Friday, July 11, 2008

"But how can a Christian vote for Obama?"

I have a friend who is a pastor at one of the historically black churches in West Palm Beach. I was visiting his church a while back and noticed in their fellowship hall a bulletin board celebrating Barack Obama with pictures and news articles on his historic victory in the Democratic primary. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of politics in the church, but I understand where these folks are coming from. I wouldn't feel right in criticizing them either, since I know that in the Sunday School building of my own church there's a large, glossy photo of George W. Bush displayed.

Tomorrow morning I'll be gathering with a group of Christians from various churches to pray for our city. At least half of the group will be African American, and I'd guess that many of them will be voting for Obama. There might even be some "O" bumper stickers in the parking lot. I have Christian friends (of various skin colors) who are vocal Obama backers. These aren't wishy-washy people, but brothers and sisters who I'm blessed to know and labor with to advance the gospel. I won't be asking them the question above, conversely I won't be asking "how can a Christian vote for McCain?"

I say all that to introduce the following article from Eric Redmond. I found it helpful and enlightening. Redmond is a Southern Baptist pastor and blogger from Maryland who's part of a fresh, new breed within the SBC. I encourage you to read his entire piece (HERE), but I especially wanted to share his summation. It points out how all of us bring mixed motives into the voting booth, and I think points a way forward toward election year advocacy that doesn't do harm to the church of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you or I will feel compelled to try and change a fellow believer's mind about a candidate or issue in the months ahead, but doing it by casting aspersions on one's commitment to Christ (or the Bible) will be counterproductive. Redmond writes:

I should also say that even the most simul justus et peccator among us vote both righteously and selfishly at the same time. As I have said elsewhere,

Preserving what we each value the most serves as the motivation for almost everyone’s vote. It would be difficult to find anyone who votes from a purely selfless stance, i.e., “this is in the best interest of the entire country.” Rather, we each vote from either a “survival” or “success” stance. Those who have experienced financial and/or material success generally care about issues that will ensure that such success is maintained. Issues of survival seem trite to them. In contrast, those attempting to survive, or to get to a certain level of social achievement—whether that is to gain the American Dream so as to get out of coal mining and Black Lung disease, to get out of a neighborhood of poorer schools and crime to the suburbs, or to keep from losing all they have earned in life—generally do not concern themselves with the issues of the successful. They want mobility, access, opportunity and aid.

What person of success would selflessly vote in the interest of those needing aid at his own expense? And what citizen simply trying to survive would vote for smaller government, although this would certainly be the wisest and best choice for any successful business owner? Yet believers are called to consider others better than themselves, to deny themselves, and to care for the poor, needy and oppressed. This calling cannot be set aside as one exercises one’s right to suffrage (”Believers at the Ballot Box,” Beauty for Ashes Magazine [July/August, 2008]).

While it might seem a contradiction for Christian African Americans to vote for Senator Obama, each of us votes with many contradictions in both the righteous and selfish hopes of having the best possible earthly government and society. Such hopes yield appointments of pro-life justices and unjust war decisions. But when we “pull the lever,” we vote our consciences, our blind spots, and unknown future actions of our candidates and those in their selected cabinets and staff. At best, going to the ballot box as believers is one great act of hope in the God who rules all things for good, who “removes kings and sets up kings,” and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” (Dan. 2:21; 4:34). It is best that we look to his Son for true hope, identity and justice. This is the only way any of us will stop throwing cards on the table each election cycle.

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