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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

Trevin Wax posted an article at The Gospel Coalition showing that we should stop assuming our neighbors are hostile to our faith.

Some of the headlines are ominous. The value of religious liberty is on the decline. Many Americans consider normal Christian beliefs to be “extreme”—Christianity’s foundational truths (such as, Jesus is the only way to God) or Christianity’s moral vision (Jesus’s strict sexual ethic). In some quarters, our faith is no longer merely strange; it’s bad—detrimental a free and pluralistic society.

 

The evil one would love nothing more than to have these recent developments shut up Christians or to stir up in us a fear of rejection.

Dr. Jamie Dew recently posted about how to turn your children’s mistakes into learning experiences by asking them “What did you learn?” Dr. Dew writes:

What is your first reaction when your children make a “childish” mistake? By “childish”, I mean something like spilling milk, dropping your phone in the toilet, throwing a golf ball through a window, or ripping the wallpaper off the wall. I’m not referring to malicious acts of the will like hitting a brother, lying to a parent, or refusing to obey. Let’s consider those kinds of things later. For now, let’s think about our response to childish mistakes that kids make. The kind of mistakes that kids make because they are kids.

 

I’ll admit it, if I’m not careful, my first reaction to these kinds of mistakes is anger. With four kids, there have been plenty of moments when something went wrong and I responded in a way was is understandable, but not helpful. So, how do you respond? Do you have a default way of responding? Most of us do.

 

At The Wardrobe Door, Aaron Earls shared 8 ways churches can capitalize on Pokémon Go.

Pokemon Go has quickly become a cultural phenomenon and, whether you realize it or not, that’s a big deal for churches. Let me explain. The app mixes the popular video game with an augmented reality form of geocaching. In essence, you travel around in the real world, trying to catch Pokemon that show up on your smartphone. The game shot to the top of both iPhone and Android app charts, as millions of people around began their quest to “catch ’em all.”

 

Here’s why churches should care. Part of the game features going to PokeStops, which are real life buildings and landmarks that allow players to obtain needed items. Churches are often used this way. In fact, every church we drove past this weekend was a PokeStop or gym—from a gigantic megachurch to a tiny fundamentalist church. So what can a church do to capitalize on this? Here are some practical steps to hopefully move the gamers from your steps to your pews.

 

This has lead to some interesting situations for many unchurched gamers. Some exclaimed how this would be the first time in years they have been to a church.

 

My friend Chris Martin of Millennial Evangelical noted how he saw several young guys sitting on the steps of a downtown church because it was a Pokemon Gym. (He has also written a helpful post on why pastors and church leaders should care about Pokemon Go.)

 

So what can a church do to capitalize on this? Here are some practical steps to hopefully move the gamers from your steps to your pews.

At Dr. Dew’s blog, Dr. Steven Ladd posted an invitation to Logic. Dr. Ladd writes:

One of the great joys I have in academic life is teaching an undergraduate course in traditional logic. It is also called formal, predicate, term, or syllogistic logic, but because Aristotle’s method for making valid arguments was the earliest treatment of the subject (Prior Analyticsand De Interpretatione in Aristotle’s larger work Organon), his method developed into the traditional version taught for centuries also known as Aristotelian logic. All refer to the same discipline, however, and it has generally been taught to young people (middle school age) as the way to develop clarity in the reasoning process.

 

Nothing could be more relevant in the twenty-first century, especially for Christians seeking to engage a world increasingly hostile to the worldview found in Scripture.

Walter Strickland shared a helpful post on his blog giving some thoughts for church gatherings after #AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile & #Dallas.

Dear Pastor/Church Leader,

 

It has been said that the thoughtful Christian holds the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  The events of this week have gripped our hearts and made us cling to the promises of Scripture.

 

Church leaders from Sunday school/small group leaders to senior pastors are asking the question, should these events be mentioned in our Sunday morning service?  If so, what does that look like?

 

Matt Capps shared the following post on his personal blog: “This is my son.

This is our precious son.

 

We have taught him about MLK, and that Americans have not always been nice to brown skinned people.

