Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Blog and Reblog: My Thoughts on Voting Choices

The following is a combination of posts on voting and elections I have offered previously. Most of the material was written before the last election, but I'm getting the same questions again, so I am re-posting and expanding my answers (with slight alterations due to circumstantial changes).  

Three overarching principles...

It's election time, and as someone who has always had an interest in politics, a passion for truth and justice, and a concern for my own nation's well being, I take voting seriously. I also value God's kingdom over the kingdoms of this world, and my calling as a son of God and pastor in the Church over being a citizen of the USA. I know how easily political passions are stirred, and how we can blur the line between political desires and biblical priorities. What to do?

First, we bow before God's sovereign will, knowing that He will guide events according to his plan for the ages and while we must exercise our responsibilities and will be held accountable for our free actions, He is bringing all of history to its God-glorifying, justice-rendering, mercy- and grace-filled, conclusion. And we are to preach the Gospel  of Jesus to the ends of the earth to hasten that day!

Second, we acknowledge that Christ is King over His kingdom--revealed in part today on earth through his people, even as he is already enthroned in Heaven and awaiting his future rule on earth. While it is not here in its fullness, we who are its citizens are to live as such and demonstrate the difference it makes in our choices and in where our confidence lies.  

Third, we recognize that in a fallen world, we must often choose the lesser of two evils. No one we could respect would argue that one candidate in a contest is God's special agent, while the other is the forerunner of the Antichrist! They are both flawed and fallible people who hold positions and beliefs that do not reflect righteousness fully. But we must still choose and should choose the lesser of the two evils (also known as the better of two alternatives). As another writer said about this: "Not only are the choices imperfect, but so also is the chooser."

What about pro-life (and other moral) issues?

In every election cycle, I find myself wondering about the wisdom of some of my Christian friends who try to defend their support for a candidate for office who supports abortion rights by an appeal to other issues. They say something like this,

 "Well, there are lots of "pro-life" issues. You can't just care about people before they are born. If you don't care for them afterward--the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the immigrant, the victims of discrimination, etc., you are not really pro-life, you are just anti-abortion."

(Often, the speaker will throw in protection of the environment as being "creation care," and equally or nearly equally important as a "pro-life" issue.)

I believe that every one of the issues mentioned in the above is important, and Christian ethics has something powerful to bring to any discussion of policy decisions. In fact, unlike some of my more rock-ribbed conservative friends, I am supportive of a number of government initiatives and using tax money to address quite a number of programs to address many of them. I am for a very liberal immigration policy, along with a robust border protection plan and writing and enforcing good immigration laws. I've lived in poor neighborhoods, and ministered in places where "the system" really IS stacked against the poor and needy. They do suffer, and it is wrong. However, only one of the issues under discussion is the active, government-sanctioned (and insured by government mandate) taking of millions of innocent, defenseless, human lives.

This kind of weak thinking needs to be seen for what it is--rationalization and false equivalence. It is rationalization because it tries to re-frame issues in a way that says they belong to the same category of moral importance when they do not. The killing of an unborn child is a crime against the God who gives life and a direct violation of scriptural absolutes from Genesis onward against the unjust shedding of blood. This crime, by man or beast, was so evil that God demanded that the offender be executed by "man"--that is, mankind collectively, which we now see function through human government. It is false equivalence in the same way as we see it when people say, "All sins are equally sin, so they are equally bad." Telling a lie and murder are, indeed, both sins, but the scope, consequences, extent of guilt, etc., are radically different as everyone with a smidgen of common sense (not to mention good theology) understands.

[Let me hasten to add that abortion is, certainly and thankfully, as forgivable as any sin, and those who may have had an abortion under the misguided idea that this was simply exercising a personal choice are in many ways victims as much as sinners. The church is filled with sinners saved by the forgiving grace and mercy of God. I am committed in my pastoral concern for those who have abortion as a part of their past, and my desire for them and for all whose lives are marked by a "past" is that we not let that past define the present or destroy the future.]

