Monday, November 24, 2008

A brief polemical reply to Treybur

Originally I was going to scribble a comment in response to Trey’s post on voting, but I fear it would be too long.

Let us begin where all questions of Christian duty should begin, the Bible.

I think we can agree up front that our life decisions should be based on Biblical principles, so we must first look to Scripture to see whether voting is either prohibited or endorsed.

Republics were not an option in the days of Israel, which was an amalgamation of a theocracy and monarchy, or in the days of the Roman Empire. Our system of government is not really contemplated in the Bible. Therefore, neither of us can point to decisive verses. We can, however, appeal to principles such as "do unto others," and "love thy neighbor as thyself." While I believe a close examination of such principles would reveal that a Christian should vote, I doubt you would agree that such verses and their like are applicable. Therefore, I will take a different tack.

Representative government, though experimented with by Greece and Rome, was made palatable to the West due to none other than Calvinist influence. Starting with congregational authority at the local church and moving toward voting on local magistrates, representative government is the product of ardent Protestants pushing back against tyranny. Loraine Boettner addresses this briefly in his The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. The thoughtful Abraham Kuyper has a wonderful lecture that touches on this as well, which can be found at the following link:

Government, of course, is both good and bad. It is bad in the sense that the power it offers attracts ambitious men, who will necessarily look after themselves. In a representative democracy this is often a good thing because the ambitious man rises and falls based on the prosperity of the country or his State. However, it also opens the door wide for corruption and looting of the public till.

Yet government is a blessing from God, by which God tempers the anarchical tendencies of man, and prevents men from ruling over one another by brute force and intimidation. But for government, and the respect the public affords it, no man could feel secure in his property interests as he would constantly fear some brigand may take his car, his money, or boot him from his home. A world without government would destroy commerce by making it too risky to invest capital in any project for fear of mobs, stunt the arts, as people would not have time to devote to writing, painting, or composing, and fighting would be a staple of daily life. We must never forget, God Himself instituted governments.

Now, I’m certain that as a Calvinist you agree that God institutes government, but yet you say you should not vote.

In a representative democracy the people elect representatives to reflect their values, whether economic or moral (I would argue economic issues are all moral). In our representative democracy, the people elect a bicameral legislature and an executive, who in turn appoints judges. No allegiance is required on the voter’s part to any of the men and women of these offices. However, the Bible commands that we respect them and submit to their authority.

I want to briefly address your abortion reasoning, but the responsibility of a Christian to vote goes well beyond the so-called morality issues.

We have the options as Americans to influence those we put in office. By judicial fiat, our country has presided over a holocaust—a mass murder not only sanctioned by the state, but funded by its citizens.

Does the Bible teach that citizens should not attempt to stifle the state funded slaughter of innocents?

You argue, in response, that only the sale of wire hangers would increase: a morose claim. However, that is a dogmatic assertion and not a defensible argument. The state-sanctioning of any act gives it a color of rightness. That which is constitutional is felt by Americans to be moral as well, whether that’s burning a flag or creating “art” by draping the Virgin Mary in a gown of feces.

Through judicial imperialism we as a nation have said that the right to kill a fetus is one bestowed on us by our Creator, and a right which must be defended to the death. And how can we change the courts but that we vote?

Your argument concerning abortion is specious at best. You rightly note that only God changes men’s hearts, but ignore the fact that men are morally culpable for lives they take, and countries are judged by the collective morals of their people.

Further, the argument that says, essentially, we can’t change men’s hearts so don’t make abortion illegal, could be applied to any crime where life or property is taken. We can’t change men’s hearts so why punish a murderer? We can’t change men’s hearts, so why make heroine illegal? And so on. Appointing judges who fail to see in the penumbras and emanations of the Bill of Rights a right to have an abortion is not the same as asserting that governments can change hearts and minds; rather, it is an argument that this government has not secured a right to stop beating hearts and suck out the brains of the unborn.

Essentially, your argument about voting is the same as the hyper-Calvinist's argument about evangelism---"well, it's God who changes men's hearts, so I don't have to go evangelize."

There is no empirical evidence to suggest you’re correct in your assertion that if certain states make abortion illegal, then abortions would not decline. Unless you find some, then it would be prudent of you to soften your rhetoric on this point.

Next, voting at the local level affects how grievances will be heard by local judges. Do you want your fellow citizens to be judged by good, honest men, or conniving politicians? By voting and getting involved in local judicial elections you palpably influence how lives and property will be affected in coming years.

By voting for your local city council members you affect how zoning variances will be handled, how your local taxes will be spent, etc. This materially affects local business owners, and all local property owners.

