Monthly Archives: October 2012

A Christian Voting Guide

Candidates are sprinting to the finish line of this election season. Everyone will be better served by whatever brief respite from campaign vitriol, manipulation of facts and truths, implausible or unattainable promises, and personal attacks may come with the announcement of final vote totals. The dangers of economic instability, natural disasters, challenges to national security, and personal and corporate greed will persist. Critical issues of providing public services, promoting civil and personal rights and responsibilities, and working to extend justice throughout all levels of society will continue. Hope endures that the successful candidates will overcome partisan gridlock in order to govern wisely, fulfilling the purposes of government “to form a more Perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” (Preamble to the U. s. Constitution) In many founding documents preceding the U. S. Constitution those lofty goals are summed up as the advancement of the common good.

This voting guide encourages the advancement of the common good as a primary criterion for deciding which candidate receives your vote. Admittedly, genuine differences exist between political parties and candidates on their visions of what constitutes the highest notions of the common good and what policies are most effective for promoting it. Prior to conforming to partisan loyalties, however, people who seek to follow Jesus and to extend God’s grace have some careful self evaluation and candidate analysis to perform. Our call is to go beyond mere self interest to consider how our actions – and our votes – affect others.

A good Bible text for seeking the common good forms the introduction to one of Paul’s most moving descriptions of the life Jesus lived on our behalf: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. {4} Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV) Paul goes on to explain that Jesus willingly emptied himself into human form, even to the point of crucifixion, in order to demonstrate God’s grace and to save us from ourselves and our sin. We are to adopt a similar frame of mind on behalf of the welfare of others. Ask yourself how your vote and the candidate you support measure up to this standard for living.

Another way to assess candidates’ political philosophies and how to vote draws from two verses in a single New Testament chapter: 1) “Each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5 NIV), and, 2) “Bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2a NRSV) Followers of Jesus should do all we can – including voting – to champion the balance of individual responsibility and serving the common good that is plainly stated in these two brief Bible verses.

Candidates may point to the failures of many people to live up to their responsibilities as a root cause of the problems besetting individuals, corporations, and the nation. Assuming personal responsibility is clearly taught throughout the Bible. Neither individuals nor nations are to presume upon God’s provision, nor are they to depend parasitically upon the work and goodness of others. Paul issued a stark rule to the first Christians, some of whom appeared to have developed a sense of entitlement: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b NIV) Instead of clamoring for maximum profits from scant and risky action, combined with blaming anyone else when troubles arise, people should practice the biblical principle of personal responsibility at every level, from each person to the halls of corporations and government. In deciding how to vote, the question is how the candidate encourages and empowers everyone – from the least to the greatest – to live responsibly, not by special advantagesor special interests.

Contributing to the general welfare beyond one’s limited self-interest is the focus of the twin verse in this pair. The Bible consistently calls God’s people to care for others who face conditions hampering them from bearing their load on their own. God’s prophets continually called God’s people to care especially for anyone who faced limited opportunities to provide for themselves, such as widows and orphans, physically disabled persons, foreigners limited by language and culture, and the chronically poor. Not only were God’s people to act personally to help, but business and government entities were to provide for the common good, giving additional attention to marginalized people. One of the later prophets recalled how consistently God had directed his people to live by that standard, and wrote: “the message hasn’t changed. God . said then and says now: ‘Treat one another justly. Love your neighbors. Be compassionate with each other. Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor. Don’t plot and scheme against one another. That’s evil.'” ) Zechariah 7:8-10, MSG) Rather than evaluating every issue by asking, “What’s in it for me?” both individuals, business leaders, and public servants are enjoined to seek the common good. Consider how your vote – along with your own actions of service and ministry to the needs of others – expresses genuine care for people God directs the “haves” to assist. How does your candidate propose to lead individuals, corporations, and government to meet human needs?

You may object that these guidelines are too simplistic to guide your vote. Thorny issues of intense ethical debates, tax policy, national debt, and other basic philosophies of government dominate the campaigns. Crucial decisions affecting our daily lives hang in the balance. Deciding how to vote must involve careful decisions about the best way to be faithful to God while confronting those challenges. But the questions of setting your mind on the way God would have us live may help to clarify our responses to the talking-point issues raised in political campaigns.

All of this is finally to encourage you to vote. First pray for God’s guidance in your deliberations. Consider the principles you know from scripture, life in the community of faith, and your personal perception of the presence of God’s Spirit. Listen as directly as possible to the candidates themselves, rather than “spin doctors” or talk-show personalities, or political pundits, or opposing candidates’ characterizations of the others’ positions. Pray some more. Vote. Get busy working for, advocating for, and supporting the approaches that contribute to your understanding of the common good.

Unfortunately, the respite following Tuesday’s election almost certainly will be far too short. Name-calling, assigning blame for losses, and political intransigence are the nearly inevitable storm after the brief celebratory calm. Can God’s people make a real difference by earnestly seeking to vote God’s way? (I’m not about to dictate which candidate fills that bill!) It’s certainly well worth our fervent effort.

-J. Edward Culpepper

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