Thursday, October 16, 2008

Political Confusion

The presidential debates are over and we are less than 3 weeks away from electing our next president and I remain an undecided voter. Recently I created a bit of a stir on my Facebook page by noting in my status: “Ben does not know who to vote for in November. Any suggestions?” Several of my friends chimed in with one-liners. But a couple of my friends took my question seriously and shared freely their opinions. And since I have friends on both sides of the presidential ticket, we had our own presidential debate going on.

Some of my friends were surprised that I remain undecided. “Now I just think that is a very silly question,” said one of my conservative friends. After all, I grew up extremely conservative, and I am still quite conservative when it comes to social issues. So how could I possibly be considering placing my vote for Obama?

Religion and Politics
Complicating the issue for me is my role as a minister. I believe it is a great mistake for us to imply to our parishioners that either one of the two candidates has God's vote. I grew up in churches where we were not so secretive about how Jesus would vote were he currently an American. I remember the shock I felt when I discovered that there were people as committed to their evangelical Christian faith as I am who were also Democrats! I might as well have been introduced to space aliens. Now that I actually have friends (yes, Christian friends) who are registered members of the Democratic Party, I think I have learned to appreciate that many of the political soapboxes I once stood on are not the “slam dunks” I had been led to believe they were.

As a minister, I choose to remain mum on many political issues including which candidates I plan on supporting. Only my immediate family and very closest friends will know which way I will vote. I think it was a very bad decision by some pastors to follow the Alliance Defense Fund's Pulpit Freedom Sunday. That doesn't mean, however, that I don't care about politics or in making an informed choice. And that's why I am being very serious when I say that I am still undecided. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will not sense that I am leaning one way or the other. The reason why I am writing this piece is to show my friends, Republican and Democrat alike, how I'm sifting through some things. My hope is that my thoughts might help some of my friends (again on both sides of the political spectrum) think a bit more deeply about the intersection between an evangelical faith and politics.

A Plea for Open-mindedness
We criticize politicians for being partisan and not “reaching across the aisle.” But we, their constituents, are just as guilty of partisanship. Most of my conservative friends have never cast a vote for a Democrat. And I also have Democratic family and friends who have told me that they've never voted for a Republican. I like to ask them both, “Do you think the world would be a better place if we were all [enter party of choice]? Usually getting some form of an affirmative answer, I wonder if the world would be a better place if the United States just became two separate nations. We could have the Republican States and the Democratic States. Each would be governed by their own party's platforms. The Democratic States could have universal health care and the Republican States could make abortion illegal. We could be friendly to each other and even be allies. You could live in whichever one you choose, but if you are a Republican living in the Democratic States of America, you would just have to accept things the way they were.

Come on! Why can't we have more Independent thinkers? We all revere George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Would they be Democrats or Republicans today? Why do we have to continue making villains of each other? After all, and this is a very important point, don't we all want the same thing? I refuse to accept the smears against Obama that he is a radical Muslim who is secretly interested in overthrowing America after being elected President. I believe he loves his country as much as anyone else does. Please don't send me any more YouTube videos of Obama not saluting the flag during the Star Spangled Banner. If he really is a secret operative for Osama bin Laden, surely he wouldn't prove his disdain for this country with such an obvious anti-American gesture as that!

So, (here comes a rant) away with these pitiful attempts to make the other party ticket look stupid, unqualified, and unpatriotic. With the exception of Saturday Night Live spoofs, such attacks should be banned from public view. After all, if someone had a video camera or tape recorder locked in on every one of your waking moments, I'm sure we could find (or put together in the editing room) enough evidence to prove that you are a home-grown terrorist yourself.

Everybody wants to state their statistics as “the facts” on any given issue. But every time this is done the “other side” gives an explanation for why those “facts” are not really, well, facts. Did John McCain agree 90% of the time with George Bush's policy proposals? Did Barack Obama really vote against legislation that would make partial-birth abortion illegal? I've heard both accusations made; I've also heard each candidate “explain away” the accusations. The point is that one is discouraged from even look at a candidate's voting record for solid evidence. After each presidential debate, ABC does a “fact check” on the candidate's claims during the preceding debate. Every time they find incorrect claims being made by both sides. How can I possibly know who is telling me the truth all the time? Answer: you can't because they all lie, or at least twist the statistics to make themselves look better than their opponent.

