I’m an Obama supporter. Not a huge one. But if I were an American, I would vote for Obama. I have my own reasons (and they stem from my Christian convictions) and I’ve done my own research. But I try not to make politics too divisive an issue and so you’re not going to get me to convince you to be an Obama supporter, although I’ll try to explain why I am one.
I’m passionate about social justice. But politics? I try not to be too passionate about it because both sides of the political divide are all imperfect and play the game of politics well. Neither McCain/Palin nor Obama/Biden are going to be our saviours. And I’m sure God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Recently, I got into a little email-conversation with someone who was totally anti-Obama. I was meant to receive Christian emails from him. But in addition to that, he thought it necessary to also send his mailing list anti-Obama emails – probably to make sure that we Christians become on the side that (he thinks) God is on. I endured this for a while but after receiving more of such emails (than the Christian mails that I signed up for to receive), I wrote to him and told him I was offended by the emails because they were not balanced. I said I didn’t mind discussion and debate on the issues, but the articles he sent were just too one-sided. One promoted an awful Focus on the Family letter that’s mentioned here. I told him that I wanted to receive his Christian emails, but not his political ones. Too much passion and too little substance. That’s politics. Just like some of our theological debates.
I’m all for conversation and discussion about politics, just as I’m all for conversation and discussion about theology. However, I’ve seen theological and political discussion become too dirty and un-Christian. I’ve tried to make sure that the theological discussions here don’t go overboard. So far, I don’t think it has. But I know how often it can. People talking past one another. People just trying to show that they are right and everyone else is wrong. People starting to attack the character of others.
To be sure, I think discussing political and theological issues are important. But there are some rules I think we should all abide by when we have such sensitive discussions. In the first place, don’t start to attack people’s characters who differ from you. Don’t denigrate their intelligence because they differ from you. And please don’t insinuate that others are a lesser Christian than you because they hold to a different theological or political stance. Instead, we should focus on the issues. And do so in a level-headed way and without inciting fear and hatred against those you disagree with, like the above article.
While I’m very interested in politics, I don’t see the need for it to be divisive simply because there are much more important things than politics in this world. The church is not called to take over the world or any government. We’ve already seen how that worked out in history and I don’t think we want to go back to that. But of course, there are Christians who think that God is on one side of the political divide in America. It’s only recently that more and more younger Christians are recognizing that God is not a Republican. That doesn’t mean He’s a Democrat, either. I think He’d rather us channel our passion into preaching the gospel and loving others.
But because so many Christians still think that a Christian has to support the Republican candidate because it’s God’s will, I’ll list some points (and refer to other websites) on why I think it’s OK for a Christian to support either side (even the Democratic side) and why we shouldn’t let such politics divide us:
1) Let me start with John Piper on the “prophetic perspective” and the “gospel” which he shares here.
The prophetic perspective is what the church needs here. By that I mean, we don’t live for politics. We don’t base our confidence about the future on whoever gets elected… Let those who vote and do politics do it as though they were not doing it. Which means there’s a kind of engagement that is not all-consuming. There’s a kind of voting, a kind of doing politics, a kind of advocacy which is not investing our whole selves into it. Because we’re not here fully. We have a foot in heaven and a foot on the earth. We’re citizens of two kingdoms. This is not our main home. This world is passing away… This system is disappearing so therefore we shouldn’t be so worked up about our opponent getting elected that it’s going to undo our life… So the prophetic perspective says, “I am God’s child. Jesus is my King. America is not my allegiance. God and heaven are my allegiance and God can turn this for good no matter who gets elected and I will always be pursuing his kingdom first and let the political chips fall where they will.”
…We need the gospel. We need to say the reason we’re on planet earth is not to advocate for any political party. We’re here to advocate for Christ and Him Crucified. And that gospel may run a thousand times better during the worst of economic times than it does during the best of economic times.
There’s no need to invest so much in this election or in one’s candidate as though it’s a life and death matter. It’s not. We need a proper perspective here. For this, understanding (see point two below) what it means by us being “citizens of two kingdoms” is imperative.
