So I view this as a follow-up to the piece I wrote on Religious Freedom & Legislating Morality which this is basically the other side of the coin. They are basically the same idea. Since the Roy Moore debacle has ended, thank God, there is still a principle to discuss. The noise gets louder when a vote draws near. We get to vote on very few actual laws but when we do we should always consider the moral implications of such or weigh the policy if it is innocuous. But sure some are just policy and as such benign.
But what about for a person? I mean a person is not as binary as a moral position. In a moral situation, you find “yes this is the good” and the “no, this is a violation of the good”, earmarks aside, sometimes it is that easy. But what if it is not, what if it comes to a more complicated issue like a person, with hopes, fears, beliefs, actions both good and bad, history both good and bad, intentions, convictions, and even faith? They are not black or white, except in skin color, maybe, but a person is more nuanced. So even while a person may be all these things, and often are, their politics might be pretty straightforward. What are we voting for again? They are for the most part–all fallen people. This becomes the challenge, if their policies are good then isn’t that enough? Maybe…
Now when it comes to positions of authority in the church there definitely are moral requirements. Go read Timothy and Titus. But what about public representatives? They are clearly different from Pastors, so are the standards changed, are we sub-Christian if we allow the requirements to slide a bit? Does a senator have to have been the husband of only one woman and have his house in order? Well it would be nice if we could simply vote party lines and many do just that, but when moral issues of their hearts come to the surface, we need to take them into consideration…don’t we?
The truth is it is easier to vote for a person by assuming that because they are on our side politically, then they are decent people. We assume this because we believe this in general about people and especially about ourselves. We don’t want to see the inner workings of their hearts and lives because quite frankly we understand we are not all that shiny, but what if we don’t know this?
This becomes the breakdown, how deep into someone’s past should we dredge up in order to find nothing but sunshine in order to vote? When do we do this in any other situation? In most cases the people we interact with and do business with were not put there partly because of our own input, nor would we care too much as long they performed their jobs well. How close must personal innocence and electability be?
First, we should consider what guilty actually is. As Christians we understand that we are all guilty with sin natures and active participation, so what sins are problematic? Well, the criminal should be obvious. If they are in trouble with the law, they shouldn’t be lawmakers. However, it is important to remember that we can never jump to judgments before the case is heard. This is that whole do not judge thing and quite frankly why Jesus says it. We don’t judge because as Jesus says for the measure you use will be used against you. (Matthew 7:2) Here is the point: Do we want people condemning us on only an accusation or with actual evidence, or as the Bible says–on two or three witnesses? One person is never enough. Each case needs to be examined. But after a while, enough smoke means a fire doesn’t? But without evidence ever surfacing the fire could be many things. Such as, something is fishy with this guy, or somebody got too close to the fire? It could also be a political hit job, or maybe somebody left the oven on? We rarely know at the beginning. Remember Potipher’s wife, people can lie. We must never forget the proverbs on this.
The person who speaks first seems right until another comes and examines him and it is a foolish person who answers a matter before he has heard it out. (Proverbs 18:17 and 18:13)
Let’s respond to all of this, but make sure we are siding with the actual victims by hearing the matter out. Part of being moral is patience. The second point is political shrewdness is also a thing. Jesus teaches the parable of the unjust manager to point out how the world is better than believers at dealing with their own generation. (Luke 16:1-13) Jesus says the world is better at their dealings with their own kingdom of money/power than the sons of light are at investing in the Gospel. His point is Christians are to invest and focus in kingdom endeavors and not earthy goals. Using the example of money to bring about more people into the eternal dwellings. The focus of the parable is just as the world is good at gaining the prize so should the sons of God be about the good end of eternity. This is hard and btw this is actually the fascinating thing about Game of Thrones, now I haven’t watched the show-I’ve seen enough sin, but the first book is basically about how those who always follow the virtuous path and pursue what’s right only, will be crushed in the political game of thrones. It takes shrewdness to make it in that arena. That which even Jesus admits the world is better at us in. So…
Now I say this because we are never to adopt a similar approach where anything goes for our political ends, that is the world’s game. As much as we never adopt underhanded ways, we should recognize what the world is doing: such as excusing their own while charging us who actually live it, just for the goal of office. So it is always worth asking the question what are the ends? It is important to recognize that while not all individual policies and measures themselves are dire to Christian thinking, they do as a composite build a worldview that either fosters or fights Judeo-Christian values.
