Could a Christian vote Democrat?
They say the safest way to keep people happy is, “Never talk about politics or religion.” I break half of these rules every week since my columns posted at www.TuesdayColumn.com are almost always about religion. I am about the break the other half of the rule.
When most Evangelicals discover that I often vote for Democrats they go ballistic—including my students if they discover it (they’re about to). The joke on my campus is “The Young Democrats club will meet in the closet on the second floor of the food center—unless the other member can’t come.” Same is true for faculty. One faculty member I used to teach with (now deceased) once told me, “If you hear that I teach you can’t be a Christian and vote for a Democrat it isn’t true—I think it is possible.” (I always thought was saying under his breath, –“about as possible as a camel getting through the eye of a needle”) I don’t know many evangelical Christians today who vote for Democrats. The same is true for most evangelical churches—they are almost exclusively Republican—the so-called “Christian party.”
So when people find out I often vote for Democrats they are aghast—as if I have confessed to doing abortions on weekends. This is especially true of my students who have been raised “since Ronald Reagan” and thus have never known a time when most all the [white] Christians they know were not stanch Republicans. It doesn’t fit in their schema of things. (The 1960’s to them are as ancient history as 1919, and most don’t even know about Richard Nixon any better than President Buchanan.) I usually don’t try to defend myself and I won’t be able to with this piece either. It is an almost-hopeless situation in the current atmosphere. But recently I did answer an email and state my “apology” for being a Democrat. I am not trying to convince anybody—just setting out my personal views which most every other evangelical thinks are wrong. But I am not “wrong” because I am ignorant and have not thought about it. I have tried to develop a careful position rooted in my faith. You may disagree on where I come out, that’s fine. Do your own homework—make a list of issues as I have done, then decide where the Bible and your faith lead you. If you do that you’ve satisfied me, for I think our faith should inform our politics, not the other way around.
So, to my tenzillion Republican friends who can’t imagine how a person might be a Christian and vote for a Democrat, (and to my three Democrat friends who are hiding under the pews in our churches) I offer the following as my own stance of personal political apologetics:
Actually I don’t believe there is a “Christian party” in my country. Neither of them satisfies me as far as “Biblical Christian Values” go. On one issue one party is closer, on another the other party is closer to Christ-like values as I see them and on many issues neither party is Christian. And I admit that on some issues there is no “Christian” stance at all—it is a matter of personal opinion and God has nothing more to say on it than eating Jell-o or pudding. But I don’t vote Democratic because I’ve “just not thought through the implications of a “Biblical worldview”. I vote that way often because my Christian conscience demands it. Like my Republican friends claim their “Christian worldview” demands they vote Republican, my own reading of the Scripture and history often takes me the opposite way.
I admit that I find affinity with Republicans on a few issues:
1. I believe in free trade because I do
not worry about what is “best for
I also find myself often a fiscal conservative and thus I am usually
closer to republican rhetoric (historically, though not recently). I see
this stance based on a doctrine of stewardship. I admit feely there have been periods
where Democrats have squandered money (howbeit I think they pick more noble
causes on which to squander it than Republicans). I believe it is unwise
to go into debt to live high now then make future generations pay the
bill—whether to pay for welfare, for a war in
3. As for gays I lam generally spiritually conservative and politically moderate—I believe it is wrong to deprive gay Americans (or Americans who commit adultery, get divorced or otherwise sin) of their civil rights—such a fair access to housing or jobs. But I reserve the right of religious organizations and churches to hire whomever they want to based on whatever lifestyle issues they consistently practice. I believe no government can tell a church to hire someone practicing any behavior they forbid—alcohol, tobacco committing adultery, the gay lifestyle, wearing a hair covering, or wearing a yellow beanie. Whatever we consistently practice as a biblically based lifestyle in the church or organization as a matter of religious conviction can rule when it comes to employment. But as a nation I am willing to extend civil rights to both saints and sinners. As to “Gay marriage” I am generally disinterested politically. I’m not even sure I like the government in the marriage business at all and prefer the church to decide who gets married and who gets to take Communion. In my tradition (the holiness movement) we don’t expect unsaved people to live holy lives, so we have seldom gotten alarmed when “sinners sin.” In my tradition we worry more when Christians sin. That I think homosexual behavior is a sin makes me unpopular with lots of Democrats, but I also believe heterosexual divorce and adultery are likewise sins so that makes me unpopular with lots of Protestants. So, over all, on the gay rights issue I am mostly in sympathy with moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats avoiding the extremes of the spectrum politically (though I suppose I am extreme spiritually). Republicans are more “pro-traditional-marriage” and I like that, even though I have qualms about government defining marriage (other than as a legal matter regarding inheritance and who gets to visit whom in the hospital). I’m a pastor by heart, not a politician—so I’m more concerned about the church being pro-family than the world. But generally I lean toward the Republicans on this one, though not far enough to deprive civil rights from any sinners—straight or gay.
