Brian Regan, Mitt Romney, a Gay Veteran, and the Art of Bad Arguments

“I’m trying to learn how to play chess. That game’s not right. That game does not end properly. You’re just looking at the board and your opponent goes ‘CHECKMATE!’
‘I thought you said you were supposed to take my king.’
‘Yeah but no matter what you do in the next move I take the king in the following move, so it’s a checkmate.’
He’s in the car headin’ home.
No other game lets you do that. You never see a quarterback walking up to the line…
‘TOUCHDOWN! The way your corner is playing we’ll do a slam pass underneath the coverage. Too much of a cushion. 6 points! Touchdown!’
Don’t just announce that you’re going to win.”
Brian Regan, stand-up comedian extraordinaire

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about arguments and how so often people give just flat-out bad arguments for their positions.  This led me to blog about theological debates that are often crippled by bad arguments, and I’ve got about fifty more blog ideas in this same line of thinking.  This one was inspired by an article I read last month about Mr. Mitt Romney.

Apparently Romney was confronted by a gay Vietnam veteran named Bob Garon at an event in New Hampshire who asked whether or not he supported gay marriage.  Saying he did not, the conversation got pretty awkward.  Garon proceeded to say, “It’s good to know how you feel…That you do not believe that everyone is entitled to their constitutional rights.”

BOOM!  Checkmate, you unconstitutional jerk!

Look, this entry is not about Mitt Romney as a political candidate nor is it a statement on whether or not gay marriage should be legal.  Rather, it’s an example of how bad arguments hinder understanding and thus any hope of progress.  Comments like the one above made by Mr. Garon are about as pointless as the quarterback in Brian Regan’s joke just declaring “touchdown” without ever running the play.  You can’t just declare yourself the winner in a debate without ever even debating your opponent.  And that’s exactly what this veteran did.

His claim is that Romney doesn’t believe everyone’s entitled to their constitutional rights.  But the debate on gay marriage isn’t about whether or not we should give gay couples their constitutional right to marry.  The whole debate is about whether it even is a constitutional right.  Garon’s comment, whether he realized it or not, assumes a universal agreement that gay marriage is a constitutional right, thus making Romney unfit for office for wanting to deny homosexuals that right.  But since such agreement doesn’t exist, comments like the one Romney received are weightless.  It’s like asking someone, “Why do you love bad music?”  No one loves bad music.  They simply love music that they deem “enjoyable” and you deem “bad.”  Besides, until there’s a universal agreement on what constitutes bad music, it’s impossible to truly condemn someone for loving bad music.  (Remember…Nickelback does have fans, guys.)

To pull back and add another dimension to this whole incident, Bob Garon never actually made an argument at all.  Rather, he made an unfounded claim.  I still lump that under the umbrella of “bad arguments” because so often in our culture simply declaring your beliefs seems to take on a role that should be reserved for intelligent debate/dialogue.  A huge part of intelligent debate is describing your opponent’s views in a way they would be happy with, so when no attempt at understanding is made, what should be two people debating becomes two people mocking each other’s views.  Internet comment boards are flooded with this to the extent that I’m not even sure we understand the difference between “mockery” and “debate” anymore.

So when Richard Dawkins for example says that faith “is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence”  and that it “is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence”, he’s calling out “Touchdown” without any intention of even snapping the ball.  Not only is he defining “faith” in a way that no theologian would define it,   he uses his perception of faith to further reinforce the thought held by many that it is opposed to science, which does think and evaluate evidence.  Dawkins’ definition of faith demonstrates a great reluctance to truly understand those he disagrees with.  And as I said already, when understanding isn’t present, mockery will be.

Another fine example of this is Ricky Gervais’ article “Why I’m an Atheist.”  Gervais, like Dawkins and Garon, declares his victory throughout without ever really giving a substantial argument.  With mockery taking the place of intelligent debate, I personally feel like atheistic comedians get away with a lot.