Someone who opposes the death penalty as evil, but supports abortion as a personal choice has chosen to oppose something with at least some biblical support (I know Christians are on both sides of that debate) and to support something that violates every principle of Scripture when it comes to the sanctity of human life as given by God. And pacifists who hate war but allow abortion are at least as inconsistent--not wanting to kill in war, even if the aggressor may be heinously evil, but callously allowing the destruction of an unborn child because its arrival might be inconvenient.

If a candidate promises to feed all the poor, but will allow the rich and poor alike to kill unborn babies, that is not in any consistent way a pro-life position. If another candidate will make the killing of babies universally illegal, and says, "let private compassion replace government programs," that may or may not be a good political position, but it is not evil unless it says, "let the poor starve to death; the sooner the better." Debates over the role of government in caring for individuals can take many forms, with both sides able to marshal positive biblical examples and texts for support, but the decision to allow the killing of unborn children can find no such support.

I understand the appeal of candidates who exude compassion and attack greed and selfishness. It resonates when we see inequality, suffering, and evil in our society. But to my friends who want me to join them in supporting candidates who take what they (and maybe even I) would say are more "Christian" approaches to societal evils, I say this: start choosing candidates who will defend defenseless unborn babies, and then I will know that those candidates may be trustworthy in the other issues we face. Until they see that a government cannot practice any form of state supported mass murder, they cannot convince me they have a proper moral compass to guide political choices.

By the way, I will vote this way, even if it means voting for a high tax, soft on defense, socialist. My conviction has led me in the past to vote for a liberal Democrat over a conservative Republican.

Now I know that some will say, "You can't legislate morality!"  To which I answer, "Of course you can!"  That is what legislation does every time it makes something a crime; it creates civil morality.  Laws against rape, murder, theft, etc. are the legislation of morality--they are wrong and they will be punished.  The question is whose morality will be enshrined in legislation.  And as long as I can, I will strive to have civil morality that is as closely aligned with biblical morality as is possible in our society.  I'm not after a theocracy any more than our Founders, who seemed pretty comfortable with the idea that the Bible provided a framework from which a republic could draw effective and sufficient moral guidelines.

The argument made in the previous paragraph is my continued justification for supporting laws that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant. I've written about that in another post, but simply stated, God blesses marriages, but the state has a vested interest in the promotion of life-long marriage covenants where husbands and wives raise children together. The social scientists have produced study after study showing the benefits of having a father and mother physically present in a child's life and of the deleterious effects of single parenthood and divorce. Government tax breaks for parents and in support of marriage are in the national interest. I would also favor a return to stricter divorce laws, requiring the establishment of fault/grounds, but I am probably spitting into the wind on that one.

Think clearly, and think biblically, as you prepare to vote, this time and always.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Once Upon a Revelation

[The following was originally written as the introduction to one of our recent messages in Revelation. I offer it again here as a reminder and encouragement to all of us as the series comes to its close, and because we all need to remember the grand love story we all live in!] 

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince, who was his Father’s pride and joy. The handsome Prince was not just handsome, but good--as good as any prince could ever be. In the course of events, the Prince (as often happens in such stories) fell in love. It was not with a princess, or even the most beautiful of young women. He loved a very unlikely girl—one whose bad qualities, at least as far as anyone could see, were much more numerous than her good ones. If you were to see her, and hear her, and watch her, you would probably say, “What does he see in her?” But whatever it was, he saw it. He loved her. And because of his love, no sacrifice was too great to make to have her as his own.

Something magical began to happen (as often happens in such stories). The more he loved her, and the more she realized it, the more she began to change. Slowly at first, and not always easily, her harsh words and bad attitudes began to fade. Though at first she had seen the Prince as only another man, she began to see just how good he was—how kind, how patient, and how forgiving for the ways she treated him. She began to sound less like herself, and more like him when she spoke. The hardness of her looks at others softened to match his kind smile. Without really understanding how it happened, she was shocked to realize that she loved the Prince.