By voting for your Representative in the House and your Senators you affect the defense of this country, which affects the lives of people. You affect the finances of this country, which affects commerce, the viability of businesses, etc.
You ignore by your stance the vital role the Church has played in this nation’s history. From ending slavery to the civil rights movement, the Church was instrumental in ensuring that all men are treated as though they have been created in God’s image. If religious people had stood on the sidelines, and permitted the irreligious to make all decisions how much longer would people own men in this country? The principled stand of Rhode Island at the ratification of the Constitution and the inclusion of the Bill of Rights is also worth noting, as this was a State of religious men seeking protection from a potentially tyrannical federal regime. And while the signers of the Declaration of Independence were by and large not orthodox, they knew they had to answer to people who were.

By the same token you ignore the history of nations whose freedom was secured by the irreligious and by those not respecting the religious beliefs of others. It was not the Huguenots who won independence in France, but enlightened secularists. That made all the difference in the history of our two countries.

In short, there is no clear verse in the Bible that says vote or don’t vote. But the evidence weighs in favor of taking an active role in our body politic to ensure that our laws enable a just society to flourish both commercially and religiously. And your dogmatic assertion that Christians should not vote has zero Biblical authority, which is presumably why you quoted none.

I close with the words of Calvin in his commentary on Samuel: “And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor, by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.”


The Militant Pacifist said...

You seem to have some level of confidence in representative human government. As someone with a (warranted) belief that the mass of mankind are idiots, I long ago abandoned such romanticism.

There are reasoned ethical reasons why a Christian might abstain from voting. You can read some here. If Christian ethics are not the paradigm, there are even more reasons here.

I would also point you to the corpus of our Anabaptist (radical reformer) brethren, who have rejected involvement with worldly states for centuries. There is much to consider here, but I might recommend starting with Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.

You will find a humble attitude, somewhat different from the magisterial reformers who sought to get sword of the state “on their side.” See The Reformers and their Stepchildren for more on this.

Sadly (in my opinion), most American Christians still have not “seen the light” on this issue. They still desire to fight spiritual battles with carnal weapons (like the vote). They still desire to force others to do their bidding through the power of the state (death).

It seems to me that Christians should never be in league with death.

If someone is convinced that the purpose of God is to destroy America (and I am convinced), then voting is probably a waste of time. I did it this year (according to friends, I “wasted” my vote), but I don’t know if I will do it again. I’m still “contemplating.”

You said that you believed a close examination of scriptural principles would reveal that a Christian should vote. As one who is leaning towards becoming a non-voter, I’d like to read the examination – if/when you have time.

Hippie Fringe said...

Well if we are to follow the example of biblical Christian government, wouldn't we would all be communist? Personally, I would prefer to live in a country with a just prince than your idea (anyone's idea really but especially not yours) of a biblical one. I can appreciate that a Christian would feel as much compulsion to contribute to the US political process as they would to the political process of any other country on earth or possibly one of those other planets that are coming into focus. I can also appreciate the convictions of a Christian that sees no difference between the atrocities committed by the US and those committed by any other county or group and accordingly feels that they must act wherever possible.

Shane said...

People throw out that communist meme all the time, but two things have to be acknowledged about that: (1) communism is by definition atheistic (see The Manifesto); and (2) what the church did in Acts was not a civil government but a church government. One might take the position that Acts tells us to have socialistic churches, but it does not speak to civil government preferences at all.

I'm surprised that there's so much resistance to the idea that we should obey evil governments, and only disobey when called upon to break God's law by that government.

Regardless, I'll change my tune when somebody points to an example in the Bible of a God-supported revolution.

I'm not saying there's never a time for a revolution, but I am saying that one should be obedient until it comes to that point because there really isn't much of a middle ground. Of course, obedience doesn't mean one can't work to effect change.

The American Revolution is almost unique in world history, as the Crown viewed putting a lid on the bubbling cauldron in the colonies as an invasion. (I just read that in "1776".) That differs from the French and other revolutions where people overthrew the seat of government in their home countries.

Seriously, though, I'm a Libertarian, I'm open to the idea that government is terrible; in fact, I'm already there. But I see nothing in Scripture that permits me to disobey President Obama, President Bush, or even my mayor, except when I'm called on by them to break God's commands, in which case I must (as in I have no choice) disobey, but accept the temporal consequences for my disobedience. See Paul, Peter, John, Stephen, etc. etc. etc.

Hippie Fringe said...

Why does everyone run to Carl Marx when "communism" is thrown out there? I lean to the Haight-Ashbury veriety and much prefer the work of Groucho, Chico & Harpo.

I strongly disagree: The early church was absolutely a form of "civil" government right down to a compulsory tax (100%) and a death penalty.

I hardly think that we are talking about revolution here or that if we were, a refusal to vote would constitute such.