As an interim pastor charged in part with exposing the Scriptures so as to inform the moral and ethical decision-making of a congregation, I have been forced to consider the role that the pulpit should play in the upcoming presidential election. The simplest model, and one that will no doubt feature prominently in many pulpits over the next few weeks, is what I’ll call the values/proof-text model. It has two basic variations:
- One variation stresses the biblical emphasis on conservative Judeo-Christian moral values (e.g., abortion, the institution of marriage, work/reward, etc.) and influences the election toward one party.
- The other variation stresses the biblical emphasis on generous Judeo-Christian social values (e.g., social justice, legislated neighborliness, and the welfare of the city) and influences the election toward the other party.
If one could manage to be completely objective with this approach, then it is probable that one party’s list of biblical values and the supporting proof-texts would be longer than the other’s. Or, alternately, one might decide that irrespective of the length of the lists, the weight of one or more of the items on the list (say, abortion) is such that the argument for one side or the other is sealed.
But here’s the thing: that’s not how Christian decision-making usually occurs. While some life decisions are decisively informed by a clear Bible verse, many of our most complex decisions are not. They rest instead on a network or complex of Christian commitments: that is, on one’s system of theology. Since many systems of theology don’t self-consciously extend very far into the political realm, however, many believers enter the voting booth with a capricious brush pile of disconnected interests—some biblical interests, to be sure, but also personal, economic, and security interests sprinkled with a hodgepodge of demographic/community concerns.
So what is the solution? How do we bring the full weight of our system of theology to bear on our decision-making process? The solution is far from simple, of course, because systems of theology are numerous and rarely simple. Below are some representative theological approaches that seek to assemble the “values” and “prooftexts” detailed above into coherent models. Most readers will resonate with one or another of these approaches.
- One could take the stance offered by cultural transformationists (e.g., select theonomists, neo-calvinists, liberals, and even some Romanists) and argue that since neither party offers a demonstrably Christian candidate, Christians should opt in faith for an obscure Christian candidate on principle, even though that candidate is likely to lose.
- One could take the stance offered by pessimistic counter-culturalists (e.g., select sectarian groups and some dispensationalists) and argue that it doesn’t matter who wins: The world is destined for destruction, so why bother polishing the rails on this sinking ship? Our citizenship is instead in heaven and our hope in Christ.
- One could take a stance featured in some two-kingdom systems (e.g., select Baptists, Kuyperians, amillennialists, and some dispensationalists) and argue that since Caesar and Christ occupy separate spheres and neither sphere may legitimately influence the other, then one must on principle say nothing from the pulpit.
- One could take a non-foundationalist stance and say that both candidates bring positive features to the table and that there is no one “right” choice. Instead of asking the elusive (but nonetheless objective) question, “What would Jesus do?” we ask instead, “What would Jesus do if he were me?” with the assumption that he might choose differently depending on the diverse circumstances represented in the congregation being addressed.
- One could take the pragmatic stance that even though one candidate might be demonstrably better than the other, we are stuck with a hopelessly “better of two evils” decision over which it would be foolish to jeopardize the unity of the church.
There are undoubtedly other options and twists that could be offered, but these seem to cover most of the bases. For my next post I will offer my own attempt at closure on an issue that is certain, despite these efforts, to remain open for a very, very long time.