Writings by Cole Huffman

Decision 2016

What does voting in presidential elections have to do with love for neighbor?

My neighbors aren’t all the same. My unborn neighbor, for instance, certainly appreciates a candidate for high office who believes his person is entitled to protections. That same candidate might deploy my military neighbor to the Middle East, depriving his baby of his presence for months at a time, maybe even permanently. My candidate may accept God’s designs for human sexuality as fixed and my neighbor rejects that. To love my neighbor is to seek his good in a way that glorifies God, and we have multiple means for this.

No voter is without biases. Like with motivations (always multiple and frequently mixed) none of us look at any single issue straight on without a host of factors in periphery, some we recognize and some we don’t. Politics stir passions like little else, though one year from now I anticipate witnessing a remarkable recurrence: the peaceful transference of ultimate American power.

While there are still evangelicals who need to be disabused of civil religionist revivalism (the kingdom of God arrives on Air Force One) and bullying (if you don’t vote you’re sinning against God), love for neighbor is really the reason why we don’t neglect the public square. That and there’s also the bulwark factor, as even Richard Dawkins acknowledged in a 2010 interview with the Times of London: “I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, insofar as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”

Christians themselves need to bulwark against unrealistic expectations of candidates or falling for pandering. As of this writing some Republican contenders are promising to rollback LGBT rights, redress Obergefell. That’s swinging for the fences when smarter base running is needed. Our public square energies are better spent advocating for basic religious liberty protections, much like how the pro-life movement has successfully and resiliently worked for protections for the unborn in a culture that still justifies abortion.

We’re navigating a hyper-secularizing society. Most evangelicals seem to understand now that Christians are no longer the home team, as Duane Litfin put it in a 2014 chapel message at Dallas Seminary. It’s like learning how to parent a drug addict. The parents hope he’ll awaken to his self-destruction. They try so much to help him. But he keeps using, not just to get high but because he can’t feel normal anymore without getting high. I remember reading about one couple’s saga with their drug-addled son. His mother found her way forward when she said to him: “When you die, I just need to know if you want your body buried or cremated.”

Suddenly, she was free. Her son’s addiction wasn’t going to dictate her outlook anymore. She knew there was little she could do to fix him. Her longing for him to be healthy never waned and she didn’t cease loving him. What she ceased doing was dying a thousand deaths awaiting his.

I think that experience is instructive for people who keep thinking the church will someday fix America, and thus still put too much hope in elections or legislative sessions. Leaders can do a lot of good. Good laws restrict evil. But the human heart isn’t changed by law. The Bible tells us that.

The Bible doesn’t tell us whom to vote for but it does tell us the difference between the wise and the fool. No one gets everything he wants from presidential candidates. My assessment of a candidate’s fitness for office centers around whether he can do a difficult job, first and foremost, but also whether voting for him is consistent with God’s call to seek my neighbor’s good—my rich neighbor and my poor one, neighbors whose views align with mine and neighbors who don’t.

Some evangelical leaders, seeking to detangle evangelicalism from politicization, have overcorrected in the interests of greater gospel-centeredness. We’ve created a false choice for followers of Jesus. It’s not politics or the gospel. The gospel is our witness. Political processes afford one means to bear that witness if I can help elect those who govern with competency and integrity, those who will help me seek my neighbor’s good in God-glorifying ways.

Voting is nowhere near the best means of loving my neighbor. I may not even have a candidate I can in good conscience support. What about voting for the lesser of two evils? On that I think of Jotham’s parable in Judges 9, about the trees looking to anoint a king over them. Only the bramble was willing, a small prickly bush. But in his acceptance speech the bramble said he wanted to burn down all the cedars of Lebanon! The lesser of evils may not in fact do less evil.

Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians on giving (2 Corinthians 8–9) parallels to voting, I think. He says giving is not a command but an act of grace and proof of love. As to governing authorities the church is biblically commanded to obey them, so long as they don’t contravene Scripture, and pray for them. Voting then is largely a matter of conscience guided by what’s glorifying to God. Loving my neighbor is a command.

My prayer when stepping into the presidential voting booth: May this be the last time I ever do this. Come, Lord Jesus, and put it all right as only you can.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 9:13 AM
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