I have serious and deep moral reservations about abortion. On that issue I fit better with
Republicans and find myself often estranged from fellow Democrats who claim to
be the protectors of the weak against the strong. I can find few things
weaker to protect than a fetus. I think abortion is like the
environment—both the parties took the wrong side given their stated
values. Democrats should be the protectors of the weak—the fetus, and Republicans
should be the protectors of individual rights and the strong rich interests of
the medical cartel, given their tradition.
If I was a one-issue voter and abortion was the only issue I’d vote
Republican. But I have other issues to consider, and I honestly don’t think
the Republicans actually deliver much on this issue…what they deliver most is
rhetoric. I suspect most evangelicals tilt Republican on abortion alone. However even if “the Republicans win on
abortion” where will it get us?
Republicans have no hope of outlawing abortion in this nation or the
world—they have given up on a constitutional amendment. If Republicans get what they want
(overturning Roe v. Wade) it would
merely turn abortion back for the states to decide. Where would that get us? The best bet is that 95% of the people in the
But on many other issues I find affinity with Democrats:
1. The environment is an important cause for me. The Democrats are far less than I want but the Republicans are even more distant from what I think is the Biblical position. I see caring for the environment as a deeply religious conviction growing out of the Scriptural call for stewardship of the earth. On this one I can’t imagine how a “conservative” can be anything else but a “conservationalist”—this totally escapes me as much as why the “party of the weak” would not protect a fetus. I am a tree-hugger because of theology not my economics or politics. Christ died for more then human beings. He died to redeem all of creation—if you do not believe this, check your orthodox theology of the last 2000 years—that’s in the atonement and not just some unique theology of John Wesley. The solid orthodox view is the redemption of all creation. When we do not treat creation with dignity and respect we denigrate the artwork of God. Our refusal to accept this view of creation is simply sinful pride and egotism—we can’t imagine God cares for anything but us humans. But He does. OK I hear my republican friends laughingly mocking me by talking about the “silly protection of the Snail-darter” or “we can’t log the forests because of some stupid snowy owl nobody cares about.” Really? Do you not believe that God cares about the sparrows and knows when one falls? Was Jesus wrong when he said that? And too, how can I believe in God as creator then not be a strict environmentalist? If we believed all life happens by chance we could simply say, “creatures come and go—the death of species is a natural process.” But if we truly believe God created the snail darter and spotted owl how could we be so casual about the death of something God purposely put on earth? Can I so lightly destroy the Creator’s creation? And this does not even get into the pro-life aspect of the environment—pollution kills people…slowly but they are just as dead as a fetus when it does its work. I am a radical environmentalist because I believe God is creator of everything we have and we should to care for it like a gift. On this issue I have much affinity with the Democrats—my only complaint is they don’t go far enough.
2. The care of the poor is important to me too. Not because of my politics but because of the Bible. Caring for the poor is not an option for anyone who takes a serious reading of the Bible—it is a demand and even a test of whether I am really a Christian. I think Democrats have done a better job trying to do this than Republicans. Sure, they have not produced perfect programs—almost all of them are flawed as badly as my local church’s pitiful attempts to run Sunday school or evangelism programs. But an imperfect work is better than no work at all. I know most evangelicals say, “This is what the church should be doing.” I say phooey! Show me where. What church does this in a serious way? There are a few, but it is a cup when an ocean is needed. Most churches gather money to spend it on themselves, not the poor. But even if we were willing to forgo our new building to care for the poor and pay the bills for all those aged parents in nursing homes (Oh, you didn’t know that Medicaid pays most of those?) I still don’t want the church to do it all. Why? I think rich non-Christians ought to pay their fair share too. When I pay my taxes I pay them like I pay my tithe—some of that money fulfills Christ’s command to care for the poor. Democrats help me fulfill this command of Christ far better than most Republicans do, even if there is “waste in the system.” Holy smoke—if “waste in the system” were the criterion, few of us would pay our tithe and none of us would pay our denominational taxes!
