Senator Ben Sasse (R – Nebraska) addresses The Gospel Coalition 2017 Conference, with an address titled: What Has Washington to Do With Jerusalem?.

Sasse, a vocal opponent of Donald Trump as his party’s presidential nominee during the 2016 election, speaks refreshingly and intentionally non-partisan about the distorted role politics plays in the American psyche.  Sasse’s thoughts are well worth the 36 minutes this video runs.

vote-by-post

I have never been a fan of early voting, especially not in something as significant as a presidential election.  I am of the opinion that there are some things important enough that people ought to order their lives around them in order to participate.

As a Christian, and a pastor, I would consider the Lord’s Day to be the ultimate example of such a thing.  God created the world in a span of six day then, essentially and metaphorically, “rested” the 7th Day.  God then decreed that people – especially those who claim to be devoted to God – should follow the same pattern; that we ought to set one-day-in-seven as a Sabbath, where we rest from our labors, and commit the day to God in a way unique from the others (which also actually belong to God).  The Sabbath is a gift, if we understand it correctly. The 4th Commandment, that requires humanity to observe this day in no way mitigates the gift God has given us in the form of a day of rest. My point in this post is not to make a case for a specific day of Sabbath, nor to consider appropriate vs. inappropriate activities for this day, but only to offer it as an example. A Sabbath day, commanded by God, as a gift of God, is intended to be, and is important enough to be, a day set aside, around which we build our weekly schedules.

While less important cosmically than a Sabbath, in the civil sense Election Day is monumental enough that people ought to set the day aside, and vote on the appointed day, whenever possible. In other words, Election Day is too important to subordinate it to the idol of convenience.

Granted, some exceptions can, and should, be made.  For instance, the case for our daughter who, as a student at a college in another part of the state, would find it quite difficult to appear at our home precinct. She needs some accommodations.  I am not sure that an absentee ballot would not be a sufficient accommodation, but in Virginia an early voting option is offered. And students are not alone in their need for some accommodation.  Some whose business travel requires them to be out of town, others who may be in the midst of various types of long-term infirmities, are examples of those I believe should also be afforded some sort of accommodation.  But the thing is, in Virginia early voting requires a good reason. Simply avoiding lines, or whatever motive for convenience, is not sufficient reason.  But not all states are as much sticklers as Virginia is.  in Tennessee, for example, which I consider to be my adopted home state, early voting is just one option among many, offered for convenience.  As I understand, far more states are akin to Tennessee than to Virginia in this respect.

I appreciate those who are concerned about restriction that make voting prohibitive for some segments of our society. In no way would I want to endorse practices and policies that would suppress legitimate opportunities for any citizen to vote.  But I fear that by making convenience a chief factor in our national elections, we have devalued the importance and downplayed the privilege extended to every citizen of the United States.  I can’t help wondering if this – along with an unappetizing roster of candidates – has not played some part in declines in voter turnout.

Having expressed some of my philosophical aversion to allowing early voting as a common option, I want to turn my attention to the more pragmatic reasons for my oppostion.

About a month ago – 6 weeks before Election Day 2016 – some political analysts expressed their concerns about early voting.  Their concern: simple regret.

“Some people have estimated, and this may be way too large, that one third of the electorate will already have a voted early by November 8 of this year. One-third!”

“And somebody could say, ‘Well I wouldn’t have voted for that person if I would’ve known that that happened 24 hours ago’,”

I am not a fan of October Surprise as a political strategy. It seems to me, if a candidate is worthy of my vote he or she ought to show me why they deserve it; not keep pointing out to me why the other candidate does not deserve it.  Someone else’s disqualifying characteristics do not necessarily qualify me.  But sometimes, like this year, what comes to light in the final days of the election season are not mere sleazy revelations from the opposition camp, but legitimate news of criminal or disqualifying facts from legitimate sources.  And as some political analysts predicted a month ago – weeks before revelation that the FBI was re-opening its investigation of Hillary Clinton – once certain facts come to light, conscientious people are likely to have regret.  But their vote has already been irreversibly cast.

In our present election cycle, it is difficult for me to believe that if the one about whom these potentially criminal revelations have surfaced is elected, that the citizens of the USA will have any reason to believe real justice will ever be carried out.  Whether the possible allegations are legitimately criminal or not, I do not know.  But if a candidate with a reputation for and  history of cover up is elected, unless impeached, can we ever know if justice is done?

If early vote were not such an easy option, those who are already experiencing buyers remorse would not be able to send the nation in such a regrettable direction.

Inauguration Program

So, Barrack Obama has tapped Saddleback’s Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the upcoming Inauguration.  That this selection irks those on the political and religious Left is no surprise.  (Click CNN, Politico & Atlantic) Left Wing biggotry has been rampant for years. It just seems to be culturally acceptable.

What surprises me is that some Conservatives, even Conservative Evangelicals, are spewing bitterness.  More than surprised, I am disappointed – deeply disappointed. 

Why would Warren not offer the invocation? If asked I would do it with no hesitation.

