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“Lesser” or “Never,” but Together: Evangelicals and the American Presidency

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Dr. Daniel Akin, President of SEBTS

Followers of Jesus find themselves in a unique and difficult situation when it comes to this year’s presidential election. Many of us see no qualified candidate for whom to vote. At present, that is my personal conviction and position, something I have been clear about on multiple occasions and through various channels. I cannot, as I currently see things, vote for either of the major party candidates. My conscience will simply not allow it, even as I consider the voting process to be a wonderful blessing and privilege we all have in America.

There are also faithful followers of Christ, many who are close and dear friends of mine, who feel they can (and even must) vote for a “lesser of two evils” candidate. This is because so much is at stake, particularly Supreme Court appointments. I can understand and appreciate and respect their position. This is a very difficult moment for all of us, and we should be both fair and honest about this reality.

The 2016 election is important, but it is too often divisive and open to unhealthy rhetoric. At Southeastern, we want to pursue the loving and civil discourse for which our school has come to be known. We know that brothers and sisters in Christ can hold and express differing positions even as they love and respect one another.

As a picture of this, I have asked two of our ethics professors, Drs. Dan Heimbach and Mark Liederbach, to share their personal positions and approaches to this timely and increasingly crucial question. They are brothers, friends, and colleagues, and they regularly show grace and respect for each other even when they have different perspectives.

Why Evangelicals Should Not Sit Out the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Daniel Heimbach, Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at SEBTS

The 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign season has just entered the general election period, and American evangelicals now face the repellent prospect of voting for one of the major party candidates—both of whom we think is terribly flawed and dangerous—or sitting out this election either by not voting or symbolically voting for a write-in we know has no chance. I am writing to explain why I think we must vote for one of the repellent major party candidates, and why I believe sitting it out is not what God desires. All Christians want to be Christ-like and faithful to the Word of God. But we differ sometimes on what that is. I will explain why being like Christ and following his teaching leads me to think we must not sit out this election. But I respect those who love the Word of God and reach other conclusions. The important thing is desiring to honor God and willingness to be corrected by what he says.

 God does not call Christians only to vote for political candidates who reach minimal levels of acceptability. Rather he calls us to be a good influence within real world limits (Jer 29:7), which in our case means voting for a comparatively “better” candidate over a comparatively “worse” one from among those our governing system makes available. Candidates are never sinless and some are positively wicked. But that does not make those voting for an available candidate complicit in his or her flaws.

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Dr. Daniel Heimbach

Jesus paid taxes supporting the highly immoral Roman government occupying 1st century Judea (Matt 22:15-22). That did not make Jesus complicit in its failings and neither will voting for one of the available candidates in this election, even though both are flawed and dangerous.

I think sitting out this election is a version of the mistake Jesus warned not to make in the parable he told about a field of wheat mixed with tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). In that parable Jesus addressed how Christians should live in present society, and he warned against taking an all-or-nothing approach toward bettering life in common with unbelievers. The field represents mixed society under present world limitations (Matt 13:38). And, while God plans a perfect world to come (Matt 13:41), he does not make Christians responsible for reaching that perfection. Rather, for now, he only wants us to be a good influence while accepting present world limitations that are far from ideal. We are wheat, not tares. But we must accept living in mixed society with them and not weed them out (Matt 13:29-30).

We can strive for better candidates in the future. But in the 2016 Presidential race, that process is over. Our major party candidates are selected, and now all we can do is promote or undermine which is elected. Whether we vote in this election or sit it out, we must realize that whatever we do will affect the outcome. There is no option with no impact at all. Now the only way we have of influencing this election for the better is to assess which candidate is less flawed or dangerous, and then to vote for that candidate. I believe that is what Jesus expects. I believe that is what he would do in our place. And I believe that is the truest and best way to please God in this election.