3. As for health care I believe deeply in some sort of a nationalized system that considers justice and compassion over the medical cartel’s profits. When a nation finds people beaten and bleeding by the road I think they can’t respond with, “Take responsibility for your own problems” or “Too bad—doesn’t your employer have insurance.” A real Good Samaritan pays the bill. So would a “Christian nation.” I find even many Democrats wrong on this issue too and hope we will bring a system something like that of Canada to this country. I know all Americans say Canadians and Europeans hate their system but it simply isn’t true. I’ve met plenty who praise it and can’t understand why the US doesn’t see the obvious value of medical care for its citizens. My position here grows out of the teachings of the Bible, not economics. It is the compassionate thing to do and the church won’t do it—face it, Christian organizations are often more stingy than secular ones on this issue with their employees. It is a problem we’ll have to solve through government—God favors the church but He also ordained government and the family. When one agency fails He is willing to use another. Christ spent huge amounts of his precious time on earth healing the sick—it must be a value of God’s since Christ came to show us what God is like. Caring for sick people out of compassion and not for profit comes from the Bible in my view. I’m with John Wesley here—medical doctors and others who get rich off of sick people will have a hard time entering heaven—as Wesley said—“it is possible but hard” (as hard as a camel going through the eye of a needle). So on health care I’m expecting someone to eventually have the courage and leadership to stand up and do what Jesus did—spend extraordinary energy relieving pain and suffering. On this issue I lean with Democrats, though most of them are too frightened to stand up and try anything on this issue since “Hillary’s card.” She was right—just too early.
4. I’m with the Democrats on feminism
too—though most Republicans now pretend they’ve been there all the time. I think women should not be denied their
rights because they are women. They
should get equal pay for equal work and should have access to the same jobs men
can do. I believe the Bible on this—we
are neither slave nor free, male nor female in the
5. I’m with the Democrats on minimum wage too. Generally the impulses to raise the minimum wage come from Democrats not Republicans. I wish my students could earn (adjusted for inflation) the minimum wage I did when I went to college. They’d almost be able to “work their way through college” like I did. But its not [mostly middle class] college kids I care most about—it is the poor workers that serve my hamburgers. They have no hope of making a living without college. They are doomed to marginal living as the “working poor.” I know, I know—if we raise the minimum wage my hamburger will cost more. Good! I should pay enough for my hamburgers to enable the server to make a living and feed their family—to pay less is wrong in my doctrine—I am stealing from the worker their wages, and their [unpaid] wages will cry out against me at the judgment. (James 5) Any minimum wage (in 2008) lower than $11.00 hr. is less than the minimum wage I earned in college. So on this issue I am with the Democrats too and my understanding of the Bible sent me there.
6. I oppose handguns and think they should be illegal for citizens to tote around. I see no reason why a Christian would want to promote the use of handguns—what possible good is it to let handguns proliferate? Is this a Christian position? I saw one “voter scorecard” purportedly “a Christian’s guide to voting” that rated candidates positions on handguns, as if the Christian position was to encourage the proliferation of these instruments of murder. How in the dickens could we put this in with Christ’s teaching on turning the other cheek? Is it Christian to pack a gun? Is the “freedom to bear arms” a Christian position? What are we supposed to do, turn the other cheek, then shoot the dirty scoundrel in the heart? C’mon, you might argue for handguns as a “liberty” issue, a “constitutional issue” or as a matter of “liberty” and “freedom” but these are not Christian values but secular American values we have mistakenly taken to be religious. If God’s “will was done on earth as it is in heaven” there’d be no handguns. However, I am a pragmatist too—in this cowboy nation where I live it won’t happen. So it is a not-gonna-change issue for me that I place it near the bottom of my list in choosing candidates. Even Democrat Presidential candidates love to show their macho skill at shooting guns as if that somehow qualifies them to be President of this nation. Baloney! I’m more interested in the aim of the President’s mind than his gun!
