Mormonism, Politics and Democracy
Part 2 – Do Christians Have to vote for Christians?
Texas evangelical leader Robert Jeffress, the Baptist megachurch pastor who introduced Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit … told reporters (that) “Every true, born again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.” www.politico.com
Jimmy Carter is an Evangelical Christian.
George W. Bush is an Evangelical Christian.
Now, by Dr. Jeffress’ logic, we all should have voted for President Carter in 1975 and again in 1979, and for President Bush in 1999 and again in 2003. But it’s my guess that very few of us actually did, and that fact exposes the fundamental error in Dr. Jeffress’ argument that “every true born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian.”
I’m not unconcerned about what a candidate believes, but I also understand that just being a Christian is absolutely no guarantee that a candidate is qualified to be elected to office! Competency matters, as does intelligence, and consistency, and conviction, and accomplishment, and depth, and capacity, and connections, and experience, and a thousand other things. And it is quite often the case that the non-evangelical candidate in a political contest scores out much better in these other areas than does the Christian. Does this mean that I should set aside all of those other considerations just because the Christian candidate is my brother or sister in Christ, another sinner saved by grace? I don’t think so!
This isn’t how I choose my auto mechanic, or my plumber, or my doctor. I want my auto mechanic to be good a fixing my car, and his being a Christian has nothing to do with that competency. I want my plumber to be good at unstopping my drains, and his being a Christian has nothing to do with that skill set. I want my doctor to be good at telling me what’s going on in my body, and his being a Christian has nothing to do with his mastery of that knowledge base. When I go looking for a skilled professional to help me with some area of my life I do not grill them on their Christology. I want to know if my accountant is good with arithmetic. I want to know if my gardener has a green thumb. I want to know if my stock broker understands the stock market. And I understand that their Christologies might be completely Orthodox, and that they could, at the very same time, be completely incompetent in their professional fields. I am not going to hire anybody, except for my preacher, on the basis of their faith convictions alone. Regardless of what competing bankers believe about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the one I am going to do business with is going to be the one who is the most competent service provider. This is how I vote too, and so does Dr. Francis J. Beckwith, the very fine Christian philosopher who specializes in politics, jurisprudence and religion, who teaches at Baylor University.
In the last Presidential election cycle he published an article entitled “Is It Permissible for a Christian to vote for a Mormon?” It is available at www.equip.org, and it is the best counter argument that I have come across to Dr. Jeffress’ blanket prohibition of any Christian voting for a non-Christian (by Dr. Jeffress’ definition – see last week’s blog on whether or not Mormons are Christians). Here are some excerpts –
Some of the most well-known Christians in America, including Chuck Colson and Hugh Hewitt, have said that there is no reason, at least in principle, why a Christian cannot vote for a Mormon candidate such as Governor Romney…
A Confessional mistake occurs when a Christian citizen believes that the planks of his creed or theological confession are the best standard by which to judge the suitability of a candidate who is running for public office. Suppose, for example, a Presbyterian elder votes for one of Governor Romney’s primary opponents solely on the basis of the governor’s rejection of the Nicene Creed and the Westminster Confession. An elder who did this would not truly understand that the purpose of creeds and confessions is to provide a summary of beliefs that one must embrace in order to be considered an orthodox member of a particular church body, not to measure the qualifications of a political candidate in a liberal democracy. Christendom’s most important creeds and confessions not only pre-date the existence of liberal democracies, their subject matter bears no relation to assessing those attributes that we consider essential to the leadership of a political regime.
Most Christians already grasp this truth. For instance, I know of many evangelicals who in the 1980 presidential election voted for Ronald W. Reagan over Jimmy Carter, even though Carter was clearly more evangelical than Reagan. What was decisive for Reagan’s supporters was his policies and not his theology. These evangelicals likely would have chosen Carter over Reagan to teach Sunday School, but they preferred Reagan in the oval office because they believed that Reagan’s policies best advanced the common good…
The common good presumably is achieved when a political regime treats justly its citizens and the institutions that help develop and sustain their virtue. If that is true, and the Bible instructs individuals and political regimes not only to do justice but how, it seems that the Bible does provide us principles by which we can evaluate those running for public office. Scripture instructs the individual and the state to do justice in the following ways:
- Love Our Neighbors.Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10:27), and that strangers too are entitled to be treated as our neighbors (Luke 10:29–37)
- Help the Less Fortunate.The Bible commands us to help the poor, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and comfort the afflicted (Matt. 25:31–46; James 1:26–27). We can accomplish this through our churches or through government programs.
