When Americans go to the voting booth on November 8, 2016, we are facing a choice like we have never seen before in our history. As people of faith in our country, it is the responsibility of Christians to be a light reflecting the value system Christ brought to earth into our nation.
In order to be that light, we need to know what the Bible teaches about the issues we will be deciding in that voting booth. We also need to know how the American government and political system works. If we do not learn these things for ourselves, then we will never be more than pawns being manipulated by the people who we let tell us what to think.
As Jesus famously taught,
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
Two Things Americans Should Never Do
The short summary of nine key public policy issues and biblical values from Day-9 of this series can be used in evaluating how we should vote. Still, there is no easy cookie-cutter formula. Our vote is a powerful thing. If we are not careful, we can easily become like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the old Disney Movie Fantasia and use it to do more damage than good.
It is important to clarify two things that we should NOT be doing.
1. Separation of Church and State
First, we need to understand what it means to have separation of church and state in America. This is a hot potato. So please bear with me. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that there is a wall of separation between church and state. This is nowhere in our founding documents. But it is an important part of who we are as a people. The controversy comes when people interpret what they think this means without the context.
We have to go back to the first Thanksgiving. Americans celebrate the fact that the colonies were settled by Europeans fleeing religious persecution. The Pilgrims had to leave England because the Church and State were united. It was illegal to worship with liberty of conscience unless you were part of the Church of England. The Baptists, Quakers, Moravians, Mennonites and other sects fled from various European nations to America for the same reason. The governments there were either controlled by the church or united with the church. The wall of separation between church and state protects the religious sects from being controlled by the government, or from being controlled by one religious sect over another. It also protects the government from being controlled by any one organized religion. There can never be a “Church of America” that dictates how Americans can worship.
However, there is no separation between people of religious conscience and their government. Our government is a marketplace of ideas and of values. This also applies to our religious doctrines. That is the legacy of the Protestant Reformation. It is one of the great advances in human history. In a free country, it is the responsibility of each of us to bring our values to the voting booth and together we find common ground.
This makes it tricky when applying principles from the Bible to good government. Nevertheless, we must try.
What we must never do is seek to unilaterally force our view of what scripture teaches onto the rest of the people. We must always work through the democratic process. If we believe strongly that a particular value is not being sufficiently applied in our government, we must convince the people first. Then we make changes by voting. We must also be willing to let others make their case to us. We will all be wrong sometimes. America is great because we have great people who disagree and debate great issues. Then we reach consensus decisions that are greater than what we would each come up with on our own.
There will always be difference of interpretation and of opinion. There must always be negotiation and compromise or else we fall into the same religious persecution we created our system of government to protect us from.
2. Beware of the Pharisees
Second, we do not bring righteousness to our nation by demonizing and marginalizing one set of behaviors that are commonly practiced by another group while excusing our own bad behaviors. This is another hot potato. So bear with me again.
There is an age-old manipulation technique used by hypocritical religious leaders who want to maintain their own power while keeping the people firmly under their control. Jesus condemned this kind of religious leadership in the Bible as it was practiced by the Pharisees. We saw it with the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. We see it with Fundamentalist Islam. If we are honest with ourselves, we see it in our own churches. It looks like this.
The religious leaders define a small set of rules that serve as a morality test to determine if someone is acceptable to God. This next part is the key. The people are told that if someone fails the morality test, they are not only separated from God they also bring judgement on the whole community or nation. When a rule is broken, the leaders are swift to dish out the penalty. That way everyone is terribly afraid of being caught breaking any of these morality codes. Those who do suffer terribly. If they are not executed, they are subject to isolation, economic hardship and psychological trauma. This conveniently keeps those “spiritual leaders” who enforce the rules at the top of the heap.
Political leaders learn quickly that they can ride on this power by simply giving lip service to the same morality code. The Pharisaical religious leaders will gladly hop into bed with them because it reinforces their own power over the people. They can claim that they are “keeping the political leaders in line…and thus bringing the blessings of God on the nation.”
To be a good Pharisee, you must be careful not to make any of the morality codes things you could be caught breaking yourself. Your morality codes also cannot be anything the majority of your community could be caught breaking. Even if the leaders and community members actually do break the laws, it must be something they can easily cover up. That way you create a relatively small group of “others” who everyone can ostracize and point to as the ones who are causing all the problems. They become a convenient scapegoat that takes the attention off of our own flaws.
Once the religious and political leaders get the people totally focused on this artificial morality code, they can break every other rule in the book and nobody will notice or care. They can even tell the people that those unrighteous acts are God’s will. Zealous believers seeking to please God will not only go along with it, they will champion the unrighteous causes too.
This is exactly what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for. A few generations before Christ, the Pharisees had started as a religious revival that brought back a reverence for scripture to Israel. Most of them never even noticed they had become worse than what they had tried to reform.
So what do the American Pharisees look like? In the 1960s, divorce was at the top of the list in America’s morality code. People who had been divorced, especially women, would be shunned from their churches and the subject of gossip in their communities. Nobody could ever be elected President if they had been divorced. By the 1970s a lot of pastors, congregation members and political leaders were getting divorced. It was no longer a good morality code to judge others by. But it couldn’t quietly be phased out unless there was something else to replace it. Conveniently, two other easily condemnable issue came to prominence in the 1970s: Abortion and Homosexuality.
Christians who believe scripture should sincerely seek God and the Bible for how to address both abortion and homosexuality. But, and this is critical, we must realize that using abortion and homosexuality as a litmus test for choosing political candidates is falling for the oldest trick in the Pharisees’ book. We have been manipulated by it for two entire generations. We must shake ourselves out of that trap.
Day 10: America is Great Because America is Good
Day 9: Nine Biblical Principles in Public Policy
Day 8: Two Things Americans Should Never Do
Day 7: Ten Key Issues in American Politics
Day 6: Which Side Should Christians Take?
Day 5: Of the People, By the People, For the People
Day 4: Which Policies are Most Biblical?
Day 3: Clinton vs. Trump in 2016
Day 2: A Vision for America
Day 1: My American Story
Election Day: VOTE!