Still, our two major candidate's obviously disagree on many of the issues of our day. One of the most helpful comments I've heard about politics is that we Americans typically agree on the end, but we differ on the means to get to those ends (the public policies). Let's look at two examples.

I am decidedly pro-life when it comes to abortion, and I think Roe should be overturned. I am unapologetic about that; I cannot believe my Bible and also believe that it is morally acceptable to murder a child developing in the womb of her mother. For most of my life, a candidate's position on this was enough to win or lose my vote.

But now I'm not so sure that the Republican party hasn't used this issue merely as a political football. The goal should not be to win a political battle—overturning Roe is not really the goal that pro-lifers should be aiming for. The goal is to reduce the number of abortions in this country. And while overturning Roe could go a long way in doing that, it would not eliminate abortion completely any more than illegal drugs are absent from our society. The point is that there may be other ways to reduce the number of abortions and the steady decline of abortion rates since 1980 is something we should all be thankful for. I am very disappointed that the Democratic Party's platform this year seemed to move even further to the left on this issue, but I'm also no longer willing to make one's stated position on this issue the determining factor for whether or not they get my vote. What I am more interested in is whether or not that candidate will act in ways that lead to the declining of abortion rates. I am interested in saving the lives of unborn children; I am not so interested in winning elections.

The Economy
With the recent historic slide of the stock market, this has become the number one issue for most Americans in this year's general election. With good reason. We should be electing candidates whose policies serve the public good the most, and when jobs are being lost because of economic hard times, I do think the government should step in and offer real solutions.

The problem is that I don't know whose economic policies offer the best solution to our current crisis. Call me ignorant if you want, but is John McCain really just proposing more of George Bush's “failed economic plans”? Is George Bush really the one to blame for the recent economic collapse anyway? Does Barack Obama's economic proposal really threaten to raise taxes on small businesses, causing the loss of more jobs? The majority of the second presidential debate was dedicated to this topic, and depending on who you listen to, it is difficult to know who is proposing the best solution to our economic woes.

Conclusion: This is not an experiment!
Now, I do not live in a swing state. Oklahoma is going to cast its electoral votes for Sen. McCain. So it really will not matter which candidate I choose. You might think, then, that given my residency, I am not really considering voting Democratic. Maybe I'm just trying to be edgy by suggesting that I might? Or, maybe this would be a “safe” election for me to be able to show that I am able to vote Democratic, since a vote for Obama by me will not really change anything. But the reason why I'm undecided at this point is because I'm trying to think critically. I'm trying to see things from the point of view of both sides. But for the most part, I don't like what I see.

I am offended that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, not because I disagree with Palin on the issues (she is probably the candidate I most agree with when it comes to the social issues that matter a lot to me) but because I felt like McCain picked her to try to win the votes of people like me. I'd rather he pick someone who is truly qualified to step in and serve as President of the United States should the need arise. I cannot believe Sarah Palin is such a person. That's no slam on her; I would be a horrible choice, too. Again, I think McCain should have made a pick that would serve the common good. He failed miserably simply because he was playing politics instead of being a statesman (my opinion, of course).

I am irritated at Obama's extremely liberal viewpoints on abortion (regardless of how he wants to try to squeeze around the issue when asked by evangelicals). I also don't think he is experienced enough to be this nation's next president.

So who am I going to vote for?

Don't rush me. I've still got almost three weeks to decide.


XLT said...

I'll vote for a king when they'll let me...:)This presidency thing is highly inefficient!

Aaron Bonham said...

Good thoughts Ben.

Mike said...

I agree with most of what you say. I to am undecided, and frankly I'm tired of people telling me I must be uninformed, as if all I need is to know more and suddenly the choice would become clear.

On the issue of abortion, I am also pro-life, but I actually appreciate Obama's repeated remarks that we can find common ground in reducing the number of abortions. I think the high number of unwanted pregnancies is a huge problem that often gets overshadowed by the heated debate about abortion. Obama has also said there are good people on both sides of the issue, and that it's a moral issue. I agree with that (although I ultimately fall on a different side), and for that I have to give Obama credit.