 “The Bible truly is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. … It was written thousands of years ago, when people were even dumber than they are today. … It’s absurd to believe in that s***.”
David Cross

The REALLY Cool Thing About Tebow’s Game Against the Steelers…

A week ago, Tim Tebow led the Denver Broncos to victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Of course the real story was how the chosen one threw 316 yards, averaging 31.6 yards per completion, on a televised game with a rating of 31.6, an eerily obvious allusion to the area code of Wichita.  And some are also seeing something of a connection between those numbers and John 3:16, a verse that Tebow wore on his face in his final game with the Florida Gators.

I’ve never really understood why people have felt the need to have such a strong opinion (whether positive or negative) about Tim Tebow.  It’s almost as confusing to me as why the Kardashians are famous (something I’ve Googled and still don’t have a clear answer on).  Some look at his 316 stats above and feel like it was God’s blessing on him.  The skeptical see the stats as nothing more than coincidence.  I’m of the mind that those stats are actually really amazing.  Why?

Because “coincidence” or not, those stats put “John 3:16″ at the top of all Google and Yahoo! searches for a time.  That means that the number one search on both search engines yielded this: “‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who put up an ad on Google to appear when people searched for the verse, reports that 8,000 people clicked on peacewithgod.net.  And they are also reporting 150 people placing faith in Christ as a result of reaching the site.  

Are Tebow’s stats proof that God’s hand is on him to bless him and the Broncos with Super Bowl rings and a Hallmark channel original movie about the 2011-2012 season that almost certainly would have followed?  Well, in the words of Isaiah, “it was the will of the LORD to crush” the Broncos in the Divisional round.  So no.  But if some “random” stats in one playoff game spread the most concise statement of the Gospel far and wide, leading to the eternal deliverance of at least 150 people, then you better believe God’s hand was directly responsible for every single one of those passing yards.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”
Proverbs 16:33

On The Negative Reception Among Christians Toward Obama’s Victory

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
C.S. Lewis

Many Christians have heard these famous, beautiful words from C.S. Lewis. While meant in the context of worldly pleasures versus the highest, spiritual pleasures, the principle behind what Lewis is saying makes these words relevant in the sense in which I want to address my brothers and sisters in Christ concerning the 2008 presidential election, and in particular its outcome. Imagine if you will that someone came up to you and said “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that I ruined your favorite shirt.” “Uhh, okay, the good news better be good.” “The good news is that you won the lottery.” “I really liked that shirt, you know.”

It’s a dumb example illustrating an absurd reaction by you, the recipient. Forget the shirt. It’s a sad loss sure, but the good news exponentially eclipses the bad news. The point is, joy and peace surround the heart who has received the best news in the world, and all the world throws at them can only hurt them for a moment, for they will rise again, and in darkness the Lord will be their light (Micah 7:8).

This is written in response to the cavalcade of smears I’ve seen directed at President Elect Barack Obama from my fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord. When it comes to government, many a Christian’s faith takes a backseat to his politics. He votes on certain issues because they are “constitutional” without taking into account whether or not they are “biblical.” Consequently, he becomes defined by his nationalism and not by his Christianity. Such verses then that command us to be subject to the governing authorities and honor the king are forgotten while he lobbies for his candidate of choice and ridicules the opponent. When this happens, the Christian is judged by the very Word to which he appeals.

The comments I address come mostly from the status bars of friends of mine on Facebook. Such statuses speak of the end being near, the coming failure of the nation, a critique of Obama’s acceptance speech, attacks on his character, the using of his middle name (give it a rest, we know what you’re trying to do), and one remark on the stupidity of a nation that would elect Obama. (For the love of God, please don’t declare war on your mission by calling those you’re called to serve “stupid.”) Every one of these came from Christians. And that’s just been from tonight, post-election. My friends, such words are out of place. They are not becoming of someone who professes the name of Christ.

Paul instructs us: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:1-2). He tells us to pay our taxes (Romans 13:6-7). We may not like the tax rate, and that’s okay. Get someone in office who will fix that. But until then, obey. In 1 Timothy, he instructs us to pray for our leaders: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-4) Brothers, how long will it be, if ever, before you drop to your knees and pray to God for Barack Obama? And I don’t mean “God don’t let him screw up America” or “God get him out of office” but “Adonai, Lord, you are the Sovereign over the universe. Nations rise and fall by your hand. I believe your Word when it says that the king’s heart is a stream of water in your hands to be turned at your will. I pray that you would move in President Obama’s heart and direct it toward your purposes.”