I am not an Obama apologist, by any stretch of an imagination. But he has asked Warren to pray for God’s presence on that day.  Would a better alternative be to not “invoke” God’s presence? Would it be preferable to ask someone who does not know God to pray?  While the synics say this is a political ploy, I applaud Obama for the selection and Warren for agreeing.

I applaud Warren because he is doing what I believe he is called to do in Scripture.  Does not God instruct us, through the Apostle Paul, to offer prayers for our leaders and those in authority? (See 1 Timothy 2.1-3)  I am very well aware that Obama espouses policies contrary to the revealed will of God. I am also aware that when our Lord inspired Paul to give this instruction to pray that the man in authority at the time was Caesar Nero – one of the most vile men to ever govern.  Even Obama haters should admit that he has a ways to go before he degenerates to the level of a Nero. And even if he does, that does not disqualify him from being recipients of our prayer!

What Rick Warren will be doing by offering an invocation is simply acting out publically what God has called him to do anyway.  It is not an endorsement of any particular policies. He will ask God to visit our new president.  How can that be bad?  Even if Obama’s profession of faith seems dubious, is God not capable of regenerating his heart?

I applaud Obama for his willingness to weather the criticism he had to know would come from the majority of those who elected him.  It would have been much easier on him to have selected someone more liberal or non-white.  But he chose a man who, while not Right Wing, is a Conservative Evangelical.  He chose a man who was Mike Huckabee’s seminary classmate! 

Again, critics on both side suppose this is just a political ploy to placate those in the political middle.  But from what I’ve read, Obama and Warren have a personal fondness for one another, even if they differ significantly politically.  Could there not be some affection that effected this selection?  Even more, could it not have been God who moved Obama’s heart to invite Warren?

Soon after the election I signed up for the Presidential Prayer Team. Each day since I have received an e-mail asking me to join others in praying for the transition of power, for President-elect Obama to seek God, and to be blessed with godly wisdom in his selections and decisions.  I have not appreciated everyone he has chosen for the various cabinet positions. Some I like more than others.  But in the invitation for Rick Warren to pray for him, I choose to believe God may be honoring some of my prayers.

I will never have the opportunity that Rick Warren has been given, to lead the Nation in prayer.  But I will continue to do in private what Rick Warren is doing in public: Obeying God by praying for those in authority over us.

Media Eyes & Ears

September 4, 2008

  

I’m a little envious this morning, of Sarah Palin’s pastor.  I have no idea who he is. And it’s not because he is her pastor, exactly. I’m sure she’s great to have as part of the church. But I’ve had – and have – some very bright, engaging people in the churches I’ve served, and in the church I serve now.  I’m envious because his sermons will be among the most downloaded and analyzed in the world over the next few weeks, as the media tries to dig up stuff to use against Palin.  I imagine it would be great to be taken that seriously, and listened to that intensely.

Come to think about it, I can live without that kind of scrutiny.  It’s frustrating enough to be misunderstood. And I am already disappointed in myself whenever I mis-speak or fail to express things the way I want.  I don’t need those (all-too-frequent) occasions broadcast to millions, and put on YouTube.  And I definitely don’t need people who will intentionally twist my words or take things out of context.  So I guess I will remain contented if the people in our church simply benefit from what I teach.

But perhaps we ought to be praying for Pastor Whatever-his-Name.  Journalists by the thousands will be pouring over his messages these next few weeks. So he is in a unique position.  He has an opportunity to be God’s instrument to influence a number of skeptics and mockers, simply by being faithful.  I will be praying that God will grant the media members eyes to see and ears o hear.  Perhaps God will grace them with faith and repentance. Then whatever the outcome of the election, we will see God’s eternal purpose at work before our own eyes.

stump-speaking

One would think I’d be a good prospect to be a part of the Religious Right.

1. I am a conservative Evangelical pastor.

2. I first identified my political identity as a Republican in the 2nd Grade.

(My teacher at Cedar Road Elementary School, Mrs. Manning, wanting to teach us a little about Civics, listed several candidates running in local elections on the board.  I mistakenly thought the Republican candidate for one of the offices was my across-the-street-neighbor, so my hand went up as being for that group.)

3. By the fourth grade I actively worked for the campaign of the Republican running for County Commissioner in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

(No I was not that advanced. My father was working on the campaign, and I delivered flyers all around our town.  Come to think of it, it was probably good that I identified as a Republican in the 2nd Grade.  I’m not sure how it would have been growing up if my father had a Democrat for a son!)

4. And now that I am at least a little more aware of politics and the issues than I was when I was in the 2nd Grade, and now that I think for myself, I find I share most of the social concerns expressed by the Religious Right; and I am at least sympathetic to most of their positions.

Still, I am not part of the Religious Right, and have no desire to be identified with them.

Why not?

1. The Religious Right trusts too much in government.

It is odd. One of the loudest laments of conservatives is that Democrats historically favor BIG government; that Democrats believe that government will solve our social problems.  So I find it ironic that those identified as the Religious Right place such faith in electing the right people.  In other words, it seems to me they are putting their hope in those governing.