2) The White Horse Inn is an excellent radio program that has shaped a lot of my Christian thinking since about 10 years plus ago. This program addresses things from a Reformation perspective. In fact, the people of this program (e.g. Michael Horton) have been instrumental in me forming the kind of view of grace and the gospel which I hold to now. I may not agree with everything they say but they are definitely one of the better Christian ministries out there of an intellectual bent that keep the central things (the gospel) central.
In a recent two-part series (part one & part two) on Christianity and Politics, the program tackles this “from the vantage point of Reformation Christianity where there is a whole history here that has a lot to say about the two kingdoms, about the way the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world relate to each other, about our citizenship in both kingdoms.” They bring a Democrat and a Republican to the table.
3) One of the major reasons why Christians have traditionally voted Republican is because of the party’s anti-abortion stance. As Christians, we should no doubt be against abortion. But does that mean we automatically support the Republican candidate? I don’t think it’s an automatic choice and more and more Christians are starting to realize that.
As with most issues, this is more complex than many Christians make it out to be. All Christians ought to be united against abortion, but also against poverty and racism and many other issues. Traditionally, the Republican side is strong on the abortion issue, but weak in many others in which the Democratic side is strong. It’s thus a tricky question as to which side we ought to support. Those who say that the abortion issue is more important than other issues may have a strong argument. But then again, it’s not as easy as that. There are lots of other issues to consider in terms of implementing one’s ideal, which John G. Stackhouse Jr. does well of addressing in his Christianity Today article. Check out his description of three kinds of people who undertake political action: ideologue, pragmatist and pluralist:
The ideologue has it easiest. He simply asks himself, in any situation on any issue, what’s ultimately right. Then he does everything he can to realize that ideal. That’s the way many Christians have engaged in political action, whether on the Left, Right, or whatever.
…The pragmatist also starts with the question of what’s ultimately right. But then she carefully appraises the situation and works for what she deems currently possible. If abortion is wrong, but the best she can do is get a ban on partial-birth abortions, she works for that. If gay marriage is wrong, but the best she can do is see “civil unions” instituted instead, then that’s what she aims for.
The pluralist asks what’s ultimately right and what’s currently possible. But he interposes a third, admittedly odd question between those two: What is penultimately right? Might it be God’s will that what is ultimately right not prevail immediately?
The pluralist Christian might have strong views about x. He is also pragmatic enough to know that a total ban on alternatives to his views of x is unlikely in his society. But he is also willing to consider the possibility that in God’s providence, it is better for there to be more than one view of x allowed in society. He might see that, yes, ultimately God’s will is to get rid of this or that, but penultimately it serves God’s purposes for society to allow this or that to remain.
Let’s consider an easy example. It is ultimately better that all speech be accurate, eloquent, and edifying. But most of us Christians think it’s best for our societies to allow for considerable freedom in speech. For some good things to happen, we concede, some not-so-good things and even some bad things must be allowed to remain.
Understanding the above, one would understand how a Christian who is against abortion can still vote for a party that is pro-choice. John tackles the issue of same-sex marriage/civil-unions here:
She (the Christian politician) might also, however, ask the third, intermediate question as to whether it is best, all things considered (including the face that Christians want to present to the general public on behalf of the gospel), for Christians to push for their own view of marriage. Might the values of the kingdom of God be advanced better by Christians compromising on that question at least somewhat, while preserving state support for such values as covenantal faithfulness between people, mutual support, and so on? Or will the gospel go forth better and more shalom be made even if Christians are widely seen as homophobic and imperialistic, rather than accommodating and tolerant of some things they clearly don’t like?
Thus, the Christian politician might vote for the state to call same-sex unions “marriages,” while preserving the rights of religious groups to reserve their own marriage ceremonies only for those unions they can conscientiously bless. Or she might want to take the word “marriage” out of the state’s vocabulary entirely and endorse “civil unions” or “registered domestic partnerships” instead. Or she might well decide instead that traditional Christian teaching about marriage is exactly what is needed in her society, and so she votes that way.
The crucial thing to note is that she might well have done her job properly to come out in support of any of those three alternative policies. She has voted according to what she felt was the way to secure the most shalom for her constituencies and for her country, and according to what she thinks will best advance the redemptive plan of God.