7. I generally favor increased taxation of citizens who are better off (people like me) for the sake of those less fortunate. I don’t want to redistribute all income, but I’d be happy to redistribute more of it. Why? It is simply the teaching of the Old and New Testament. I can’t see how one would have any other position and be true to the Bible. Republicans might say that rich Christians ought to give their money personally to the poor and not through the government but somehow if a person is serious about the Old and New Testament’s teaching you’ve got to redistribute resources. I wish people did it personally. It is a nice idea. But, have you seen this happening much? If we did away with all taxes would you give your taxes to the poor? Really? Since churches are not taxed do you see the church giving generously to the poor? Really? I personally think rich people will always figure out ways to make money. I always do. The church ought to urge us to do the right thing, but if we don’t, then government ought to figure out a way to make us do it. We should share with those less fortunate than we are. If it is through generous personal giving we get a reward in heaven. If it through taxes taken from us by force and without complaints we may get no reward in heaven but at least the people are helped. The Democrats are closer to Biblical values as I see them on this point. Sure I would rather “teach a poor person to fish than give them a fish.” But teaching fishing is a far more expensive welfare program than distributing fish—so I’m willing to spend even more to enable the poor to get off their backs and take over the fishing ponds.
8. Even though I am a devout Christian I do not believe the government should write school prayers—students should say their own prayers. Republican pandering on the school prayer issue is embarrassing. I wouldn’t trust government-written prayers and believe “civil religion” is idolatry. I don’t want state-sponsored prayers in the public schools. I wouldn’t trust the government to write a prayer—to which god would it be directed? Prayer in the schools is one of those silly issues that raises everyone’s ire and gets Republicans votes and money, but it isn’t worth the time I just spent on writing this paragraph. As long as there are exams there will be prayer in schools.
9. I think excessive
nationalistic military spending is sinful for any nation. I do agree that the sins of another nation
may require occasional sinful intervention of our own nation—we are in a fallen
world and the sins of others sometimes causes us to sin ourselves (thank you
Lutherans for this theological approach). But on every war since 1960 I have
found more company with Democrats than Republicans, (though often I find
Democrats are warmongers just as much as Republicans—sometimes worse). I reject both parties and unchristian at this
point. I can’t understand how Christians
can ignore the Bible’s call to peace-making and a total rejection of
war-making. I can’t understand how
Christians ignore the fact that you couldn’t even join the early church if you
were in the military. It was simply a
profession you had to abandon to join the church, like prostitution. These Christians couldn’t imagine that people
who worshipped the Prince of Peace could fight Nationalistic or empire wars
killing for a living. Sure, within 300
years of Christ’s death the church invented the “just war” notion to
accommodate soldiers but the earliest Christian tradition is with the anti-war
people. I have accepted (non-arms
bearing) chaplains in the military because we should minister to all people
everywhere (I know one Wesleyan pastor in Nevada who served as a chaplain at
the local whorehouse). But war-making is
sin—even if we have to do it, we should repent as we do so (Bonheoffer).
I base my beliefs on the Bible’s teachings. It tells us we are to work for
peace not war. I might be a war-maker
if I stay with the Old Testament. But I
can’t as a Christ-follower. And after
all I’m talking about the Christian
point of view here—so what
10. I believe national self-interest is selfishness and thus sinful and both parties are wrong on this. Christian values call us to feed our enemies, not just “use our aid to reward our friends.” Real Christians exchange “enlightened self-interest” for “enlightened other-interest.” Sure, a nation cannot give everything away—we couldn’t be that much like Christ. So, I accept a moderate level of national self-interest, but what I see from both parties is not Christian. To my thinking the Democrats are a tiny bit more Christian on this one but not enough. How I miss Jimmy Carter who thought justice and human rights played a part in international aid, not just America’s interests. That was a Christian value.
11. I believe that God wants capital
punishment banished from the earth so that neither individuals nor
governments kill people, including unborn people and evil people alike.
Of course our religion’s greatest event occurred as a result of capital
12. Democrats often like centralized governments and weaker “states rights.” So do I. I can’t pin this one on my theology or the Bible though—it is a practical thing for me. I believe in nationalizing many practical things now carried out by what I consider to be outmoded local forms of horse-and-carriage government. For instance, I think we should have a national driver’s license and can’t understand why you have to start all over when you move from state to state. However I admit the Bible is silent on this issue. At the same time though I don’t think Republicans can argue for states rights from the Bible either. This issue is a non-starter for me as a Christian.