Don’t get me wrong.  Electing qualified people is important to the functioning of our government, in its various spheres (i.e. Federal, State, Municipal, etc.).  But the social problems we have are more a reflection of the heart than imposition of public policy.  Further, I do believe that there are policies that are immoral. These policies are in place either as a reflection of or to address the corruption of our hearts – the effect of sin.  But the policies do not shape our hearts.

Like him now or not, I remember when George W. Bush was running in the primaries of Y2K, he was asked about a particular policy- I think it was hate crimes. Bush said: “You cannot legislate the heart.”  I think that is profoundly true.

Notice he did not say the typical “You can’t legislate morality.”  That is an absurd statement. All legislation is an expression of morality (or lack of it).  He said “You cannot legislate the heart.”  I’ll go a step further, “You cannot legislate Righteousness”.  Right behavior is not itself Righteousness.  Without faith it is impossible to please God. Righteousness is faith expressing itself in right action – in behavior reflective of God’s character and standards.

Please understand, there are a number of laws and practices I want to see changed; and others I want to see averted.  As a whole our society would be better off.  This would restrain behavior influenced by our sin-infected hearts.  But this is still not Righteousness.  And anyone who believes that simple laws will make us righteous is kidding himself.

Civil Government has a God-given sphere.  It is to provide structure for society. And Civil Government has authority to enforce the common standards for the benefit and protection of the members of society.  It is an important but limited role.

Matters of faith – faith that shapes values & behavior – belongs in the other two governing spheres: Family & Church.  It is God’s Word that instructs us concerning what we are to believe, and what is good & right.  This faith is shaped and expressed in the family and Church.  And when we live-out our faith, we express the righteousness God is working in us.

I’m afraid the Religious Right converges & confuses these God-given spheres.  Consequently many are trusting too much in government, and not enough in what God does, and is doing, by the power of the Gospel.

2. The Religious Right Distorts the Gospel

The Gospel is not: “Be good and you will be righteous.”  It is certainly not: “If you don’t do evil, you are righteous.”

The Gospel is: There is none righteous. But despite the fact we are not good, God has loved us. He sent his Son to take upon himself our guilt and punishment. Whoever trusts in Him – and particularly what He has done on the Cross – is not only forgiven of sin & debt to God, but declared by Divine judiciary to be righteous; we are credited with the righteousness of Christ.

All of this is a matter of faith.  And faith cannot be removed from righteousness.

Faith that is genuine will be expressed in a noticeable improvement of our attitudes and actions (in other words, they will incrementally become more in line with Christ’s).  These actions of faith are what the Bible calls works of righteousness.  Again, righteousness is not the actions themselves.

Sadly, I believe the political emphasis of the Religious Right distorts the Gospel by too often appealing to behavior as the basis of our relationship with God, and not in faith in Christ.  I recognize that the vast majority of those who identify themselves as part of the Religious Right personally make this distinction, but in the heat of political battle the message is not clearly or often enough expressed.

I also often wonder if the leaders of the Religious Right appreciate the power of the Gospel to bring change to individual lives, and thus to a society.  Far better to have people experiencing the power of the Gospel that transforms our hearts, our perspective, our desires, and ultimately our behavior, than to merely restrain behavior.

Government cannot change anyone, really. That is why the efforts of the Religious Right to energize the Evangelical Church into little better than a Political Action Committee sadden me – and angers me.  Too often politics has become the substitute mission of the church.  But the message being proclaimed is no substitute for the Gospel.

3. The Religious Right Has Made Partisanship a Condition of Christianity

I have no idea how many times I have heard it: “I don’t know how someone can be a Christian and be a Democrat”.

I know when that is said it is almost always in reference to some of the social issues, that I agree need to be addressed and, that are supported more prominently by Democrats than Republicans.  But I fear that some may really wonder if political affiliation is a condition for salvation – in other words, that receiving Christ requires Faith AND Voters Registration.  NO! NO! NO!

Being a Christian = trusting in Christ + NOTHING!  Salvation is by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone.  PERIOD.

How we live that faith out may vary. And I see both parties lacking.

Again, I am a lifelong Republican. But I must recognize that Republicans do not always have a good track record, for instance, for directly helping the poor & outcastes.  I don’t think it is as bad as caricatured. Neither are the Democrat policies as good as some would want us to believe. (See Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion.) But I understand how someone filled by the compassion of Christ would choose to identify with those promising direct involvement and resources for the poor. This is an expression of their Faith. One can do this without necessarily embracing every plank of the party’s platform.  And I can understand them, without necessarily agreeing with them.

I was struck several years ago by this comment byMichael Horton:

At the risk of hyperbole, one wonders today what would be more dangerous in some Evangelical gatherings: disagreeing with someone over the doctrine of the Incarnation or disagreeing with Rush Limbaugh.”

(From Beyond Culture Wars, pg 18)

Sadly, I think the emphasis of the Religious Right, for whatever good may have been done, has had this effect on many conservatives.

Today is Super Tuesday. And now that I got all that off my chest, it’s time for me to go vote.  I have been wrestling with this for several weeks, and made my decision a few weeks ago.  But I’ll refrain from  naming my candidate.  I’ll cast my vote and pray…

“Lord, Have Mercy on Us!”