Understanding the complexity of the abortion issue, we’ll refrain from accusing others of being a bad Christian if they don’t support the Republican Party. If one can get over the fact that it’s OK to support a party that is pro-choice, then I think the choice should be clear – at least to me! :) In my opinion (see below), in terms of integrity, honesty, temperament and policies (especially as it relates to the poor), there’s just too much in favor of Obama. Obama’s campaign has not been perfect and like every other political campaign, there’s been dishonesty involved. But that can’t be compared to McCain’s campaign, with even many Republicans criticizing the level he’s been stooping to in order to win people over. We’re all for good discussion and debate, but using fear tactics just don’t win many people (especially the younger crowd) over. However, I do acknowledge that a Christian can still vote for McCain for his policies (especially his stance on abortion), eventhough I do hope they disavow some of his more extreme and un-Christian tactics.
(A point to note here in relation to integrity, honesty and policies is that the McCain of old is widely acknowledged to be much better than the recent one we’ve seen. In terms of policies, he was more independent of the Republican party (he WAS a true maverick) and in terms of integrity and honesty, he wouldn’t have stood for a lot of the politically motivated and dishonest attacks on Obama that his campaign has made up recently. But that’s what running for an election can do to one. Politics is dirty and it always will be. I’ve also been disappointed with some of Obama’s campaign stuff but they haven’t been as extreme or dishonest as some of McCain’s stuff. Ultimately, this is politics and no doubt the two of them have played the game of politics. That’s how it’ll always be for in politics it’s often about the ends justifying the means – which as I state here that while I’m not a fan of such an approach, I recognize it may sometimes be necessary.)
Again, the point is not that Christians should vote for Obama, but rather that there’s a legitimate case for both candidates. We wouldn’t be any less of a Christian if we voted for Obama or McCain.
4) Here’s a list of links that state the case for a Christian supporting Obama. This is only because I think many Christians don’t understand how a Christian could support him. There are far too many pro-McCain/Palin Christian articles that we need to hear the case for the other side too. At least then we’ll have a better grasp of the issues involved. Again, even if you don’t agree, you wouldn’t hear me tell you you’re not a good Christian. I’ll just say, “That’s great. Now, let’s focus on the gospel together!”
– The Pro-Life Pro-Obama and Matthew 25 website. Naturally biased. Read with a pinch of salt as when you read pro-McCain websites. But at least one will understand the complexities of the abortion issue.
– Read why two Christians in Singapore support Obama. One is Tony Siew, a NT lecturer in Trinity Theological College (who has a series on “Barracking 4 Barack” if you search his archives) and the other is Kenny (aka Blogpastor) who pastors a church in Singapore.
– Let me also add a link to theologian Ben Witherington’s An Evangelicals Voters Guide which I don’t think is pro-Obama, but definitely worth a read. Also The Seattle Times has an article that describes why many young evangelicals are moving away from supporting the Republican party.
5) Lastly, I want to end with some of my own thoughts. Brothers and sisters, even if you disagree passionately with my support for Obama, explain your disagreement with level-headedness and substance, not just raw passion. It’s stuff like what Focus on the Family put out that makes many Christians (both McCain and Obama supporters) cringe. There’s a way to debate and there’s a way not to debate.
As for my thoughts, they are not cast in stone. I believe many Christians believe the same way as me, and so if you’re a Christian that think that other Christians should only vote Republican, I invite you to read what the above people have to say and what I have to say below.
Firstly, I’m very sympathatic to Christians who share the same sentiments as John Piper when he said here:
No endorsement of any single issue qualifies a person to hold public office. Being pro-life does not make a person a good governor, mayor, or president. But there are numerous single issues that disqualify a person from public office… I believe that the endorsement of the right to kill unborn children disqualifies a person from any position of public office.