13. On the size of government I reject the argument, “that the government which governs best governs least” and believe it to be as silly as saying, “that father which fathers best fathers least” or “that church which worships best worships least.” I want good government not little government. In this I have more in common with Europe than Texas. But I can’t say this is due to my theology or the Bible either. However, the Democrat’s affection for centralized large government often fits better with my take on things. On this one I traditionally tilt toward the Democrats but I can’t honestly say it has anything to do with my theology or the Bible. It is a non-starter issue for me as a Christian.
14. I believe the tobacco and alcohol industries should pay restitution for their evils. Both have willfully and knowingly killed people slowly. I think we should make them pay for it. I wish we could regulate these evil companies to death. I’d like to see somebody sue their pants off even if the trial lawyers get most of the money. I think the alcohol companies are legalized drug dealers. Since I can’t make them illegal in this country I’d like to regulate them out of existence. On this matter neither party helps me, except that the Republicans have defended the companies more often than not, and Democrats at least have more lawyers in their party who file suits against corrupt business like this and make them do the Biblical thing—pay restitution, so I suppose I tilt a hair toward the Democrats, (but not Southern Democrats) on this issue.
15. I believe corporations who have paid less and less of the tax burden over the last three decades should pay far more until they are paying their fair share. Yes, I know that merely “raises the price of the product” to the consumers. But buying their product is my choice so I don’t need to buy it if I don’t want to—I think it is wrong to shift taxes from Boeing to Wal-Mart clerks. Corporations are getting a free ride recently while the “average Jane” pays the Corporation’s share of taxes. I think rich people should pay tithe just like the poor people. Likewise I think rich corporations should care for the poor too. I don’t buy the notion that groups of people have no moral responsibility and that only individuals have such. I think business groups should do the right thing too. And the Bible calls on the rich to share with the poor. Democrats are usually better at calling for more taxes from corporations and rich people than Republicans and are in my mind closer to the Biblical values of “of whom much is given much is required.”
16. I think we ought to have more strict emissions standards because we should be stewards of the air God has given us. To foul the air and consider “a few hundred more deaths” merely “the cost of doing business” is evil and unChrist-like. Democrats usually are closer to what God wants on this one—clean air. It is a very important issue to me and I weight it far higher in my list of priorities than it appears on this list.
17. I think we need strong OSHA rules because the rich are bound by God to care for their workers. If the corporation’s leaders are not Christians then I am happy to force them to act like Christians anyway—providing a safe place for workers to do their job.
18. I think we need massive
initiatives in education because
the Bible calls us to bring up the next generation. I’d even be satisfied if we’d put 10% of the
money we’ve been squandering in
19. As for immigration I am a fan of it. I think Christians should welcome the strangers among us—that’s what made this nation great—the statue of liberty and all that, including the welcoming approach this country had to my grandfather’s family that got me born in this country. I’d like to open the doors of my country to tons of poor folk in the world—not just to the doctors and scientists. I think we need them to fire our engine of creativity and labor… and to pay taxes and into Social security so we boomers can eventually retire without bankrupting the country. I believe this so strongly that I’m even willing to trade away some of the above (like minimum wage) to be an inviting country. I’m willing to see our standard of living go down to offer opportunity to the “world’s huddled masses.” On this issue neither party satisfied me, though Democrats (on their best days) are occasionally closer to what my own Christian convictions call for.
So, when I seriously look at the Bible’s whole value system then apply it to the political parties today, I find that in my view the Democrats are a bit more Biblical than the Republicans. Sure, I dislike the secularists and anti-religion folk in my party and I’ll do what I can to beat them back into the bushes. But when I go into the voting booth and vote for a Democrat it is not in spite of my faith but because of it.
"Uncritical acceptance of any party line is an idolatrous abdication of one's core identity as Abba's child. Neither liberal fairy dust nor conservative hardball addresses human dignity, which is most often dressed in rags. Abba's children find a third option. They are guided by God's Word and by it alone. All religious and political systems, Right and Left alike, are the work of human beings. Abba's children will not sell their birthright for any mess of pottage, conservative or liberal. They hold fast to their freedom in Christ to live the Gospel----uncontaminated by the cultural dreck, political flotsam, and the filigreed hypocrisies of bullying religion." -Brennan Manning (Abba’s Child)
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