I woke up this morning to a political thread on our church’s private FB group.
**Danger, Will Robinson!**
Thankfully our folks kept it fairly civil. Crisis averted.
The thread reminded me of the need to help people think through the process of voting decision making. It isn’t my job as a pastor to tell you who to vote for but it is my job to aid the process with good lenses and questions to think through. I have the specific audience in mind of the local church with a particular desire to help our local navigate the murky waters of this presidential election cycle. The purpose of this post is to assist the voting decision making process by bringing up a few principles and asking a few questions.
A Few Circumstantial Considerations
Before we dive into some helpful principles and questions let us first examine some circumstantial considerations.
I haven’t had many interactions where people are very excited about the Republican or Democratic nominee. I think this is a somewhat objective statement and I would back it up with what I call the ” yard sign test.” During the 2012 election cycle roughly 30-35% of the homes in my neighborhood had a presidential sign in their yard. During this cycle it is precisely 0.5%. That tells you something, people aren’t terribly excited about self-identifying with a particular candidate and putting up personal capital to say, “YES, this person very well represents me and my vision of our republic.”
I haven’t seen the level of disgust with either main candidate in my lifetime. This should give us some measure of pause for feeling very strongly for this presidential election cycle in general. This should give us a measure of humility and empathetic listening as to why there are so many varying opinions even among people who often think quite similarly.
While I am concerned with who you vote for, I am more concerned with the process of decision making than the decision itself.
Caveats: I am trying to be patient, empathetic, humble, and understanding in how I think about these things but I am not perfect and have had to repent myself during this election cycle at several points. I am biased. I have my personal convictions and opinions and if you know me at all those aren’t difficult to discern. That said, I am more than happy to sit down and break bread together and listen to your perspective.
A Few Questions
What is my intended candidates vision for what is true, good, and beautiful?
This question should be asked both in terms of political policy but also the sum of their life’s ambitions and experiences.
How does Scripture inform my decision?
To what extent is my hope for joy rooted in the New Heavens and the New Earth? How do the minor prophets and especially those exilic prophets inform how I think about the relationship of the church to the world? What does Peter have in mind when he calls us “sojourners” or “pilgrims” or “aliens?” How does the Sermon on the Mount inform how I think? How does Christ’s commandment to “love my neighbor” inform how I think?
What is a vote?
Is a vote merely a binary pragmatic choice between two flawed people OR is a vote something more than that? Some people vote with pure strategy in mind, others with pure conscience in mind, and others with some measure of nuance between strategy and conscience. In some elections there isn’t a pronounced dichotomy between strategy and conscience and others there are significant tensions. For conscience voters, a vote is a speech-act that is communicating that the candidate promotes a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful. If you are a binary strategy voter, recognize that the conscience voter will not vote for a civic vision of the true, good, and beautiful unless they have peace with the totality of that vision.
What are my heart motives for voting?
Another way to ask the question is ‘what emotions are driving my vote?’ or ‘what do I want?’ What is the balance of positive emotions (care, concern, love) and negative emotions (fear, worry, anxiety, hysteria)? It isn’t that there should be all positive emotions and no negative ones but we should be concerned if our decision making is rooted in either complete captivation or utter fear and worry.
Have I actively listened face-to-face with someone who disagrees with me?
Am I letting anyone else influence, challenge, or shape how I am thinking about my vote? The inertia of life is to create echo chambers that reinforce our thoughts and actions. I choose what news I watch, what webpages I read, what RSS feeds I subscribe, what podcasts or radio programs I listen to… All that curation is not neutral and we should be self-aware and cognizant of that. Each of those mediums comes with attempts to influence, including this very sentence that you are reading. Be wary of the self-curated media echo chamber. If we are confident of the worldview that we hold then we should not be afraid of empathetic listening of those outside of our tribal affiliations and silos.
Will I regret my decision later on?
Close your eyes and picture the 2019 version of yourself, do you still feel good about your candidate choice? Imagine your granddaughter or daughter is 3 years older and asks who you voted for, do you have to wince or qualify your response? Do you feel comfortable having that same conversation with King Jesus some day?
Do I need to have political power to feel safe or joyful?
Is there anything my candidate could do that would give me pause to reconsider?
What are your presuppositions with respect to two parties versus more than two parties?
Are you open to the idea of a third party candidate in general? Are you open to a third party candidate if your main party candidate is polling poorly? Are you open to a third party candidate if that candidate more closely aligns with your civic vision for the true, good, and beautiful? Are you open to not placing blame on conscience-driven third party voters for your candidate’s inability garner the support they needed?
What does my vote communicate to non-Christians about how I think about the America?
What do I admire about my candidate?
What policies am I aligned and misaligned?
What is the fruit of the candidate’s life, character, and experiences?
A Few Principles
- If you lean heavy on strategy or if you lean heavy on conscience be sensitive to the fact that others might not land as heavy on one or the other.
- Certain things in the Christian life are more certain than others. For example, I feel more certain affirming the Apostle’s Creed than I do about the certainty with parenting paradigms or alcohol consumption. Some election cycles might afford more clarity and/or uniformity than others but there should always be a spirit of deference in community in matters of non-essentials.
- America has had third-party Presidents before (ie. Abraham Lincoln won a 4 man race from the third party position). We have had all kinds of political parties in America’s short vapor-like existence: Federalists, Whigs, Democrats, Republicans, Democratic-Republican, National Union, and unaffiliated have all won the election in our short history.
- America has had the President determined before by the House of Representatives. In 1824, the House of Representatives elected John Quincy Adams because none of the 4 candidates received the requisite number of electoral college votes. Adams was second (84 votes) in the electoral college to Andrew Jackson (99 votes). It is not outside the realm of possibility that Evan McMullin (former CIA and former Chief Policy Director for the House Republican Conference) could win the state of Utah or Gary Johnson (former Governor of New Mexico and libertarian party nominee) could win the state of New Mexico. If either of them won a state and neither Trump or Hillary received the requisite 270 electoral college votes then the election is decided by the House of Representatives. The House is then free to chose from candidates who have received electoral college votes. These are not probable scenarios but they have historical precedent.
- Don’t forget about “down ballet” matters. The legislature and matters of your own state often have significant bearing on everyday life. Spend time and energy getting to know the candidates and issues on the rest of the ballot.
- Our voting should be Biblically informed, structurally informed (how does our government function per its Constitution and amendments), and relationally informed (thinking through voting in community).
The sky is not falling. King Jesus is still on his throne and isn’t the least bit surprised. Let’s together ask the Lord for wisdom and understanding.