MEDITATIONS FOR THE VOTING BOOTH

It’s almost midnight on November 7th, and soon one of the most divisive and controversial presidential campaigns since the Civil War will finally be over (hopefully).  Within the next twenty-four hours somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred million of us will cast our votes for the nation’s highest office (on top of nearly half that number who have already voted).  No matter who wins, it will take a long time for the nation to recover.  Early in his public career, Abraham Lincoln observed that democracy requires three things to flourish: a people who are united among themselves, have faith in free institutions, and are guided by reason.  If he was right, we’re in trouble.

Many of us will go to the polls deeply troubled for the future of our country.  Some of us will also carry a burden for the future of Christ’s Church, fearfully convinced that the outcome of the election will determine its future as well.  Early this summer, I wrote an open letter to evangelical leaders in which I implored them to share the theological principles and scriptural precepts that guide their thinking about politics, in particular their decision to support the Republican nominee.  I am still waiting.

On one hand, we’ve been told that a twice divorced casino mogul known for his bigotry, adulation of power, and contempt for constitutional constraints is a wonderful father and faithful Christian, which should make our decision simple.  Conversely, we’ve been told that character doesn’t matter—we’re “not electing a pastor,” after all—and that a host of pragmatic reasons dictate that we ally with a scoundrel to bring down a villain.   I can imagine Winston Churchill saying such a thing.  I’m not so sure about Jesus.

I’m not qualified to offer a set of systematic theological principles to guide our thinking about the mess that we’re in—that’s why I have so genuinely longed for our leaders to teach us.  Like many of us, I think we’re faced with a set of awful options when we go into the voting booth tomorrow.  It occurs to me that these extraordinary circumstances have exposed the theological shallowness of my own thinking about politics until now.  In years when one major candidate seemed clearly superior to the other, no very deep thinking was required.  But now that we effectively face a choice between the two most unpopular presidential nominees since the beginning of polling, each deeply if differently flawed, I find myself groping for scriptural principles upon which to make a decision.

If Donald Trump had a particle of integrity, and if I thought he truly cared remotely about the sanctity of human life and the importance of religious freedom (instead of stumbling on both positions just recently while reading “Two Corinthians”), and if I thought he could be trusted to make wise nominations to the Supreme Court, and if I thought he possessed the political acumen to steer genuinely sound nominations through a bitterly divided, dysfunctional Senate (which will soon either be almost evenly split between the parties or have a slight Democratic majority), and if history showed that ostensibly conservative nominees to the Court reliably espoused conservative positions once on the bench (which it doesn’t), then we could have a really good discussion about whether the ends justify the means and God would have us ally with someone as morally offensive as Donald Trump to accomplish some greater good.

In case you missed the italics, however, there are way too many “ifs” in that long sentence to base a decision on.  I know that many evangelicals have concluded that a Trump presidency—however distasteful and even frightening—is simply the price we must pay for a conservative Court for the next generation.  Their motives may be honorable, but I fear their reasoning is dreadfully misguided.

So here is what I am meditating on these last hours before voting myself.  I’m suspecting that, however we vote, our decision will say something about our view of divine sovereignty and human identity, that is, how we understand God and how we see ourselves.  In church this past Sunday, our congregation sang a familiar praise chorus with the words “Our God is an awesome God / He reigns in heaven above / with wisdom, power, and love / our God is an awesome God.”  And before I knew it, my thoughts were on the impending election (confession: my mind sometimes wanders in church—sorry), and I found myself asking whether we really believe this when we go into the voting booth.  If so, in what ways will a robust confidence in God’s sovereignty and power inform the votes we cast?  And how, exactly, might our faith in God’s sovereignty and power square with the conclusion that we must support the “lesser of evils” to promote a “Christian” outcome?

And then our pastor began his sermon.  While preaching on the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, he took us briefly to a relevant passage in the New Testament letter to the Hebrews.  The verse that caught my attention was chapter 13, verse 14.  In my New King James translation I read, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come,” and again my thoughts turned to Election Day.  When we pull the curtain behind us and cast our ballots, will our actions reflect our identity first and foremost as Americans—more specifically, as Republicans or Democrats—or will we self-consciously remind ourselves, as the apostle Paul taught the church at Philippi, that “our citizenship is in heaven”?

Will we think of ourselves as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” to return to the language of the book of Hebrews, or will our identity and motivation be grounded elsewhere?  Will we see the election as our “last chance” to save America or make it great again, or will we believe the Scripture’s assurance (in Hebrews 12:28) that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken”?

