognize that Scripture was not written as a voter’s guide but as God’s revelation for how His people know Him and become His people on earth. We must vote from a biblical framework that seeks to exercise the will of God upon earth. This is not always as easy as step 1, step 2, and step 3 when it comes to us discerning how to understand God’s will in our political system.

(2) The blessings of living in a nation where Christianity has flourished throughout our history confounds a generation of Christians who grew up with “I Like Ike.” Politics has always been an impolite business. (Herod the Great’s sons could attest to this). We are met with each election cycle with a pronouncement that this is the most important election of our lifetime. Perhaps this is truer every four years. The political and religious stakes are high and my guess is that most Christians would recognize this. However, what is not apparent is whether most Christians recognize how marginal, cultural Christianity is on a swift decline. Specifically, Christians must learn to live out a biblical faith without the cultural trappings of a Christian society. We are not without a point of reference for how to live in uncertain political times. We must appreciate the political climate in which the first believers turned the world upside down without a sympathetic government. At times it was the government that executed them for sport. We are reminded today that Christians throughout our world speak of their faith at a great cost. First century Christianity did not flourish in a day where one could go to his local bookstore and buy a Roman Patriot edition of the Torah. American evangelicals have been spoiled by a nation where our patriotism, nationalism, and Christianity have come to us in political packages that appeared good, wholesome, and faithful to New Testament Christianity. The days of the moral majority are behind us. We do not have the religious freedoms that were the privileges of our parents and grandparents. We must ask the question posed to us before, “How now shall we live?”

(3)  What would Paul say about politicians who had slogans such as: “Reigniting the Promise of Rome”, “Make Rome Great”, “A New Roman Century”, or “Caligula for Rome”? A lot, actually. He would remind us that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). He would exhort us to pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). He would explain that our governing authorities are ministers of God (Romans 13:4). (This would include the non Bible-believing ones as well). He would point us onward to Christ, hopeful living, and witnesses to our culture as salt and light. He would set us aflame with the Truth and Spirit of the living God as we vote. He would call our attention to the only King who sits on His throne. He alone will mete out justice and righteousness upon the earth.

(4)  Our participation in our political process is vital. But why? We should vote because our opportunity to contribute to “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 2:2)” is connected with whom we vote for (and pray for). We must steward our freedoms for Kingdom impact. Christians have seen less peaceful and quiet living the past eight years. We may no longer be the moral majority, but our resolve to be engaged can be no less. Our resolve is guided by the recognition that our only true hope is in the Church of Christ living out Christ’s mission in this world.

(5) There has been a split among evangelical endorsements this year that signals a break from past elections. Regardless of how we feel about any one person, there is no candidate that will satisfy all evangelicals.

How could one have a more humble disposition than Carson? Yet, his identification as a Seventh Day Adventist may cause some to turn away from him. Rubio is Roman Catholic and speaks of his Christian faith in very articulate ways, though evangelicals have not always been comfortable with Catholics (see President Kennedy). This does not seem to be as an issue years later, especially given how articulate Rubio is when discussing his relationship with Christ. Cruz, a Southern Baptist, literally spoke (preached?) in a pulpit this past Sunday in our state and yet the question of his generosity is put forth. There can be no doubt that he is very comfortable with expressing a relationship with Christ. Jeb, a Catholic, also speaks of his faith and commitment to defend religious freedoms but does not do so in the same eloquent way as Cruz, Carson, and Rubio. Trump identifies as a Presbyterian and though less compelling in describing his faith journey (Two Corinthians) clearly says that he is a Christian. However, he has made statements that contradict the gospel message of repentance and asking for forgiveness. He is also not claiming to be a huuuge saint. Having said this, let’s be grateful that we have this many candidates to choose from that speak of their faith in sincere and unabashed ways and understand that religious liberty is under fire.

A side-note on this: If evangelicals wanted to support the greatest Christian candidate then we missed a good opportunity with Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist pastor. Can we not admit that electability is actually a real consideration when evangelicals choose a candidate? At the same time can we not readily admit that a “born again” Christian does not inherently make one capable to lead or even govern conservatively (see President Carter). Yes, we must consider character and experience because that is the vetting process afforded to the electorate and we must engage accordingly. However, do we not go too far when we ordain someone as “God’s man” for president or question the faith of another candidate when in fact his present positions are in the evangelical camp as well? Let us look for consistency in our candidates, but let us also be consistent in the standard that we hold for each of the candidates. Not all of these candidates hold the same “pro-life” positions and we should make it a point to know where each of them stand. Some of our past conservative heroes appointed moderate to liberal leaning justices to the Supreme Court. No one candidate is going to satisfy an evangelical litmus test that looks like pastoral qualifications. We could go on and on with these lines of arguments. Let us willingly confess that (all things being equal) we normally vote for those with whom we most naturally connect, find credible, and think will make a difference for good (specifically, the good of the Kingdom).

Let us vote. Let us vote with a Kingdom mindset. Let us remember the faith of those who have come before us. Let us vote to capture the best of opportunities for the Kingdom to be felt by those who come after us. Let us vote without vilifying one another in the public forum when we have more than one good choice.

We are seeing how out of step evangelicals are with each other in this political dance. Many leaders that I respect have different opinions on which of the republican candidates to support this cycle, and I respect each of their choices. Humility is in order for all of us as we discuss these issues.

© 2016, Phillip L. Dunn