I’m very sympathatic to what John Piper says here, though this doesn’t convince me to deny my support for Obama. In the first place, Obama isn’t pro-abortion; He’s pro-choice. He may have a different view about abortion from many Christians, but that doesn’t mean he is pro-abortion, and this needs to be recognized. He made his pro-choice decision after taking into consideration many complex factors. Personally, he’s said he’s against abortion, and I believe that. Still, most Christians may differ from him, but that doesn’t make him a person who is happy to kill unborn children as many Christians make pro-choice candidates out to be. To portray pro-choice candidates as happy murderers without also acknowledging the complexity of the issue involved is as simplistic as thinking that voting Republican would reduce abortions or eventually result in the banning of abortion, and also as simplistic as thinking that banning abortion will solve the abortion problem. It’s as simplistic as viewing Obama or McCain as the saviour or devil incarnate.
Being too simplistic is not being honest. And speaking of dishonesty, there’s also been a lot of dishonest stuff about Obama’s views on abortion going around. But eventhough one acknowledges the above complexities involved in the abortion issue, I still think there’s a good case for Christians taking a much stronger stance against abortion than Obama has taken. So I’m sympathetic to the view of many Christians who say that they can’t support Obama. But that still doesn’t convince me not to do so.
Maybe I’ll be convinced when the Republican party actually does more to reduce abortions than the Democratic candidate. It’s one thing to hold a theoretical stance against abortion (and for the most part, it’s merely a theoretical stance at the moment), but another to actually create policies that help women choose to avoid abortion. I don’t see the point in endorsing a candidate/party which is pro-life in theory but doesn’t do much to actually make a difference in terms of reducing abortions now. Ultimately, it’s about the number of lives saved, not about theoretical beliefs, not even about one’s ideals and goals if they face very little possibility of being achieved. And I think one must recognize that even if one day abortion is banned throughout America, the problem won’t be fully solved. Rather, it will actually create a whole lot of other problems (e.g. underground abortions), not the least of which is how our Christian witness would be affected. This IS a big deal because we Christians have a really huge image problem of being judgmental and anti-this and anti-that and I think that’s way off from the image Jesus portrayed. Kinda contradicts the message of love and acceptance that the gospel is all about. I’m not saying this is a reason not to try and get it banned, but clearly whatever we do, we can do it in an infinitely wiser, more thoughtful and more compassionate way.
So looking at things from the perspective of now and the near future, I can’t see how the Republican policies can actually do a better job at reducing abortions than the Democratic policies, which are more holistic and comprehensive in nature. And even if the Republican policies do a better job at saving lives now, they would only do a slightly better job. Probably not enough to win me over because I see the Democratic party as offering so much more overall – in terms of a better foreign policy (that incites less hatred and war), better creation-care and better help for the poor. All these are consistent with my Christian values. In fact, my Christian convictions demands that I be concerned about promoting peace (and not war), that I care for God’s creation and that I help the poor.
So I’m sympathetic with “single-issue” Christian voters who harp on abortion. I’m not going to say this single-issue is only one of many, because it may be true that it’s the biggest of all and it’s the most important one. But unless the Republican party can really make that great a difference in terms of saving so much more lives than the Democratic party can, I’ll refrain from giving my support based on any single issue, but would consider a wide range of issues that appeal to me as a Christian.
(I just want to say here that I would also like to see Christians not just talk about abortion being the greatest evil, but actually sacrificially contribute to reducing abortions. We Christians are known for a lot of rhetoric about abortion and that doesn’t do our witness good if we’re not willing to walk the talk. Not just in supporting more and better government policies that help prevent women from making the decision to abort their babies. But are we willing to personally get involved? For example, would we be willing to support greater taxes (even if it’s just on Christians – since after all it’s seen as a great evil to us, not non-Christians) so that the money can be used to support adoption or even house unwanted babies? Would we personally sign-up to adopt an unwanted baby? If we really believe in the preciousness of such lives, we would not hesitate to do all this. I’m not saying that if we fail to commit to such sacrificial efforts then we should stop talking so much about banning abortion. But rather, we should do both and it’ll greatly help our witness and give us credibility if we’re willing to walk the talk.)
