Writings by Cole Huffman


How Then Should We Vote?

Another presidential election looms in 2012. At the time of this writing the Republican candidates have completed eleven televised debates with the election still roughly a year away. Presidential campaigns are now almost two full years in length and cost multiple millions of dollars.

Eventually I will be asked my views on this election and its issues and candidates. These questions come around every four years, as do complaints from some that I don’t give the church enough guidance in these matters. In my church there are at least four categories of public preference on presidential politics:
1.      Those who prefer I say nothing at all about anything political from the pulpit.

2.      Those who simply want me to encourage voting as a sanctified civic duty.

3.      Those who believe I need to use election years to sound an alarm about anti-Christian cultural tides but prefer I do this in a way that sounds nonpartisan, or at least not incendiary.

4.      Those who believe true Christians can only vote Republican and thus I should condemn the current president and muster the laity to unseat him.
I won’t take the space here to address what should or shouldn’t be said from the pulpit about presidential elections. But even those in Category 4 still have questions about their candidate options. I have already been asked whether evangelicals can in good conscience vote for a Mormon. (It wasn’t so long ago that Protestants wondered if they could vote for a Catholic.) Four years ago, I was asked whether evangelicals could in good conscience vote for Mr. Obama.
Pastors counsel their people through a wide variety of considerations and conundrums. Politics ensconce both. A voter simultaneously finds in presidential politics much to consider and much that confounds. Candidates romp and stump before a cynical populace and a jaundiced media. This is why it works for Matt Damon’s defeated senatorial character in The Adjustment Bureau to confess that his entire campaign was scripted—even down to the focus group approved scuff-marks on his shoes. It was a trick to make him appear genuine, a true man-of-the-people. And everyone in the theater readily accepts the scene to be art imitating life: Movies tell the truth but politicians lie. We are convinced every man or woman running for our highest offices has a little huckster in them.
But still we hold the presidency in high esteem, as well we should. That office in our system of governance is a marvel of civic philosophy, if not a trophy of God’s common grace when we consider America’s unparalleled role in the world. Biblically considered, occupants of public office are servants of God whether they sufficiently acknowledge God or not (Rom. 13:1-7). The people of God are thus to pray for civil leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2) and not speak evil of them (Titus 3:1-2), regardless of their policies or personalities or beliefs. If nothing else, attaining to high office is no small human achievement, and to whom much is given much is required.
So it is fitting for God’s people to carefully ponder all candidates for President, incumbents and challengers alike, vetting their stances on the issues of our times. But if you’re thinking of asking me who to vote for, I’ll present you not with whom but how in the form of three guidelines: vote your prudence and vote your conscience and vote your peace.
Vote your prudence: This is probably the hardest directive for most evangelicals to square with because in the last forty years or so we’ve conditioned ourselves to approach presidential elections with an all-or-nothing mentality. The reason is largely due to the civil religion influences of a few higher profile evangelical lobbying entities. Not all evangelical policy and activist groups qualify as civil religionist. Some have quietly achieved a great deal for the public good, such as those pro-life groups that have resiliently and effectively swayed public opinion—and laws—towards greater veneration and protection of human life in the womb. But civil religion in earnest speaks of the nation in terms of the church, conflating the good of the church with the good of the nation. It is biblically haphazard to do this, however, and has rendered some of our civic expectations unrealistic or naively optimistic.
A recovery of prudence is needed because prudence realizes that no one gets everything he wants in a fallen world. As Clarke Forsythe argues in Politics for the Greatest Good, “Prudence in politics aims not at the perfect good but at the greatest good possible in the real world” (p. 38). Os Guinness makes a similar pitch in his book The Case for Civility, that the Founders envisioned neither a sacred public square (which would be a “perfect good” for Christians) nor a secular public square (which would be a “perfect good” for secularists). They envisioned a civil public square as a real good for all and entirely possible in the real world.
So we consider: Which candidate(s) is the realist? Which candidate(s) has the most realistic approach on the issues before the nation, and the approach that does the most good? Take gay marriage, for instance. I do not want to see the state recognize homosexual unions as legitimate marriage because I don’t believe homosexuality is good for anyone, even those devoted to it. But I don’t simply want to know whether a presidential candidate favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I want to know—and need to know—how he plans to prudently govern those who advocate the opposite position because they are citizens too.