Let us look to David who, after being anointed as king but before he took the throne, was fleeing the king Saul, who sought David’s life. David came upon him with Abishai while he was sleeping and Abishai wanted to take advantage of their fortuitous circumstances and kill Saul in his sleep. But David refused, saying “who can put out his hand against the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?” And he left Saul alive, his attempted murderer (1 Samuel 26:9-11). God will dethrone when he wills to dethrone.

Let us look Chinese Brother Yun who, in his biography “The Heavenly Man” writes: “Once I spoke in the West and a Christian told me, ‘I’ve been praying for years that the Communist government in China will collapse, so Christians can live in freedom.’ This is not what we pray! We never pray against our government or call down curses on them. Instead we have learned that God in in control of both our own lives and the government we live under. Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, ‘The government will be on his shoulders.’ Isaiah 9:6.” He goes on to write “Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure!” This comes from a man who has suffered severe persecution at the hands of the communist Chinese government. This book is one I encourage everyone to read.

Let us consider the words of James. James has some of the most harsh words to say about misusing the tongue. In his epistle he states “With [the tongue] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:9-10) Quick reminder: people who are made in the likeness of God refers to ALL people (Genesis 1:27).

Finally, let us also look to the example of Paul. During Paul’s defense before a council, the high priest Ananias commanded him to be struck. In retaliation Paul said “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Paul did not realize that Ananias was high priest, so those around him, startled by his audacity said “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And I love what Paul does here. Every Christian should take note of it, especially those of you who speak against Barack Obama. He says “I did not know brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:1-5) He showed respect to those who were clearly theologically misguided. He honored Ananias’s position.

Perhaps the most damning indictments of such cynical and hostile sentiments towards an elected official come from Titus, Philippians, and 1 Peter. Paul writes to Titus and addresses slaves in his letter saying “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” (Titus 2:9-10) How much more should the Christian submit to the governing bodies? To the Philippians he writes “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15). Peter tells us to “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people…Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-15, 17)

There’s a very significant pattern in those three references. Not only are they commands to obey the governing authorities, but they give us the reason for doing so: “they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior,” “that you may be blameless and innocent…in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” “Be subject for the Lord’s sake…” We are to obey for the sake of the glory of Christ. The brilliance of the Gospel is to be magnified and adorned, and this CAN’T happen through argumentative, non-submissive subjects, for then the world sees us as politicians above all. When we slander any leader, we drag the name of Christ through the mud, not because they are Christ but because they have been appointed by him. They are our leaders and we are commanded to honor them.

Only those who appear to be hoping in something otherwordly get asked about the hope that is in them (1 Peter 3:15). And when we resort to smearing, lying, and belittling, our hope is shown to be in a politician and not the reigning King Jesus whom we call on as Lord. Such slander is often the result of desperation, yet “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). What have we to be desperate about? Jesus is King. And he has commissioned us to tell about him. But that message does not come unadorned. If we are not honoring the President, it is because we are not honoring God most. If we will not accept the best news that Jesus reigns, then we will become dependent on our leaders to fill that gap, which turns the Oval Office into an idol. And for those of you who have become distraught at Obama’s victory, I fear that your heart is in dangerous waters. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that the fruit of lips that acknowledge Jesus is praise for him (Hebrews 13:15). And if we love him, we will obey his commandments (John 14:15), which includes rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s (Matthew 22:21). It includes “Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17)

It is always a desirous thing when the state cooperates with the Church’s mission. For that we need only to look at William Wilberforce in how he helped outlaw the African Slave Trade in England. But the lack of such support does not cancel the Church’s obligations. Don’t expect the state to do what God has called the Church to do. The honoring of leaders is most explicitly stated in the Bible by those who were living under the Roman Empire. We live in a land in which we are able to worship freely despite who is in office. And even IF that were to change, we would still be the Church, and we would still worship. The early church exploded and grew from such small numbers in a non-sympathetic government. Henry and Mel Blackaby write “For such a monumental task, they seemed to possess such inadquate resources- no seminaries, no beautiful church facilities or sound systems or multimedia tools, no such thing as a Bible in every member’s hand. They had no celebrities to endorse their cause, and very little freedom to promote their belief in Jesus Christ.” What’s our excuse?