Now as with any good love story, there was problem, and the problem involved villains. There were many others around who thought it was wrong that the Prince loved only this one undeserving maiden.  Not only were they jealous, they were incensed that someone no better than they might marry into such wealth and power as came with being the wife of the Prince. They began to disparage the Prince when they talked to her, and they mocked her among themselves. Mockery and disparagement turned eventually to open anger, and even attack. The young woman who had once fit in with everyone else now found herself ostracized, criticized, and finally victimized by increasingly violent threat and action. It became worse when these enemies realized the Prince was away doing the business of his Father, the King. Her life was now in grave danger.

But though he was away, the Prince was not unaware of what was going on. Until he could come back to her, he asked his Father to send whatever help his beautiful love needed, and his Father was only too happy to do so. By all sorts of means that involved last minute rescues and unexpected escapes, the young maiden found herself safe time and time again. But how she now wanted the Prince to return. And oh how he wanted to return and take her to be his bride. 

Finally, the Prince was enabled to come back to his Father and his Father told him, "it’s time." And it was just in time. His love’s enemies had come together and were ready to capture and kill her, and unless she was rescued, it seemed, they would do just what they planned. The Prince, though known for his kindness, was also not one to have his fiancĂ©e trifled with, let alone attacked.  His smile could melt a heart, but his anger—well, no one could stand up to it. And none of his enemies did as he arrived in just the nick of time, rescued his true love, and whisked her away from all her enemies and brought her to his home. There, to her amazement and surprise, all had been prepared and a wedding was about to begin. Her wedding. She would have her Prince forever. And she who had begun life as no one in particular would, as the bride of the Prince, live happily ever after.

The story of Revelation is many things, but one thing we sometimes forget is that it is the culmination of a love story—the story of Jesus and his love for his bride, the Church. “From heaven he came and sought her, to be his holy bride. With his own blood he bought her, and for her life, he died.”He didn’t just die, though. In an event better than any fairy tale, he rose again, went to heaven to be enthroned next to his Father, and there he prays for her, asking his Father for every blessing and protection she needs to complete her “make up”—not as in cosmetics, but as in members. He loves her and is not willing that any one who is to be a part of her would be left out and perish. In God’s wisdom, her growth and development requires testing and trial, until the day comes when she is a fully prepared bride. 

So, we wait now in weakness and suffering, but we know the happy ending is coming.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Why Ebola Matters...Now

Today we've awakened to the news that someone here in the states has been diagnosed with Ebola, the first such case in the USA. And of course there are the Facebook posts speculating, the CDC head pontificating ("we will stop this in its tracks"), critics wondering why travel from West Africa has not been more monitored, and people not wanting to go go Dallas.

I think it's silly to say we will "stop" it--when we don't know how many people have traveled here from affected places and were near someone with the virus who sneezed--yes, that is one of the ways it can be transferred. Maybe we will stop it, or maybe we won't. But I'd rather claim credit for something done than assure people we will do something I can't ultimately control.

But here's the more interesting thing to me--we care, now, because it's here. But whole nations are under quarantine in Africa, not allowing travel across borders, because of this disease. Thousands have died. And some people weren't sure we should bring US citizens home for treatment when they were infected while treating patients. Perhaps we should ask why having Ebola here is so much more newsworthy than the months of Ebola suffering in Africa was. We all know the answer--it was happening to THEM over THERE, and now it can happen HERE to US! Now we will be anxious to find a vaccine and a cure and make sure everyone can have it--here.

One of the greatest international legacies of President Bush was the PEPFAR program that aggressively combatted HIV/AIDS in Africa, and by all accounts (including those of some of our missions personnel) saved many lives and drastically increased survival rates. Interestingly, it was attacked here in the US as a waste of money by most of his political allies and was ignored or belittled by his opponents. Over the last 4 years, the government has cut the budget by 12%--and we're not talking trillions of dollars here--it's a relatively small program. More people will die and more orphans will be created.

With Ebola, Christians have been concerned for aid workers. We've seen impact as mission ventures have been short-circuited. But have we thought about how devastating this is in a needy region where many are believers--our family?