Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On a Vote and a Prayer

After what feels like the longest campaign season on record, the US presidential election of 2012 is just next week. The rigors of the campaign are felt in particular by many Christians, not because they have deep sympathy in their hearts for the exhausted candidates, "feeling their pain" to take a cue from Bill Clinton, but precisely because they don't. The choices we are faced with are not auspicious. On the one hand, we have on the Democratic ticket the most committed left-wing ideologue since Delano Roosevelt, but with his ethics modified by the standards of the sexual/homosexual revolution, his economics modeled on the Bolshevik flavor of Marxism, his political principles founded on the Chicago model, and holding in his hands by virtue of the successful passage of the ObamaCare legislation, a power never conceived even in Hillary Clinton's 1993 attempted health care system take-over.

The Republicans, after a long primary struggle, present to us the moderate conservative and Mormon, Mitt Romney. While many of Mr. Romney's stated positions on issues facing our nation are laudable, e.g., energy independence for America and a significant spending reduction for the federal government,  many of them are compromise positions, consistent with his moderate conservative political background. For example, while he opposes gay marriage, he would still recognize so-called domestic partnerships. While he is generally pro-life, he and Paul Ryan, his Roman Catholic vice-presidential candidate, would not introduce legislation that protects unborn children in the cases of rape or incest.

When we ask, "What is at stake in this election?" the first answer that comes to mind for most Christians seems to be "the peace of my own conscience if I vote for Mitt Romney." It's a good answer, indicating the kind of serious reflection that the servant of Christ, the conscious subject of King Jesus, must engage in. For some, that is enough to throw them off voting for president in this election altogether. It is my experience in discussing this issue with fellow believers that they fall into three categories: 1) those who claim there is little to no difference between the candidates, 2) some few who, whether they see clear differences or not, believe that they may not vote for Romney because he is not a Christian, 3) those who see significant differences and will vote for Romney despite his moderate views on some of the issues.

Come election day, what is a Christian to do? I'd like to talk about these three positions in brief, and share with you my own view.

I. The claim that both candidates are essentially the same

This depends on what color your glasses are. If you are filtering out all the light except for that which would show both candidates to be Evangelical Christians, or fully consistent defenders of unborn life, or thorough-going principled conservatives, a case can be made for this position. Neither candidate is any of these, and they would both fall into the same wide bin labeled "Not Ideal." But I hope it's evident that we have to use more data than that in order to distinguish them. The Apostle Paul does. When he tells us to pray for our civil government, the goal he sets for our prayers is less ambitious than that of many of the exclusive categories we might care to use as filters. He says that we may consider our prayers answered if we are granted by our civil government the opportunity "to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence" (1 Tim 2:2). That's not to say there isn't value in the ideals we hold. It is to say that there is also value in a ruler who will not force us to pay for abortions and promote them in third world countries through our tax dollars, and who won't foster the euthanization of the elderly or disabled, as distinct from a ruler who will do all of those things, and who, furthermore, begins to define away our freedom to serve God in every sphere of life by calling our freedom of religion, rather, "freedom of worship," confining us and our faith within the walls of our churches.

Last week I received an e-mail from a friend of mine with a link to an article by historian Stephen McDowell of the Providence Foundation containing a valuable summary of the differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on issues of concern to Christian voters. I encourage you to take a look at it if you are unsure of how much difference exists between the candidates.

II. Can we vote for a non-Christian?

It's plain from Scripture that we don't have to have a Christian governor in order for us to submit to him, but can we vote for a non-Christian?

Democracy is a bit of an odd bird in the panorama of political systems that have prevailed throughout history, and while the Bible has much to say on the topic of the Christian and government, it doesn't explicitly address the question of voting for candidates for civil office. As a result, most of us have formed instinctive ideas of what casting a vote for a civil ruler means. Speaking for myself, and perhaps many of you, the paradigm I often used in the past is that of an imaginary, sovereign officer selector. "If I had the power to put in office anyone whom I chose, whom would it be, were I to behave as God requires?" is the question lurking behind the ethics of voting that many of us hold. "Then I must vote for that sort of person," comes the answer. The problem with this paradigm is that we are not sovereign officer selectors, and our choices are much more limited than that. The question we should be asking is, what is our duty given a very narrow range of options?

There is no doubt that there is advantage to living under the rule of wise, godly leaders (Pr 29:2). We should support such, and seek to propel them into office. But we don't always have that opportunity. It is arguable that very few of our Presidents have been genuine Christians, though many of them have claimed to be so, including our current President, Barak Obama, and former President Bill Clinton. Which leads to the matter of verification. Since few of us personally know the men we vote for, we rely on such things as denominational affiliation, policy standards, and public scandal, or lack thereof, to give us some indication of the authenticity of their professions of faith. While these criteria may be useful in disqualifying them in our eyes, given the dilapidated state of church discipline and membership qualification these days, none of them provide much positive evidence that a man is, in fact, a Christian.