In summary, you don’t have to be happy that Obama is taking office. That’s not the point. Feel free to be saddened by it. But honor him as leader. Don’t make crude jokes about him, don’t beat him down with criticism, and don’t slander him. Many of you have. I see it in your statuses and in your profile pictures. You drag the name of Christ through the mud with such venom. Take them down, repent, worship God, and honor who he has brought to the White House. And above all, BE THE CHURCH. For example, having a President who supports abortion does not mean we are powerless to stop it. No that doesn’t mean bombing abortion clinics. It means that if you truly care about the issue, start volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center. Love these women. After all, who we elect is a reflection of the current heart of the nation. We don’t need laws to engage the hearts of those around us. Only when we lovingly preach, live, and adorn the beautiful news of Jesus we will see changed hearts, and thus changed laws.

I close with two quotes. The first comes from Psalm 63:3: “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” Can we say that as Christians? Is Christ so beautiful to us that all other desires are eclipsed by the furious passion we have for him? For you who despair of an Obama presidency, I challenge you with these questions. Unhappiness about his victory is one thing. Despair is another.

Quote two is a transcript from “The Office.” I love you all, and it is with love that I grieve the actions that inspired me to write this. Let us look toward Jesus above all, and support whoever he allows to ascend to the office of President.

Michael: [starts to cry] I don’t understand why you keep picking on me.
Stanley: Oh, for the love of God.
Michael: You just, do, and I don’t know why, so… please help me understand.
Stanley: Fine. Here it is: you are a person I do not respect. The things you say, your actions, your methods, and style. Everything you would do, I would do it the opposite way.
Michael: Well Stanley, maybe you’re feeling that you don’t respect me because you don’t know me very well.
Stanley: Michael I have known you a very long time, and the more I’ve gotten to know you, the less I’ve come to respect you. Any other theories?
Michael: All right, you don’t respect me. I accept that. But listen to me, you can’t talk to me that way in this office, you just can’t. I am your boss. Can’t allow it.
Stanley: Fair enough.

Related: Can Christians Vote for Obama?

A Breath of Fresh Air

A couple days ago I read a very good article addressing the Christian’s proper mindset to politics.  It was a wonderful breath of fresh air that a lot of Christians (particularly the ones I addressed in my previous entry) need to read.  It comes from Capitol Ministries.  Enjoy!

By Sean Wallentine

Capitol Ministries urges churches and individual believers to embrace the biblical mandate to pray for the salvation of the lost, especially those in the political arena (1 Timothy 2:1-5).

Unfortunately, in an election year biblical duties all too often take a back seat to the seemingly more urgent realities of pragmatic politics. As the November election approaches, Christians will spend vast amounts of time, money and energy supporting candidates running for office. But will God’s people remember to pray for the souls of those men and women seeking elected office?

Political involvement is a liberty we all enjoy as Americans, but it is not a biblical duty. Sadly, politics can become an idol for many people, even professing believers. Our duty as believers is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, yet all too often we mistake duty for liberty and liberty for duty.

When we confuse our biblical priorities, we can easily turn the mission field into the enemy. We laugh at inappropriate jokes, harsh criticisms, slanderous statements, gossip or other dishonoring statements about current politicians or those running for office. Many ignore the fact that our constitutional right of “free speech” does not trump the command of God’s Word to “honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13-17).

As the election cycle heats up, you may receive emails with content that dishonors political leaders. Resist the urge to laugh at these emails or forward them to your friends. Instead, let them serve as reminders to pray.

Vote and be involved in the political process, but don’t let it become an idol in your life. And don’t treat your mission field as the enemy. Instead, consider how you can invest your energies in the prayer, evangelism and discipleship efforts of Capitol Ministries and your local church. Such investments reap eternal rather than mere temporal rewards.