Why Evangelicals Should Exercise Conscientious Objection in the 2016 Presidential Election

Dr. Mark Liederbach, Dean of Students and Professor of Theology, Ethics and Culture at SEBTS

When it appears neither of the two candidates running for president provides a positive option, questions abound about the proper way for Christian to think about voting.

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Dr. Mark Liederbach

There are some who would make the case that it is better to vote for the “lesser of two evils” candidate. Otherwise the chance to advance an agenda may be lost, or more negatively stated, the opportunity to slow a decline would be wasted.  Such a position is not the same as mere pragmatism, though it is possible to construe it as such. Giving the benefit of the doubt to right-minded Christians taking this position, we should understand that there is a genuine desire to honor the Lord by using the gift of a meaningful vote to promote good or limit evil.

On the other hand, there are those that would make the case (including myself) that there comes a time when a person’s conscience will simply not allow a vote to be cast for either candidate. This position is sometimes critiqued as a form of misguided “perfectionism” in which the voter refusing to choose one of the two leading candidates is afraid of being complicit with evil. Critics will then point out that in a fallen world everything is tainted by evil, thus a demand for such “perfectionism” is not simply unrealistic of any candidate shy of Jesus himself. When taken to its logical extreme, such an argument would make life unlivable.

I beg to differ.

While it can be argued that the “lesser of two evils” choice is sometimes necessary, such a decision assumes that only option A or B has value.  It also assumes that a clear “lesser of evils” can be determined.

But there is a third option, and it would be wrong to describe it as “throwing away a vote.” That third option is called “conscience.”

A choice to follow conscience arises when the two presented options both have such evil positions, platforms and legacies that a voter cannot in good conscience support either one. In that situation the voter can still choose to go to the polls and vote for other offices (Senate, Governor, etc) with a clearer choice, while abstaining from voting for the particular office that offers up wretched candidates (in this case President).  Such a decision can be good and wise because it honors the right and privilege we are granted to participate in our governing process while also having the backbone to say: “The time has come when I cannot face my Lord with a pure heart by voting for either of these candidates.”

In this particular election, one candidate is in the midst of likely corruption and supports an agenda that includes abortion, gender confusion, legalized euthanasia and legalized marijuana. The other has built a life on the back of gambling, pornography, bigotry, divorce, abortion and amassing a fortune by preying on the poor.

These two evils don’t seem to have a clear “lesser.”

One can support a party platform (if the voter thinks one has long-term benefits) by voting for other offices while simultaneously abstaining from voting for one of the two most wretched candidates in history.  There are times when conscientious objection grounded in an ethic of worship is the more responsible choice.  I believe this election cycle is one of those times.

A position that argues “Never Hillary & Never Trump” may not be popular, but it may well be the highest act of worship a Christian can offer.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for these two men and the gift they are to our students. My hope and prayer is that this is a model for all those who live together under the Lordship of King Jesus. We can lovingly and graciously express our views, even when we disagree, and then join hands as we continue about the business of fulfilling the Great Commission until King Jesus returns! In all of this we must remember and never forget: our hope is not and has never been in a president. It is in a King.

In Case You Missed It

Earlier this week, Dr. Bruce Ashford posted on his blog discussing the question: “Should Evangelicals be pessimistic about American politics and public life?” Dr. Ashford writes:

Concerning the past ten years in American politics and public life, one thing is for sure: many conservative evangelicals feel like the cultural ground beneath us has shifted so rapidly and so decisively that we many never regain our footing.

 

We have lost ground democratically. We realize in very tangible ways that many and maybe most Americans differ significantly with our vision of the good life. They differ from us in our view of the origin and destiny of the universe, the nature and purpose of human life in this world. They reject our view of the givenness of gender and the purpose of sexuality, and of the value of human life in the womb. They are skeptical about the value and public significance of a robust view of religious liberty. And much more. So we find it difficult to believe that we can restore a Judeo-Christian vision of the good life through democratic means.