I said above that I may be won over to the Republican side if they actually do more to reduce abortions and not just talk about it. However, I would also hope to see the anti-abortion party (be it the Republican or otherwise) actually care for the poor and not just the rich. I’m stunned to see Christians latching onto Obama’s plan to distribute wealth to the less well-off and taking this opportunity to label him as a socialist, which to Americans at least (see below) is meant to be an insult. Though I’m not surprised. In recent history at least, Christianity hasn’t been known for its heart for the poor. I think Christians shouldn’t make a big deal when the rich are taxed higher so that the poor can benefit. I’m wondering what the world thinks of us Christians if we get so worked out when that happens. Sure, the NT supports voluntary giving and sharing, not compulsory redistribution by the government. Although I do think that there’s a huge case to be made that the OT laws, while not directly applicable to us as we’re under the New Covenant and no country is a theocracy, have a lot to say about compulsory redistribution by the government.
Whatever the case, how exactly does it reflect upon us Christians if we boast in not wanting our tax money to help the poor? Are we so self-centered that we’d rather claim our “right” to our hard-earned money (I’m not sure what “rights” we have as Christians at all – we ought to have it all surrendered unto the Lord), than see the poor be helped by allowing the government to redistribute some? And what does it say when most of the people who accept such redistribution (traditionally and still a Democratic value) are actually non-Christians – as most voters to the Democratic party have been non-Christians.
While to many Americans, socialism is a dirty word, it’s striking to hear how Singapore’s Vivian Balakrishnan actually sees it as something positive. He said very recently:
We are still socialist. If you go anywhere in the world and you pick the poorest 10 per cent and you compare their homes, their schools, their hospitals and their jobs, we have done better than all Communist countries and all capitalist countries. Don’t ever let the opposition paint us as people who do not care about those who are less well-off.
I’m no fan of the PAP government, but he’s absolutely right. An extreme socialist government (hardly what America would be under the Democrats) is of course no good, but a bit of redistribution is actually a good thing for the poor! Yes, it’s not good for the rich. But since when would God support the rich over helping the poor?
While I agree that at least in terms of position (and not actual results), the Republican party’s stance on abortion is the one that evangelicals ought to support, on almost every other important issue that relates to Christianity (healthcare, taxes, foreign policy, creation care & poverty), the Democratic side is, at least in my opinion, clearly more in line with the values of Christians. Therefore I believe both parties have their strong points and that’s why I believe that a Christian can vote for either party. For me at least, it’s not become so clear that one party is overwhelmingly better than the other. I disagree with Christians who say that the Democratic party is overwhelmingly a better choice for Christians, just as I disagree with Christians who say the same of the Republican party. I wish for a party that adopts the anti-abortion stance of the Republican party (though adopts it in a much wiser and results-driven way) and the anti-poverty, pro-creation care, healthcare and foreign policy stance of the Democratic party. Till that happens, I can’t passionately support any party. And even if that happens, I would be wise to remember to temper my support for such a party, for politics ought never to evoke more passion from a Christian than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, whatever happens in a day’s time or so will be good for the church as we (hopefully) get our focus right once again, uniting on the gospel and loving the world to Jesus Christ!
UPDATE: He won :) The world is very happy and I am too. Maybe a bit guilty for being so happy. Haha. After all, I have to remember that it’s all about Jesus and His kingdom. I know Obama has a lot on his hands, but I’m confident that he will be a great President, though my hope is not in him, but Him! I don’t think I’ll be disappointed because I don’t expect the world from him. He’s still a politician after all. The world is still complex (if not more), and decisions are always going to be difficult to make – and not all will be popular. While he’s not perfect and he’s definitely no savior, I do believe that deep inside he’s someone who cares and truly wants to help people. I did believe (more or less) the same of George W. Bush (I think we should always try to give people the benefit of the doubt!), but the difference I think is that in Obama we have a more intelligent, more thoughtful and a wiser person with much better policies for America and the world.
I’m glad to see more Christians are moving over to support the Democratic party. I do NOT support Obama’s pro-choice policies or views on abortion and a lot of us progressive evangelicals who supported Obama are pro-life and still care much about this issue – just that we do so in a different way from the religious right.
I do believe the many progressive pro-life evangelicals that supported Obama will continue to put pressure on him on the abortion issue. I’ll definitely be praying for great wisdom for Obama in this area, but also that he’ll be a great president for the poor countries and people around the world by doing more to help them.