In context, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews is combining assurance with admonition.  The full verse reads, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear.”  The full truth of this passage is beyond my comprehension, but the writer seems to be telling us that a key to serving God acceptably is realizing where our identity is grounded and where our hope lies.  You should read these verses in context and decide for yourself how they may apply.  As for me, I’m having a hard time squaring them with the pervasive pragmatism that so many of our leaders seem to have adopted.

I’ll be voting tomorrow, but not for either major candidate.

US-VOTE-CLINTON-TRUMP

5 responses to “MEDITATIONS FOR THE VOTING BOOTH

  1. I write this on Wednesday morning, knowing that Donald J. Trump will be our President for the next four years and with full confidence in the sovereignty of our God. I, too, could not vote for either candidate and I agree with the idea that the lesser of two evils is still evil. My vote has no consequence other that helping me to settle things with my own conscience. Thank you for your meditations – we all need to think much more deeply about how we live our lives and the decisions we make in the light of Scripture. It is startling to hear that evangelical voters came out in unprecedented numbers for Trump despite his moral lapses and his wavering sense of where he would lead us. Certainly this strikes me as reflecting a sense of desperation based on the failure of previous so-called evangelical Presidents to deliver expected change. But the other option was equally distasteful – an administration that would continue the secularization of our culture and weak economic growth.

    So I renew my call to pray for the nation, the American people, and the government. Particularly, pray for Mike Pence who it looks like will have the task of conciliating differences and doing a lot of the “grunt” work that is needed. Trump is 70 years old – the oldest person ever elected to the Presidency – and Mike Pence may be called upon at any moment in case of health issues for Trump. Now that we are in this thing, we need to do our best to serve God and, by serving God, serve our nation!

  2. I find myself refreshingly indifferent on the morning of this historic day. Since I have no political horse in the race, my reflection is on the Church and my citizenship in an eternal country. Praise God that our hope is not in a man or woman, but in a loving and sovereign Lord. This election has been a great reminder to me that I am an alien and a foreigner on the earth. The United States of America will change, but we serve a changeless God. The United States of America may fall, but the Church will remain and strengthen under persecution and trial. I will be glued to the TV tonight to see which candidate wins this months-long slug-fest of an election, but as my head hits the pillow tonight, I will rest, assured of the goodness of my Everlasting King.

  3. Yes, I wonder what Bonhoeffer would do when given the choice to stand AGAINST a presidential candidate that has made clear she intends to continue advocating and approving the extermination of unborn children (Johnson and Stein are “pro-choice” as well)…

    Obviously, he would pray, preach, write and support pregnancy rescue and adoption ministries, but what would he do at the ballot box?

  4. Dear Dr. McK, I too have appreciated your keen insights during this election process. I will be taking this pericope from Job into the voting booth this day:

    Yes, strength and wisdom are his;
    deceivers and deceived are both in his power.
    He leads counselors away, stripped of good judgment;
    wise judges become fools.
    He removes the royal robe of kings.
    They are led away with ropes around their waist.
    He leads priests away, stripped of status;
    he overthrows those with long years in power.
    He silences the trusted adviser
    and removes the insight of the elders.
    He pours disgrace upon princes
    and disarms the strong.
    He uncovers mysteries hidden in darkness;
    he brings light to the deepest gloom.
    He builds up nations, and he destroys them.
    He expands nations, and he abandons them.
    He strips kings of understanding
    and leaves them wandering in a pathless wasteland.
    They grope in the darkness without a light.
    He makes them stagger like drunkards.
    ~ Job 12-16-25

  5. Thank you for this post Dr. McKenzie, I’ve appreciated your thoughtful blogs during the election season. The following is an excerpt of something I wrote a few weeks ago; I write as someone who once had trouble distinguishing the Gospel from my own political agenda. Bob

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is often quoted by religious people with political agendas, using him as an argument to vote one way or another. What these people miss is that Bonhoeffer came to the place early on, during Hitler’s rise to absolute power, when he realized that the church must stand as the church and speak from the Kingdom of God into the world as a distinct voice, the voice of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer realized that the politicization of the church would be the death of its testimony to Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer became increasingly isolated, he was considered too radical, he was not taking political and economic realities into consideration, those who had once stood with him separated themselves. Yes, there were others like Bonhoeffer, but they were few. Pragmatism and self-preservation caused many pastors, theologians, and the church to capitulate to evil – foolishly thinking that things would get better, stupidly arguing that they could moderate evil. They used the “lesser of two evils” as an argument and found that the lesser of two evils is still not only evil…it is absolute evil – for evil is evil and when we baptize an agenda as the lesser of two evils we anoint it as the authority in our lives – we subject our hearts and minds to it – we pollute ourselves and those around us. The lesser of two evils becomes the evil in our hearts and minds.

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