Apocalypse 2012! A Brief Rant on the Political Season

No, this actually has nothing to do with the whole Mayan/world ending in 2012 thing.  I’ll get to what it does mean in a second.

More and more, I hate election season.  Mainly because it brings out the worst in people, and being a Christian in a conservative state, most of the maliciousness I see comes from the actions of people who claim they follow Christ.  It infuriates me that those who talk the most about morals are the most fanatical people when it comes to politics.  It infuriates me that those concerned with truth in the ultimate sense of the word throw truth to the wind when it comes to facts about a man, namely Barack Obama.

Last month at work we had biography DVDs of both Barack Obama and John McCain side by side.  And so many times I’d walk by only to find the Obama ones turned around with a McCain one placed over it.  I tried so hard to catch people in the act, but I never did, which is probably best since I might have flown off the handle.  That’s not an endorsement of either candidate on my part but rather the annoyance of 1) having merchandise tampered with because of a customer’s political views, and 2) that being a really, really, REALLY stupid method of protesting.  I guess seeing two John McCain DVDs next to eachother with no Obama one in sight is a good campaigning strategy.

Like I said, I’m disgusted at just how petty my fellow Christians get during this time.  How dare we claim to be Jesus’ disciples and then launch smear campaigns.  Paul and Peter both commanded Christians to obey the governing authorities, and that was in the context of living in the Roman Empire.  How spoiled we have become in being able to worship freely.  How ungrateful we are to enjoy that gift that most Christians throughout the world don’t enjoy.

Some of this stuff has been boiling up in me for a while, but I was prompted to finally write this after reading the following article:  http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081025/ap_on_el_pr/christian_right_attacks.  Apparently someone has written a hypothetical letter from the year 2012 describing the woe that has befallen the nation as a result of Obama’s being elected president.  It is, as one pastor in the article says, desperation.  Frankly it disgusts me.

My brothers, if your hope is so tied to whoever sits in our White House, you have a pitiful view of God and a skewed view of the Church.

Again, this is not an endorsement of either candidate.  Go vote, but trust God to do what he will be pleased to do.  And whoever wins, pray for them.  Support them.  Obey them to the edge of your faith, and only refrain from such obedience when it is in direct violation to God’s Word.

But above all, if you’re a Christian, don’t you dare smear a candidate.  Show grace and truth.  Present your side in love and knowledge, and don’t be the uninformed voter who votes for McCain simply because Hussein Obama is a Muslim terrorist.  Smear is the result of desperate Christians who have forgotten who is ultimately in charge, and who have forgotten the real kingdom to which their citizenship lies.

Related: “Can Christians Vote for Obama?”

“Why the Heck Do I Live in Philadelphia?”

by Geoff Bradford

The Holidays brings it up again. A bad day where I feel unproductive and ineffective brings it but again. That question: why do I live here?

I vacillate between anti-suburban snobbery and being tired of Philadelphia. I enjoy not living in strip-mall-ville somewhere on a cul-de-sac, but then again, Filthadelphia is not a very pretty place. I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love backpacking and scenery that is not man-made. There’s nothing really keeping us here-our extended families are 12+ hours away by car. Also, Philadelphia does not always seem like a “great place to raise a family.” I remember when we moved from the ‘burbs a few years ago-just at the time when my eldest son was starting kindergarten. People thought we were nuts. We were moving the wrong way. Everyone moves out when your kid turns 5, not in.

When I’m having a bad day, I generally like to visualize myself living in West Virginia. You probably have someplace-likely not West Virginia, but some place nonetheless-that you like to believe would be better. Actually, what most of us really want is a place that is not just better, but a place where I am better, where I am more actualized and fulfilled. Not just a new scene, but a better me.

Isn’t that why we move around so much? Looking for a better scene, I mean a better me? Every year, a sizeable chunk of the American population of our country moves (see Restless Nation, by James Jasper). Why? Do we really think that we will be different just because the backdrop is different?