 

But, it breaks my heart to think that one day I will have to fully explain to him the complex brokenness of our world.

 

One day I will have to fully explain our country’s disgraceful history of racial discrimination.

 

One day I will have to help him understand that we, as a country, have not fully moved beyond these racial issues.

 

Thankfully, I will also get to point him to the coming day that we read about in Revelation 21.

 

The day when our loving Father “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the former things will have passed away.”

 

On that day, God will “make all things new.”

 

On that day every believer, from every “tribe and people”, will “stand before the throne and before the Lamb”, as one (Revelation 7).

 

How long, O Lord?

In Case You Missed It

Dave Miller posted a helpful article recently at SBC Voices about how not everything is a “gospel” issue—but race is!

I’m not a fan of buzzwords. If a word becomes such you can pretty much bank on it that I’m not likely to use it. I’ve used the word missions a handful of times in recent years but I avoid it because it’s both nebulous and omnipresent.

 

Unfortunately, the word “gospel” has become such a word in some circles. I have come to the point where I almost never use the word unless I am specifically referring to the gospel story of Christ’s salvation. If I enumerated my specific complaints it would be counter-productive and we would most certainly find ourselves on several tangents. But chief among those complaints is the tendency to make every issue a gospel issue. “This touches on the gospel.” “This is at the heart of the gospel.” There are many issues on which we can disagree and the gospel isn’t touched.

 

But race, racial reconciliation, and the combating of racism in any form in the church is a gospel issue.

 

Aaron Earls posted an article at his blog, The Wardrobe Door titled: “I’m Right Here With You.” Aaron writes:

As I sat down to write about Alton Sterling and the response of white conservative Christians, I had to stop and weep. Another video of another police shooting began trending on social media.

 

Honestly, I need to do more listening than talking during moments like this, but I also need to write to process. And I can’t help but feel my silence would be louder and more hurtful than any stumbling attempt to work through it. Philando Castile was shot in his car, in front of his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter. He died later at the hospital.

 

There are still numerous facts and information that will come out over the next few days that will hopefully provide greater clarity to the events surrounding these now two shootings involving police officers and black men. I don’t know those facts and neither do most others, but I don’t have to wait for facts to grieve with those who are grieving and seek to share their burden with them.

 

Dr. Bruce Ashford recently shared 4 tips for getting the most from your non-fiction reading.

Recently, I wrote a post on 5 Tips for Determining Which  Books to Read (and Not to Read). As a follow up to that post, and in answer to a number of questions I received, here are four tips on how to get the most from your (non-fiction) reading.

 

Micah Fries posted an article at The Gospel Coalition website about how your missiology can miss the gospel. Micah writes:

What do you think of when you consider a church that contextualizes the gospel?

 

Maybe you think of some uber-contemporary worship service with a pastor arrayed in trendy fashions and a band with just the right blend of tattoos, skinny jeans, and facial hair. “Contextualization” equals “cool.” Or so we seem to think.

 

But what if that perception misses the point completely? What if equating contextualization with the coolest version of ourselves actually contradicts biblical contextualization altogether?

 

Perhaps our poor assumptions about contextualization are why many view the concept as a perversion of the gospel. But this view fails to see that contextualization is found all across Scripture. Even the traditionalist pastor who preaches against contextualization while leading a congregation of formally dressed hymn-singers contextualizes the gospel.

 

In light of this observation, I’d like to commend an understanding of contextualization shaped by God’s Word.

 

Here is a helpful post from Dr. Jamie Dew titled: “Handy Dad, Handy Sons.

I’m a dad and I love it. I do the same kinds of projects that my dad did with me, but I often fail to include my boys the way he did with me. As I reflect on this, I realize that neglecting this prevents my boys from learning how to do things and prevents them from having the same fond memories with me that I now have of time with my dad. I can do better and fortunately, my boys are now old enough that they want to learn. I look forward to the years ahead of us!

Join us in praying for our country. We are indeed a land of, “Liberty and justice for all,” regardless of the color of one’s skin or the uniform one wears.