So the question comes back to us as Christians when we see sides attempting to build two different Kingdoms, which Kingdom fosters Kingdom values? Not specifically facilitating the gospel, but which allows it to continue? Then ask, how do we weigh it when all the players seem a bit dirty? This is why Christians, in general, like smaller government because we understand more government means more sinfully flawed men. Further, you have to ask yourself what are you prepared to undertake for said Kingdom to be established? The Founding Father’s were prepared to go to war over it, even though said Founding Fathers were often morally fraught. Yes, Washington owned slaves, was, therefore, all his work on the revolution worthless? MLK was a known womanizer up to the very end, does that undermine all his work? I should hope not.
So we have to be aware of tactics in our midst. We have to recognize that similar arguments have and will continue to be used to stymie the process of said political opposition. But should we really care if he inhaled in his past? That is the shrewdness the world is better at. So the question is do we let that win? Or should we just not care and focus on the Gospel? Does the political arena affect the work of the Gospel? If it does, then are there not additional morals to consider beyond character flaws?
Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. (Exodus 18:21)
When Moses was overcome with ruling the people he was advised to raise up others to handle the day-to-day governing. (Exodus 18) The counsel that Moses was given when taking on the job of simply organizing and leading the men, a job apart from teaching the law, was to be left to trustworthy men, who hate bribes and fear God. It wasn’t a moral purity that matched God’s but it was a basic fear of God and a basic observance of justice. They didn’t have to keep the law in perfection but they had to have a healthy reminder of who was ultimately in charge–not themselves but God, and a sense of accountability. They had to have a healthy grasp of justice for people–they ruled for the sake of others. It wouldn’t have been a scandal to learn that these same leaders also had to show up to make sacrifices as well. Now certain laws would have resulted in immediate disqualification like some required the death penalty then and there, so don’t do that.
We must remember it is not a question of if sin is present but which sin undermines this position? I don’t want to create my own hierarchy of sins so I want the Bible to speak to this for us. Now, these same requirements from Exodus are the charges that are brought against the sons of Samuel in 1st Samuel 8. It was this same idea, not of perfection in the law, but of concern for justice over gain, a sense of accountability beyond themselves, and refusing to walk after God. The same with King David who was mostly good, but committed some major sins which didn’t disqualify him from ruling, it could have but he responded to Nathan and went on ruling. There were consequences but God didn’t immediately remove him. Here is the kicker, he responded in repentance when his perversion of justice was called out to him.
Similarly, when Saul sinned he was disqualified and God distanced himself. Even though he did carry on ruling for a time. The difference was Saul took it upon himself to rule on God’s declared edicts for sacrifice. He was undermining God’s system and he took authority where it was not his. He took rule into his hand where it wasn’t his. He usurped his role to control the people. He rejected God and God rejected him. It wasn’t personal sin but a thumbing his nose at God. Hmm…Again similarly the apostle Paul who was a persecutor of the church. Who took part in murder’s was forgiven and still able to serve. So a dark past does not define the current person necessarily.
One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. (Deuteronomy 17:15)
Another stipulation was God also tells them to place a man in charge who is among their own. In other words, that shared values and definitions of what a working community is. King David agreed that murder and adultery were wrong even though he needed some help recognizing it in his own life. A foreigner would mean someone with completely different understandings of what a good people is. Another god means another set of standards to live by. Another culture means another set of morality and another sense of worship. In other words, put people in place who share your values for life and who honor your God which are mine–God says.
In the Old Testament, it was always these two issues that created the identity of an Evil King: they lead the people away from God and perverted justice for the people. I don’t want to make excuses for the sins of others especially gross sins, but neither do I want to condemn someone when there is a political shrewdness going on in our midst. I do not want to undermine the vessels, though spotty, who actually uphold a sense of justice and an acknowledgment of God that he raises up. God allowed Kings many wives, concubines etc. It was justice he was concerned about.