So, why stay? Anti-suburban snobbery is not a very good reason-at least it does not satisfy my wanderlust. Laziness, either-the idea of moving makes me tired-but that also not a good reason to stay. Susan and I have wrestled a long time with this issue. With family far away, the challenge of finding good schools in Philadelphia, and the cost of living-we have wrestled with this. Why stay? Here’s what I have come up with:

1) Other backdrops don’t make a better me. I’m staying because I don’t believe the myth of a better me in a better scene. I’m looking for a deeper work of God in my life than cosmetic changes. And this has been a place where God is dealing with my discontent heart. It has been a laboratory for my soul, and this community at liberti* is a safe place to be a broken person who needs the mercy and love of Jesus.

2) Philadelphia is not such a bad place for kids. Yes, it is not really clean. Yep, not the safest place, either. But suburbia is also a dangerous place to raise children, for other reasons. My kids have exposure to the great cultural offerings of the city, are growing up in a place where they have to learn to deal with people very different from them, and have a lot of spiritual “aunts and uncles.” Not bad.

3) I want my life to count for something. I’m staying because I don’t just want to be a consumer of lifestyles. I don’t just want to shop for the best deal for my family. I choose to believe that by staying in one place, by putting down roots, by trying to build long-term relationships, my life and those of our family might have an influence-be it ever so small-on other lives and even on the great city of Philadelphia.

4) As C.S. Lewis says, “If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘Sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ I know I am very fortunate in that respect.” [The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves]. We Americans re-arrange our lives around work. Isn’t friendship/community more valuable in the long run?

5) I recognize that the ability to “choose my own adventure” is actually a sign of my richness-the fact that I even have the opportunity to choose my own adventure shows that I have options, that I am rich. Most people don’t have such possibilities. Staying here is an identification with the poor. It is an admission of my spiritual poverty-that I really am here because God has brought us here to Philadelphia, and he will make it abundantly clear when and if we need to leave. But not ‘til then.

Finally, I am trying to live as if America were not my dream. As if this world were not my home. I’m trying hard to “look for a city whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, 16). The Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. And it will be a city beyond “our ability to ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). That’s my real home. This is just a taste. And with that, I can live and stay-even when things don’t work like they should. Even when life here is unsatisfying and even frustrating. Jesus promises it (John 14:2).

What about you?

* Liberti is an church in Philadelphia that is part of the Acts 29 Network.

http://www.acts29network.org/article/why-the-heck-do-i-live-in-philadelphia-

Can Christians Vote for Obama?

And then there were two.  The selection process for this presidential election’s candidates over the past year has played out like Presidential Idol.  Early in 2007, it felt like everyone in Washington was a contender.  Every day someone new was announcing their White House bid.  Then it kept getting narrowed down more and more until finally this week people voted off Hilary Clinton.  Now comes the face-off between McCain and Obama.  How will their debate performances over the next few months stand up to the judges’ criticisms?  Both will contend.  But only one can the Presidential Idol.  What an exciting 44th season it has been!

What’s struck me about this election is frankly how irrelevant evangelical Christians have become.  Their monumental influence was felt just last election between John Kerry and George W. Bush.  Bush ran on a platform of being against gay marriage and abortion and for millions of people that was enough.  For many of those same voters, this election isn’t nearly as clear-cut.  Neither candidate obviously appeals to the evangelical base.  The most obvious choice might be the Republican thus conservative candidate, but this year’s Republican candidate isn’t as conservative as many want him to be.  And God forbid we should elect that Muslim with ties to Saddam Hussein who hates America and is secretly going to try and bring it down from the inside!

Christians face a dilemma this election season, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  Unless you are your own god, you are a sheep to some shepherd, and the identity of your god is what separates the noble from the pathetic.  Christians are the sheep of Jesus.  They are to follow him.  He shepherds his own with his word and his Spirit.  Come election time, many sheep change shepherds, from Jesus to their pastor.  From Jesus to Pat Robertson.  From Jesus to the late Jerry Falwell.  Christian songwriter Derek Webb, former lead singer of Caedmon’s Call, has made a career of stepping on the toes of the American church.  Derek illustrates this in his song “A New Law” when he says “Don’t teach me about politics and government.  Just tell me who to vote for” and then “I don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy so just bring it down the mountain to me” and then again “Don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit, just give me a new law.”