 

Dr. Jamie Dew continues his series of posts on the ideas of Anselm in this post: “God the Maker of All Things.

Such is the title of Anselm’s 5th chapter of the Proslogion, where Anselm offers us a quick and easy reminder of who God is. It’s a short little chapter in the Proslogion, but a chapter that is vital nonetheless. Here, Anselm captures several important ideas in the Christian understanding of God, such as what God is like, how God exists, and what God has done in creation. Let me highlight 3 important truths that he sets forth.

 

Art Rainer recently shared 9 steps for transitioning from parsonage-living to home-ownership.

Parsonages are homes provided for pastors by their churches. You often see them sitting right alongside the church building. They are a benefit some churches provide that help compensate for a lower salary.

 

On a flight to St. Louis, I sat next to a pastor from North Carolina. We had a great time getting to know one another.Toward the end of the flight, he told me what I should write about. “You need to write a post on how to transition from a parsonage to owning a home.” He had clearly been contemplating about the transition for himself.

So, for those pastors out there who may be contemplating something similar, let’s take a look at nine steps for transitioning from parsonage-living to homeownership.

 

At the Intersect project website, Owen Kelly shared some thoughts on cultural hermeneutics. Owen writes:

Christians are familiar with reading God’s word. We hear the Bible read and preached every Lord’s Day. This is the most obvious way that we hear God’s voice and learn God’s will. Down through the centuries, the Church has interpreted God’s word through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and passed on Christian orthodoxy. This process of reading and interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics) is a staple of Christian life. But what about reading God’sworld? Does the created order, with its multifaceted cultural institutions, also need to be interpreted? And is there a hermeneutical principle, a process of good interpretation, which can help us to read God’s world faithfully? To all of the above, yes.

 

As American culture seems to disintegrate before our eyes, let me suggest a rule of reading which might help guide our cultural interpretation: God intends earthly things to lead us into heavenly realities. God has a certain “grammar” which he intends for creation to proclaim: “The heavens declare the glory of God…” (Psalm 19:1). The silent voice of God speaks to all creatures, and especially those human creatures imprinted with his image. When we read God’s world, his creation, we should see glimmers of his glory. But God also intends culture to convey a certain “grammar.” The “text” of culture also needs to be read well.  This cultural script is often garbled and illegible, however, because of humanity’s commitment to sin. Reading God’s world is difficult because the characters in this story (we sinners) regularly deviate from the divine plotline. Still: God intends earthly things to lead us into heavenly realities.

 

Krystal Wilson also posted this week at the Intersect Project discussing how black lives and blue lives both matter, and we don’t have to choose.

It happens all too often. I turn on the evening news and cringe at another shooting involving a white officer and black male victim. Officer-involved shooting victims such as Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Philando Castile have become household names.

Unfortunately, our thinking about these victims and discussion about these tragedies is fraught with polarization and division. Some people are pro-officers; others are pro-black lives matters. And competing voices urge us to decide: Whose side are you on?

As the daughter of a retired police officer, a former officer myself and a black woman, I have a unique perspective on these events. Here are a few things that are helpful to keep in mind.

 

In Case You Missed It

Dr. Bruce Ashford posted an article earlier this week giving seven reasons to put down your phone and pick up a book. Dr. Ashford writes:

This week, my family and I leave for a one-week vacation. In addition to relaxing at the beach with my family (if “relaxing” is what one does with children ages 6, 5, and 3) and keeping up with the Republican National Convention, I intend to do some reading. For starters, I will finish reading two fine books, Os Guinness’ Impossible People and Anthony Bradley’s Black and Tired.

 

While my mind is on vacation—and therefore on reading—I thought I’d write a brief post about the rewards of reading. In previous posts on reading, I gave 5 Tips for Determining Which Books to Read (and Which Not to Read) and 4 Tips on How to Get the Most from Your (Non-Fiction) Reading. But in this post, I want to focus on some of the benefits accrued from building a life-long habit of reading. Among the many rewards, here are seven.