Could it be that what sometimes accounts for so-called “flip-flops” in candidates’ views—and this is true for both Democrats and Republicans—is prudence? Though the public eye usually casts a suspicious glance at changes in policy positions, thinking we are always observing political expedience and gamesmanship at play, an adjustment to views on social or economic or foreign policy matters can be evidence of prudence doing its work.
Vote your conscience. Conscience is the collection of core settings within each of us. It’s the stuff “written on the heart”—what you know that you know is true; what you cannot not know is right and good (please permit the intentional double-negative). Conscience will thus condition or set the limits of prudence. If prudence knows we won’t get everything we want from a candidate, conscience knows what we must get from a candidate.
What if a candidate aligns with your values socially regarding the sanctity of life but has an illicit affair in his past? Is your conscience still free to support him? What if a candidate knowingly had business dealings with a corrupt foreign government and yet he has the best foreign policy platform for the times we’re in? What can you allow? What can you not allow?
Let’s consider the Mormon (LDS) question here, as two Republican presidential candidates are Mormons. I take it as a matter of course that one cannot cordon off his faith from his governance. I do not want anyone in high office trying to pull off that impossible (and ridiculous) stunt. Our faith is a lens through which we bring the world before us into focus, and to suggest that one’s faith won’t impact how he or she governs is a nearsighted candidacy.
As an evangelical, I do not and cannot in good conscience consider the LDS movement theologically legitimate unless they repudiate the errors of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al. Despite LDS protests that they are indeed Christians, Mormons propagate doctrines that misconstrue and misrepresent the nature of God and man, and advocate via their “other testament” another gospel that the New Testament apostles condemn (e.g., Gal. 1:6-9). A reconfigured Jesus will justify no one before God.
So this is serious. I would obviously not consider a Mormon for a Bible college presidency or to be the executive director of an evangelical missions entity. But the presidency of the United States is not an evangelical office. Therefore a man being Mormon does not automatically discount him from my consideration any more than I would discount a man who is an unbeliever. That the Mormon is not fit for the Bible college presidency does not mean he is not fit for the U.S. presidency because the comparison is not apples-to-apples. By the same token, a man who shares my evangelical convictions about the nature of God and the Bible does not automatically receive my vote for President, even if I found him ideal for the Bible college presidency.
These are matters of conscience. The writing on the heart for one voter is that he feels obligated before God to vote for an evangelical candidate because he is a brother or she is a sister in Christ. Then, I say, support that candidate in good conscience. Another voter may feel she cannot support candidates whose churches advance doctrines that lead people away from a true knowledge of Jesus, evangelically considered. Then she cannot support those candidates, and anyone who tries to make her go against her conscience is leading her into sin (see Rom. 14). In the absence of direct biblical references for what to do or not do, one’s conscience is guide. And to quote Luther: “To act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Vote your peace. This comes from Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, that followers of Jesus are to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” In voting your peace, the consideration is: Which candidate has the clearest vision for living peaceably?
Yes, it is a “wars and rumors of wars” world. The consideration in voting your peace is not which candidate will keep us out of wars, for wars may have to be fought—and I don’t think isolationism is realistic (prudent) policy in the world we’re in. Likewise, the consideration is not which candidate will keep everything rosy and prosperous for everyone because no one can guarantee the best for everyone.
Some leaders are better than others. But no leader is going to be good to or for everyone. In voting my peace, I’m not only assessing which candidate presents a view of the world that lends the most to “peace and quiet,” but I’m also putting my peace on the line: If or when this leader makes hard decisions that aren’t good for me, will I still support him? Voting your peace is placing your trust with the officeholder, that when I don’t understand his rationale or actions I’ll not respond with suspicion and disillusionment. Which candidate(s) do you trust? To which candidate(s) can you entrust your peace?
More needs to be taken into account here—political philosophies concerning the size, reach, and essential duties of government, the stilting effect of modern media on the electoral process, the Founders’ presuppositions and vision for the republic—but this is a blog post and already much longer than a blog post should be. Voting is a civic duty, I believe, as well as a great privilege.
“For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:7-8)

Posted by Cole Huffman at 9:10 PM
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