This leaves those holding the view that they may not vote for a non-Christian with a very narrow range of options indeed, or it should. Many of our friends with this perspective will often abandon the political process altogether; whether they do or not, their influence on most elections will be minimal and their position may fairly be called Christian political isolationism. The natural course of isolationism is ultimately to establish secularism, or worse, rather than Christianity as the prevailing worldview of the government, achieving rather the opposite goal than what is evidently intended by voting only for Christians. This leaves the church open to persecution, and the society guided by principles of men "that wax worse and worse" (2 Tim 3:13). For some, this is exactly what they expect of the government, and their hope is that it all ends in a giant cataclysm upon the ruins of which, perhaps, may be erected a Christian society. I say that it's one thing for God to bring about such a visitation of judgment, and quite another for us, with our limited ideas and knowledge, to promote these ends by our inaction.

Of course, we all know that the Lord can change the proportion of Christians running for office, and we pray that he will do so one day. What is our duty in the mean time? Ought we to be praying that we might obtain a quiet and peaceable life, all the while denying ourselves every opportunity to do so?

III. Voting for non-ideal candidates

This approach is sometimes characterized as voting for the lesser of two evils. Those of us who hold the legitimacy of generally acting according to this principle should not be afraid to admit it. What is the alternative? Is it not the greater of two evils?

Let's not be sidetracked by what seem to be third and fourth options, viz., not voting at all, or voting for a candidate who will receive less than 5% of the vote. These are, under the present state of things, purely symbolic gestures and have the same practical effect as casting half a vote for either of the two candidates in the real election. I don't use the word "symbolic" pejoratively, because political symbolism has great value under certain circumstances. But when there is a significant difference between the two major party candidates, placing undue emphasis on symbolism circumvents the duty we have toward God, our fellow citizens, and our children yet unborn to choose policies which accord most closely with the biblical model of civil government.

Proceeding according to this principle will not result in the immediate establishment of a Massachusetts Bay Colony style theocracy, but I believe it gives us the best chance, in the end, of reforming our society bit by bit, until one day, under the blessing of God, the church and nation are revived under the preaching of the gospel, and candidates start appearing that differ less and less from the ideals we cherish in our hearts of what godly rulers should be. We will have no difference with our vote-for-Christians-only brethren then. The Constitution can be gradually amended until it conforms to what God approves. This is the model that prizes reform over cataclysm. It is the model that says I vote as I pray, according to 1 Tim 2:2, in order that God's people might "lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence."

Ballot in Hand

Standing on the sidewalk outside an abortion clinic in Indianapolis this past Saturday morning, I encountered a gentleman who embraces positions 1) and 2) as outlined above. He stopped his car to ask us where we came down on the issue of whether to vote for Romney. He was a gracious man, with evident convictions, but he could not be brought to see the significance of the fact that the number of babies we were trying to save at that abortion clinic would be many times more under the policies of President Obama and Joe Biden than under those of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. I challenged him, if he were so concerned about the 2% of babies that Romney's policy leaves out, to join us on the sidewalk in front of the clinic. That far he would not go.

This is the unfortunate problem with the thinking of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We have lost sight of the fact that these babies are just that, babies; and we tend to think about unborn children as statistics. If we're not there to see the mothers arriving at the killing centers in their cars, followed shortly thereafter by the grim-faced abortionist, it's easy to forget that these children might have names if a Romney were President instead of an Obama--an Obama who will veto any prolife legislation that makes it to his desk, and who will be appointing perhaps two Supreme Court justices during his next term, if he gets one.

I could go on with laying out the consequences of another Obama presidency, gay marriage (the Roe v Wade of our generation) being enshrined in our laws, our church institutions forced to pay for contraception, our health care system being destroyed and made a tool of the state under ObamaCare, European style socialism our economic policy, we and our children being driven into insurmountable debt, our borders being compromised, the UN monitoring our elections, and our courts being populated with leftists to maintain all of this, and more, ad infinitum into the future. But I won't.

I don't claim to have answered all the questions in the space that will command most people's attention. Suffice it to say that I've answered enough of them to satisfy my own conscience. We're moments away from the most significant presidential election in the history of our country. I'm going to vote as I pray, for a candidate that allows God's people the best opportunity to lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. With God's enabling I'll put my feet on the sidewalk, praying for God's mercy, and may the Lord God graciously reform our nation in his good time.
The above note is from our son, Ben Manring.


  1. Wow, Dad! Great post. I agree with every word!

  2. Hello Ben, from a fellow Rescuer whom you taught Psalm Singing to in Washington, DC. I sadly say I disagree with your assessment of the 2012 election. As we approach 2016, I hope you will consider reading my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth. I spent almost 2 years studying the Scriptures for this book. God Bless you. I hope to hear from you