 

At the Intersect Project website, Walter Strickland writes discussing that if you are living for the weekend, you are working for the wrong reasons.

The song “Livin’ for the Weekend” was made and remade because it resonated with the American workforce. Each Monday, laborers punch the clock with the thrill of the weekend behind them and the dread of another workweek ahead. For many, five of seven days each week are a necessary evil, endured to pay the bills arising from a weekend of leisure. Many workers dream of becoming wealthy enough to escape the rigors and monotony of the workplace. For them, work is a curse to be escaped.

 

Jonathan C. Edwards posted an insightful article at his blog titled: “Thanks to Seminary, I’m Dumber than I Was.” Jonathan writes:

8 years ago I found myself in my first seminary classroom. I was nervous. I was hesitant. I was skeptical.

 

I was a lot of things.

 

Among all those things, I was arrogant. I thought it was going to be such a joy ride over the next several years as I earned a degree that certified I knew more than the average Christian and could speak with authority on a variety of topics.

 

The professor walked in and addressed the aspiring pastor theologians and said something I will never forget. He spoke eloquently about the glory of God and the majesty that is the Resurrected Christ. He spoke humbly concerning the deep things of our Heavenly Father and how that had changed him, humbled him, and made him forever grateful for the sacrifice of Jesus. He then said these words:

 

When you graduate from this institution, the goal is not for you to be smarter than you are right now. The goal is that you have less knowledge and have a deeper awareness of all that you don’t know. The goal is humility, not arrogance. In a sense, you will graduate dumber than you are. That’s the goal.

 

At the Blazing Center, Matt Rogers writes of his fear of falling off of his own platform.

Another week passes, and another painful story about a prominent pastor surfaces. The details vary, but I’ve noticed one common theme. It seems that the very traits that cause a man to rise to prominence invariably lead to his demise. The personality traits that allowed him to climb the mountain of ministry, and do so with relative success, often push him off the mountain on the other side.

 

A new pastor longs to do something great for God, and he does—but then this drive causes him to base ministry success on how prominent he feels and how big of a platform he has created. Another pastor’s charisma allows him to engage a new culture with ease—but then this charm fosters an improper relationship with a woman in the church. Or, a pastor is a savvy leader, knowing how to put money and people in play in a way to maximizes strengths and minimizes weaknesses—but then this ingenuity leads to underhanded financial practices that disqualify him from ministry.

 

It seems that this trend does not merely apply to those who have achieved some national level of fame. It’s not just those who preach to big crowds, write bestselling books, or are sought-after conferences speakers. Countless other pastors and ministry leaders crash every day. We’ll likely never hear of them, but I’d guess the process is much the same in every case.

 

At the Intersect Project, Nathaniel Williams gives four ways to pray for Baton Rouge.

Last Sunday, we awoke to yet another tragedy. Three law enforcement officers were killed and three more injured in Baton Rouge, mere weeks after the death of Alton Sterling.

 

As I saw the horrific news develop, I wanted to know how I could pray for this city reeling in pain and division. So I reached out to Katie Harris, a friend who serves in Baton Rouge with AmeriCorps. Since she lives and ministers within the city, I knew she’d be able to help me know how to pray.

 

She offered four ways I can pray for the city. I hope that these help you pray as well.

 

Chris Martin recently shared three ways the church can fight against worshiping work more than Jesus. Chris writes:

Everyone is always busy. We have so much to do all the time. We all have our reasons, right?

 

For some of us, we can’t learn to say “No” when others ask us to volunteer for projects or sit on boards. For others of us, it’s because of our kids, who “can’t drive themselves to band practice, you know.” Some of us, unfortunately, keep ourselves busy because it makes us feel important.

 

Then there are those of us who are too busy because we worship our work, no matter how much we enjoy it or hate it, because we worship the provision and security it provides.