I've posted more about why I'm undecided here:

AK said...

So, hurry up already! Only kidding. Good job.

Anonymous said...

If only we had more thoughtful voters such as yourself. Maybe then we could demand our leaders to stop spinning their version of the truth.

Anonymous said...


Tsk! Tsk!

Come on - you know all good Christians vote Republican!

Now go be a good Christian or I'll take your ESV Study Bible away.

JBO said...

Have you considered NOT voting? I would not vote for neither of them. That seems to be my choice... except I don't have a right to vote in the U.S. If I did, I still wouldn't vote. Have you figured who I am now?

BCJ said...

Jonah (do I have that right?), actually, I am leaning right now toward not voting for President as you suggest. Of course a lot of people will say bad things about that decision, too, but I think it is my constitutional right NOT to vote, and given the circumstances, I think that is not a bad option. I don't like it when people say they are not voting for someone but voting "against" the other party. That's just semantics. But by not voting for either I am truly "not voting for either."

JBO said...

Yes, you got me right, Ben. This is Jonah from Japan. Since Japan is a paganistic (I didn't find this word in a dictionary but you know what I mean.) nation, I have had several occasions that I decided not to vote. For me as a Christian, there was no lesser evil in such cases. I think it's the same way with many Christians in Japan. This does not mean I'm not concerned about my nation nor does it mean I'm not interested in political issues in Japan. I do care about my country and my people. At the same time though, my convictions did not allow me to vote on anyone. I just had to take it to the Lord. I'm not saying voting is not important. However, we should not forget that prayer is much more important and mighty more powerful. <-This last statement should be universal and would apply to America also. Please understand that I'm not trying to slam any Americans for not praying. I believe sure many Christians are praying so much more than I am. Seeing this election issue from outside of the States, I just wanted to give another thought to some people. I can't vote, but I am praying for America, which is my second homeland.

Anonymous said...

Ben have you look at Chuck Baldwin?

mark said...

Ben, thanks for your frank and thoughtful words. I have been concerned lately that we, as Christians, risk losing some of our credibility by aligning ourselves too closely with any particular political party. The Republicans have taken our votes for granted and we in turn let them off too easy on issues such as torture and poverty. Of course, like you say, we should never let the Democrats off easy on the issue of abortion either. Thanks again.

Ron said...

OK Ben, our three weeks have dwindled down to one,so here goes.
As you are well aware you have four choices:
1 Don't vote
2 Write in someone
3 Vote Obama
4 Vote McCain
While I truly believe in a well informed "non vote" it would seem best suited to situations where the candidates are so alike (for good or bad) or they are split on the issues most dear to your heart. Whatever can be honestly said of these candidates,virtually all would agree, the differences are enormous.

While writing in a name is possibly an option, lets be frank, it's much like throwing things when you get angry; it may feel good, but it accomplishes nothing. Lets face it, one of the above named individuals will be president.

Ben, I know that you and I are first and foremost Christians, and both relatively conservative individuals. Abortion is for the most part considered a constitutional right simply because the right amount and type of pressure was applied to the "wrong" people appointed to the supreme court and various inferior courts. The right to an abortion has grown from the logical right of self defense (a woman's health and /or life) to the extreme view of allowing partial birth abortion, which we both know is infanticide. While I understand and sympathize with your frustration over Republican grandstanding, and lack of accomplishment, when something is considered a constitutional right, constructive opposition is very difficult and is often impossible.

When you and I talked recently, I stated my belief that one of the most important things a president will do is to appoint justices to the supreme court. Obama will, especially given a liberal congress, appoint the most liberal justices he can get away with.
To be very blunt we need another Ruth Ginsberg, legislating from the bench like we need another hurricane in the gulf.

McCain isn't perfect by a long shot, but frankly with him at the helm we are less likely to find issues like gay marriage,freedom of religion, abortion, illegal aliens on and on and on being decided by those with no respect for our Constitution, and little regard for christian morals.

God Bless

BCJ said...

Ron, I think you also made some very good points that I cannot disagree with. I also must admit that I feel a bit nervous about the Democrats having control of both the White House and Congress. Seems like whenever either party has full control, things don't go so well for the country over all.