- Be Just. The Old Testament is replete with calls for justice and condemnations of injustice directed to the state (e.g., Isa. 58:6–10; Deut. 24: 19–22; Prov. 31:8–9).
- Follow God’s Plan for Society. The Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2–17) tell us that there is a rightly ordered social fabric and describes something of God’s plan for it. In political terms this can be translated to the government respecting and privileging religious liberty, the right to life, traditional marriage and parenthood, and integrity.
A candidate who embraces these ideals and treats people justly is a candidate whose behavior Scripture supports, even if he or she is not a Christian, and is therefore a candidate that a Christian can support with a clear conscience. So, is it permissible for a Christian to vote for a Mormon? Absolutely. In fact, in some cases a Christian’s conscience may require him or her to support the Mormon candidate if that candidate is the person most likely to advance the common good.
Dr. Jeffress is free to support any political candidate he chooses, for any reason he wants. But Dr. Jeffress is not free to tell me that as a Christian I “ought” only to support a Christian candidate for political office any more than I “ought” to have a Christian dentist, or a Christian airline pilot, or a Christian grocer. God’s “common grace” makes a concern and capacity for the “common good” a possibility in every human being including non-Christians.
I first learned about “common grace” from Dr. Richard Mouw in his book He Shines in all That’s Fair. Gregory Dunn’s review of this book summarizes the argument nicely (www.acton.org) –
John Calvin, reflecting on the truths found in “secular writers,” concluded that “the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts” (Institutes, ii.2.15). Richard Mouw, in He Shines in All That’s Fair (the text of his 2000 Stob Lectures), exhorts us to take hold of this insight, lest we miss in this world signs of God’s common grace.
Mouw begins with the question, “What is it that Christians can assume they have in common with people who have not experienced the saving grace that draws a sinner into a restored relationship with God?” Answering this question of commonality is of “particular importance” for discerning the form of “Christian involvement in public life in our contemporary context”—that is, for establishing the criteria upon which Christians can engage a pluralistic public square. To address this question, Mouw turns to… the Christian Reformed Church’s 1924 synodical decision, which insisted that, in Mouw’s summary –
…there is indeed a kind of non-salvific attitude of divine favor toward all human beings, manifested in three ways: (1) the bestowal of natural gifts, such as rain and sunshine, upon creatures in general, (2) the restraining of sin in human affairs, so that the unredeemed do not produce all of the evil that their depraved natures might otherwise bring about, and (3) the ability of unbelievers to perform acts of civic good.
Because God’s “common grace” enables “unbelievers to perform acts of civic good,” as David Neff in his review of Mouw’s book in Christianity Today explained (www.christianitytoday.com) –
A firefighter risks his life to rescue a child from a burning building. We don’t ask if the hero is a Christian or an unbeliever. We just cheer him.
A newspaper columnist describes in evocative detail the pain of growing up fatherless. A reporter opens our eyes to the plight of people who have no health insurance. An editorialist takes to task politicians who line their pockets at the people’s expense. We don’t normally ask whether these writers are Christians or unbelievers. We gratefully take their insights to heart.
Fuller Seminary president Richard Mouw has written a book to help us think about the good things that happen through unsaved people. Mouw draws his book’s title, He Shines in All That’s Fair, from M. D. Babcock’s old hymn “This Is My Father’s World.” That hymn welcomes all the good things in the world—regardless of their apparent origin.
It is God’s “common grace” that makes it possible for non-Christians to bring about good things in the world. And because this is true, I believe that it is not only politically unwise to limit your vote to political candidates who are “true born-again Christians,” it is also spiritually shortsighted and Biblically mistaken.