Such is the attitude of many believers.  The last thing many people will ever do is shut their door and get completely alone with God, completely free of distraction.  It’s easy to study the Word of God, but it is a whole new depth to take it and meditate on what you study, asking for the Spirit to reveal its full meaning to you.  It’s a sign of maturity to wait in silence for God, to not just pray but to listen.  And this is what many are scared of.  Because it’s not easy.  You can’t plan it out. You can’t predict what you will get out of it.  At least when you memorize Scripture you can say “I will memorize these verses today.”  When you open your Bible to study it you can say “I’m going to study John 6 and compare it with passages in Exodus which talk about the manna in the wilderness” (which I recommend doing by the way).  And this isn’t wrong at all, but we can’t limit our walk with Christ to the things we can control.  Memorizing the words of Scripture is a cognitive exercise that anyone can do.  But to memorize it in the context of meditation, to store it in your heart and not just your mind so that it will come back to you in a moment in which you need its direct application, to allow its meaning to direct the course of your life is a work of God.  Hebrews 6:1-3 wisely observes that we can’t mature more than God will allow us to.  Maturity is God’s prerogative.

In response to the question that is the title of this entry: can Christians vote for Obama, I answer with a resounding YES.  Why?  Because he’s such a godly man?  No.  I don’t know him, but when it comes to matters of faith, he strikes me merely as a politician who goes to church rather than a Christian who goes to Washington.  For Christians who have relied solely on marriage and abortion to decide their candidate for them, this election isn’t clear cut, and their decision will have to be made by careful study of the Word, prayer, and conscience.

Yes conscience, the forgotten factor in the life of a Christian.  Reading Romans 14, Paul makes it abundantly clear that there are things in the Christian life which are not spelled out clearly, and for these we must exercise use of our God-given conscience.  If one is convinced they should not eat meat, let them and shut up.  If one is convinced one day is holy as opposed to another day, let them and shut up.  You think Sundays are a day of rest for pastors?  Shoot…  If I’m a pastor one day I plan to Sabbath on Saturdays.  Is that unholy?  If you try to guilt-trip me I’ll vomit Romans 14 all over you.  Some prefer to abstain from alcohol while some joyfully consume it in a holy manner.  What do you prefer to do?  Then do it and don’t dare bring judgment on the other person’s conscience.  Whatever convictions you have, keep between yourself and God (Romans 14:22).

For the election, make up in your own mind, on grounds of a Scripturally-guided conscience what is worth electing a person on.  You know what?  That’s going to look different for different Christians.  Any pastor or what-not who says that as Christian you must vote for X is out of place.  Quote them Romans 14:22, because they don’t have that authority in your life.  WHO you vote for is of a more subjective nature.  But…WHY you vote for them is more objective.  By saying “vote for whoever you want to,” I’m not saying certain issues are irrelevant.  If conservatism and liberalism were based merely on abortion and gay marriage, then I’d definitely be a conservative.  I believe from Scripture that abortion is murder and that homosexuality is a sin.  But if we were to give weight to issues based merely on frequency in Scripture, a candidate’s views on poverty should carry enormous influence in the Christian’s decision of who to vote for.  Who is more sympathetic to the lower class?  Maybe what’s more important to you than anything is peace.  Jesus called the peacemakers “blessed.”  Maybe the Iraq war and not gay marriage is going to be your trump card in this election.  What are your views on fair trade?  What is your conviction about immigration?  Are our laws too strict or too loose?  What matters to you?  What do you feel most strongly about?  While Scripture speaks clearly about the sanctity of life, it also speaks of mercy for the poor.  And the paradox in our political party is that while the Democratic Party is most often in favor of abortion, it is also more focused on the rights of the poor.  Which demands the attention of your conscience?

