We both voted (and I tell you this with his explicit permission) for John McCain.
I've written before about my slight queasiness when participating in my state's early voting, but this time I had no choice. I will be out of state (see sidebar calendar) on Election Day. And this one is too important for me to use vacation as an excuse to keep me from voting.
I haven't made any secret here of my political leanings or of my leaning in this particular election. But because many of you have emailed privately and asked me how I intended to vote and why, I am going to do a very difficult (and lengthy) thing and try to explain what is for me an extremely weighty decision. Some of you will be very unhappy with me by the end of this post. I don't expect to change your minds....I ask only that you hear me out to the end of my argument and consider what I have to say. (Get a BIG cup of coffee :-) )
In the Bible, Paul tells Timothy,
1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior... (1 Tim. 2:13 NIV)
There is, of course, no way to draw a perfect parallel between Paul's admonition to pray for those in authority and our responsibility to vote for them, since the recipients of the letter to Timothy had no such privilege. But I certainly see my ability to vote as an extension of that responsibility. I believe that if there had been that opportunity in Paul's day, he would have included it in his direction.
If the liberals are successful in this election, I believe it will have been only with the help of those conservatives who think McCain isn't conservative enough. They will either stay home, or they will cast a protest vote (or what they will refer to as a conscience vote) for a candidate who has no ability to affect whether we will continue to live "peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." They will say, naturally, that they'll continue to live that kind of life no matter who is elected, but that obviously flies in the face of Paul's direction: if our leaders have no impact on the lives we live, then the prayer wouldn't matter much, would it? He says pray so that this kind of atmosphere will prevail. Let's be honest. Paul wants us to pray with a certain outcome in mind. And here is the crux of my argument.
The Bible nowhere teaches me that I am not allowed to cast a civil vote for someone unless he's right on most everything. It gives me no such guidance. So I can assume that I am free to use my voting privilege to make the best choice for my country at the time of the election. Because my goal, as stated in Scripture, is to live a peaceful and quiet (other versions say "tranquil") life in godliness and holiness (elsewhere translated "dignity"), my vote must be cast for the candidates who will be most likely to bring about that kind of outcome. I am not free to cast a protest vote or a conscience vote so that this country can be taught the lesson it "deserves," or to shake it to its senses, or because there is a man somewhere who believes more nearly all that I believe. Yes, in some sense my vote may be what my friends will decry as "the lesser of evils." But in this fallen world, dear readers, any choice we make involving a human is the lesser of evils. In this case, my choice among the lesser of evils is the man who is most likely to be in a position to make decisions that will effect the result Paul urges us to pray for.
You may have often made use of this outcome-based approach without thinking of it this way. If you've ever voted a "straight ticket," you've voted for an outcome rather than individual candidates. I've done this often, especially in places to which I've moved shortly before an election and where I've had no way of knowing the particular strengths or backgrounds of the individual down-ticket candidates. I vote the straight ticket because I'm voting for an atmosphere that respects the sanctity of life, individual property rights, a market-based economy, minimal government regulation and interference, and the freedom to educate our children in whatever way God directs us. Yes, I may have inadvertently voted for a man or woman here or there who does not uphold one or more of these principles, but in the absence of that specific knowledge I have voted for the party who is most likely to create that atmosphere in my community, state, and nation. I didn't stay home because I was faced with "two bad choices" or vote for an alternative candidate (Christian or not) who had no possibility of determining the direction of our government.
But too many of us have decided that we want the whole meal, appetizer, dessert and all, and we want it now. We'd rather starve than accept just the main course, even if partaking of the main course now would give us a greater likelihood of obtaining dessert later. Better to waste away and claim that it wouldn't have been right or "godly" to accept less than we were due.
How much sense, though, does it make to elect a man who will allow murder of millions of innocents because his opponent will only agree to save MOST of them? Or to stand by while the country elects a man who will stack the Supreme Court with justices who will nullify all the "righteous" decisions of the next five ultra-conservative, even Christian, presidents? How does that square with my prayer for a peaceful, tranquil life or even just life for unborn babies? How can I look the other way while we elect a government who will continue to spill innocent blood and chop away at our "unalienable rights...[to]life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?
There may very well be a visceral satisfaction as we walk away from the voting booth having pulled the lever (or in our case, pressed the button) for the candidate who, if elected, would work for pretty much 100% of what we believe in. But how soon that sweetness will turn to bitterness when we have to explain to our grandchildren why, because the opposition prevailed, their parents can't homeschool them the way we did or why it's legal to kill a newborn in the first month after birth for any of the same reasons we can abort one before birth.
There's an important concept here. We are in the habit of thinking that we are voting for a candidate, when in truth we should be voting for an outcome. I've not been instructed by Scripture to vote for the man with the highest character or the highest percentage of "correct" votes as tabulated by the American Conservative Union or any other group. Those are certainly things I will take into consideration, because I think they will play into, and to some extent predict, whether or not he makes right decisions. But I will not choose a man (or a woman), however upright and credentialed in conservative orthodoxy, who will have no chance to bring about the tranquil life I'm instructed to pray for...and especially not when this gives the opposition the ability to select justices who will set liberal doctrine in stone for the rest of my children's and perhaps grandchildren's lives. My belief in God's sovereignty does not relieve me of the responsibility to prayerfully cast my vote for the outcome I believe He desires. I cannot pray for one outcome and cast my vote in the opposite direction and then excuse it by saying that God is in control anyway.
Even as believers, we must acknowledge and live within the systems now in place. Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel and friends all served in and actively worked for the success of God-less governments. Given the opportunity, they'd surely have chosen a new paradigm. Absent that chance, they chose to serve in the one they were given. We live in a political system where 95-98% of people will vote for one of two parties. The only effect that the other 2-5% will have is to swing an election in one direction or another. The reality is that in 2008 we have two choices. Whatever you do, and however much you protest that it's not so, you will be contributing to one of two outcomes.
Interestingly, the most salient question I've heard in this whole campaign came from the youngest of my six daughters. "Mom," she asked, "doesn't the Bible tell us that the man who doesn't provide for his own family is worse than an infidel? So then if a man has a chance to cast a vote between two candidates, one of whom is more likely to provide security for his country and will more likely provide an atmosphere of respect for the things God says are sacred, how can that man stay home and not vote? Or vote for someone who won't be elected? How is that providing for his family?"
Out of the mouths of (yester)babes.
I've written this post in a spirit of prayerfulness over a period of six hours. I've ranted, deleted, rearranged and reworded over and over. I have tried to avoid the inflammatory language that I've heard elsewhere, and if I have caused unnecessary offense, I hope my readers will forgive me. But I feel a burden to use what little influence I have in this space at least to contribute to the discussion in a way that honors what I'm seeing in Scripture and in society. I will honor your right to do the same.
(The Papa, who is not a blogger, asked me to use this forum to communicate his convictions as well as mine and has contributed to the writing of this post.)