A Voter’s Guide for Christians That is Actually Helpful

Normally, I steer away from so-called “Christian voter guides.”  The ones that arrive on the church doorstep unsolicited go directly into the recycling bin.  However, there are always exceptions.

Miroslav Volf, Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, has written an extremely helpful guide for Christians who vote.  He discusses Christian values, the biblical rationale for those values, and the questions that should be asked.  His paper is too long to quote in its entirety, but can be found here. These are the values Volf  thinks should guide Christians. (Everything below is excerpted from Volf’s paper).

0. Christ as the Measure of All Values

The ultimate allegiance of a Christian is to Jesus Christ, the creative Word (become flesh) who enlightens everyone, and the redeeming Lamb of God who bears the sin of the whole world. Christian ought not embrace any practice, no matter how prudent it may seem from the standpoint of national security or national competitive advantage, which conflicts with their allegiance to Christ.

1. Freedom of Religion (and Irreligion)

All people are responsible for their own lives, and they have the right to embrace a faith or way of life they deem meaningful and abandon that with which they no longer identify without suffering discrimination.

2. Education

It is important for all citizens to understand the world in which they live, to learn to reflect critically on what makes life worth living, and to acquire qualifications for jobs that increasingly require complex skills. We should strive for excellent and affordable education  for all citizens.

3. Economic Growth

Economic growth is not a value in its own right because increasing wealth and money are not values in their own right. They are means—indispensible means, but only means—to human flourishing, which consists more in righteousness than in possessions.

4. Work and Employment

Every person should have meaningful and, if employed for pay, adequately remunerated work. All able citizens should work to take care of their needs and to contribute to the well being of others and the planet.

5. Debt

As individuals and as a nation, we should live within our means and not borrow beyond what we can reasonably expect to return; we shouldn’t offload onto others, whether our contemporaries or future generations, the price of our overreaching or risk‐taking; instead, we should save so as to be able to give to others who are less fortunate then we.

6. The Poor

The poor—above all those without adequate food or shelter—deserve our special concern.

7. The Elderly

Those who are frail on account of their advanced age deserve our special help. They need adequate medical assistance, social interaction, and meaningful activities. (The humanity of a society is measured, perhaps especially, by how itmtreats those no longer capable of doing “useful” work.)

8. Unborn

Unborn human life, just like fully developed human life, deserves our respect, protection, and nurture.  (Volf acknowledges that there is a legitimate debate about the point at which life that can plausibly be deemed human begins and whether the best way to reduce abortions is to criminalize abortion or to improve the living conditions of the poor (for instance, through fighting poverty in inner cities, providing education for women, making available affordable child‐care).

9. Healthcare

All people—poor or rich—should have access to affordable basic healthcare, just as all are responsible for living in a way conducive to physical and mental health.

10. Care for Creation

We are part of God’s creation; we must seek to preserve the integrity of God’s creation as an  interdependent ecosystem; and, if possible, pass it on to the future generations improved. Above all, we should not damage creation by leading lifestyles marked by acquisitiveness and wastefulness.

11. Death Penalty

Death should never be punishment for a crime. Since out of love Christ died for every human being (“the world”), no one should rob a human being of a chance to be transformed by God’s love, and no one should put to death a human being who has been transformed by God’s love.

12. Criminal Offenders

Mere retributive punishment is an inadequate and mistaken way of dealing with offenders. We need to find creative ways to reconcile offenders to their victims and reintegrate them into the society.

13. World Hunger

Given the world’s resources, no human being should go hungry. As individuals and as a nation, we should be committed to complete eradication of hunger

14. Equality of Nations

No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world.

15. War

War is almost never justifiable, and every successful justification has to show how a particular war is an instance of loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies.

16. Torture

We should never torture. It dehumanizes both the detainee and the interrogator by violating the dignity of the one and degrading the integrity of the other, and it erodes the moral character of the nation approving it

17. Honoring Everyone

We should honor every human being and respect all faiths (without necessarily affirming them as true). As citizens, we have the right to mock another religion, but as followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not to

18. Public Role of Religion

Every citizen—religious or not, Christian, Jew, or Muslim—has the right to bring his or her own perspectives on human flourishing and on the common good to bear upon public life and to do so on equal terms with everyone else.

19. Truthfulness

Those seeking public office should foreswear spin and contempt, being truthful with the public and civil to one another. You can “advertise” but not fabricate; you can criticize but not disrespect.

20. Character

Competence (technical expertise, including emotional intelligence), though essential, matters less than character because knowledge, though crucial, matters less than love.

Personal note: I voted on October 28 after our church sponsored “Souls the the Polls.”  Now I am free to help on Election Day.

God’s Will — Except When It’s Not

Theologians have a hard enough time trying to discern the will of God.  When a candidate for the U. S. Senate takes up that difficult subject in the context of a three-way debate, the waters get very muddy indeed.

Last night (October 23, 2012) Republican Senate nominee Richard Mourdock said a life conceived by rape “is something God intended to happen” and must be protected.  All three of the candidates vying for Indiana’s contested Senate seat are opposed to abortion, but it was Mr. Mourdock who asserted that his stand is motivated by his conviction that he knows the will of God in every case of rape.

Mr. Mourdock would make abortion illegal except in cases in which the life of the mother is threatened.  But not in cases of rape.  “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God,” Mr. Mourdock said. “And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

I have to wonder why Mr. Mourdock would allow a woman to get an abortion to save her own life.  Surely if God “gifts” rape victims with pregnancy, God must also “gift” women with pregnancy at the risk of their lives.  It seems Mr. Mourdock not only knows God’s will for most women, he also knows that God alters his will for some other women.

You see the problem.  When lawmakers — especially male lawmakers — base legislation on their views of God’s will, we’re all in trouble –especially women.  If you don’t believe me, ask the women of Afghanistan.

Abortion is an enormously complicated moral issue.  Like Mr. Mourdock, I have struggled with this dilemma, and, although I respect the “seamless garment” argument embraced by Roman Catholic officialdom, I think the decision should be left to the woman in conversation with her physician, her loved ones, and her faith community.

Opponents of abortion tend to present the issue as morally unambiguous.  It’s not.  Simply stating that this – but not that – pregnancy is “the will of God” doesn’t really advance the conversation.  It just paints the people who support choice as opposed to the will of God.

In my lifetime some Christians have maintained that it is the will of God that women stay home to tend house, that “colored” and “white” people remain segregated, and that homosexuals go straight to hell.  God’s will is a difficult thing to discern.  It takes prayer, study, and honest conversation.  Then, with fear and trembling, we make a decision with the knowledge that we could be wrong.

There are days when I wish I had Mr. Mourdock’s moral clarity.  Most of the time, however, I’d say that kind of clarity is more curse than gift.