I once heard a preacher (who is otherwise an awesome preacher) say that if you’ve ever voted for someone who has supported abortion, you need to repent to God for it.  The implication is that whoever you vote for, you are supporting EVERYTHING on their agenda, which is simply not true.  Even for the most staunch atheist voter that’s not the case.  Very few people will agree with every position of a candidate.  But they weigh it out.  They put the issues into scales and see which side weighs more.  And the Christian’s vote is no different.  Voting for Obama doesn’t necessarily mean you support his views on abortion.  Maybe you’ll vote for him because of his views on the Iraq war.  Is justice not important?  Maybe you’ll vote based on his views of health care.  Is care for the poor not important?  WHY a particular candidate has your vote is the crucial question.  It is one thing to vote for a pro-choice candidate because of their stance on health care, and it is another to vote for them because they are pro-choice.  If I were to encounter a Christian who votes for Obama based on his stance on abortion, then I might have to have a talk with them and ask them to justify their vote.  So long as the Christian has evaluated the stances of the candidates and made a decision in light in scriptural principles and conscience, leave them be.

Someone might say “Well yes their stance on such and such is nice and desirable, but is politically implausible.”  Is that really the point though?  Did you vote for Bush in 2004 believing that a marriage amendment could ever really get passed?  We are to vote what’s right, not what’s easy on the issues we personally feel are most important.  American politics can be a great lesson in walking by the Spirit if we let it.  The reason is that the Scriptural positions held by a candidate will often be countered by an anti-biblical position.  And if you’re someone who puts their trust in princes, this will be immensely frustrating for you.  But this is why the Bible tells us not to put our trust in princes (Psalm 146:3).  They will let you down.  And even the best of them will fail at times.  Welcome to Earth.  Population: 6 billion sinners and counting.  We’re not voting for a pastor.  We’re not voting on whether or not Jesus comes back in November.  Yes pray for a good and wise prince.  But recognize in your voting that compromises must be made, because until Jesus returns, no governmental power will be without its compromises of full compliance to God’s Word, assuming it doesn’t outright disdain it.  If you can’t in good conscience compromise one issue for the sake of another, then don’t vote.  Be a good citizen of your heavenly kingdom at whatever cost to your earthly kingdom.  Be a good American citizen as much as you can, but if push comes to shove, know where your allegiance lies.

While American politics can be a great lesson in Christian liberty and in learning to listen for and walk by the Holy Spirit, it is also a great lesson in thanksgiving and in trusting God’s sovereignty.  Proverbs 21:1 says that the king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord and he turns it wherever HE will.  God has used each president for his own purposes.  We may not see the reason now, but one day we will.  Remember that God’s will is not trumped by anything, let alone who sits in the White House.  Rather it is carried out through them.  Additionally, Romans 13 shows us that government is a blessing from God.  If you resist the government, you are resisting God.  Now obviously many have seriously abused government and turned it into a tyrannical regime.  But like the evening news, most of the good things that happen around town go unreported.  Our security is in large part due to our government.  If someone gets in the White House who is completely against everything Christian, so long as our government is in place then thank God for it.  We have laws in place.  We have police to patrol our streets and cities.  We have restrictions to protect you.  We get to elect our officials.  We get to worship freely.  If someone steals something from you and are caught, they will be punished.  We do not live in anarchy.  Thank God for that.  And don’t rant against the president’s every mistake.  Take time to pray for them, whoever they are.

And above all, remember this: Jesus did not come to overthrow the Roman Empire of his time as many thought he would.  Rather he was focused on his mission of proclaiming a new Kingdom that was coming.  With that Kingdom in mind, everything else finds its proper orbit.  No government is perfect.  But that’s okay, because the one to come is.  And it is already spreading throughout the world in spite of the earthly kingdoms.  The Church does not need a Conservative Republican in the capitol of the United States of America before its message will spread.  We don’t need abortion to be illegal to be able to address the hurt and fear of a young pregnant girl.  We don’t need strong welfare laws before we can give money and time freely to the poor.  The Church does not need the world’s laws to be the Church.  It has more often than not functioned in spite of them.

So in the next five months, search the Scriptures, pray to God, listen to the Spirit, and vote in such a way that you do not violate your conscience, whether it leans to the right or to the left.