But isn’t that a slippery slope? When does the morality become a factor? It is always also the standard. If their morality is a perversion of justice then we have a genuine disqualification. For instance, the sin of bribery is by definition an abortion of justice. But, can I say this? that is worse than a history with some sexual sin in it. This should be obvious because immediately we understand that the world differs with us on definitions of sexual sin. Remember we are parsing qualifications for electability, not whether the sin needs to be repented of–that is always the case, always. But a man with a wandering eye is not the same as a man looking to trade policy for more funding, at least as far as being a public servant goes. He still has legitimate heart problems. This is about learning which heart problems disqualify. Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:12 says: what have we to do with judging the outsider, is it not the insider we are to judge? We aren’t supposed to leave the world where sinners live nor necessarily to demand they live by our standards, our main message should be the Gospel which does address those things but in a different order.
I don’t see the danger of the slippery slope in regards to excusing morals but of the demanding them. I say this because as Paul says we are not to judge the outside world for living as the outside world lives. They are merely fulfilling their function, the same function we did before we knew Christ. Should we have been run out of our own jobs for the sins in our lives? This is why general sinning is not a disqualification for public leadership. Character absolutely matters, when the questions of the criminality come to surface all accusations should be chased down to discover the outcome. If remaining I want to know what their character is informing them to actually do? The position they fill is not an arbiter of truth, but of a maker of policy.
Someone may fail in their personal journey but what is the good they are committing to bringing to fruition? That’s the moral question for me.
A commitment to uphold justice for others and honor God is the most important for office, for me to consider. Convictions from character inform those. All others are factors that build your values, all sin is present in every individual. Even a Christian seeking to serve will have had a dark past, so the mere presence of sin can’t be an eliminating factor. To err is human, and forgiveness is divine. As a previous post on this idea said, if we adopt an I only vote for Christian approach we will be left out of much influence on the secular state, and then don’t be surprised when the godless sector grows.
We have done a disservice to the Gospel if the world thinks that moral perfection is our message or even our standard. Psst…it is not theirs either. It is a misunderstanding that the purpose of the church is to run around cleaning everyone’s noses, we simply use the flowing snot to point to a deeper truth, that we all need God. I don’t want to be the police inspector Javeat chasing around Jean Valjean. A follow-up question to sin in someone’s past should be, have they sought forgiveness, or made it right? Not, which hole should we bury them it? King David repented and so must we as Christians demand morality from our leaders, as Nathan did absolutely, but while holding mercy in the forefront and grace to the side, immorality can be repented of.
Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips. (Proverbs 25:19)
But convictions aren’t something that people change their minds on easily. I could find a moral person whose plans for the country completely undermine Judeo-Christian and even basic free thinking. I am not interested in who is the shiniest but whose plans for the country actually make it better, at least as far as casting a vote goes. It is a different goal from different values and those take longer to change than repentance from sin which is always calling.
This is why we have to remind ourselves of end goals. My end goal is the gospel which allows preservation of justice and a society that continues to honor God. There are many aberrations in the hearts of men and thankfully I do not know them all, nor want to, so we obviously must come to the politics themselves, unless criminal charges are at hand. The apostle Paul is even willing to overlook greed in a man’s heart who preaches the Gospel, not because greed wasn’t a problem that needed addressing, but in the church, the end goal is the gospel. So if a man has bad motives and a money problem Paul was still happy knowing the Gospel was being preached. It was only when the end goal of the Gospel was undermined that he came out guns blazing.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1)
If Paul is able to adopt that approach to even the Gospel then shouldn’t we adopt a similar view of something far less important than the Gospel? A question to consider.
So perhaps it might be worth telling the world that our end goal is the Gospel and free exercise of our faith and not necessarily moral perfection. Morality is important because it reflects God but his people will make mistakes, and forgiveness is the very message from God. The fostering of purity comes about because of the work of God in our lives, it is never an external job that we bid out for. If we were to play the strictly moral game the world would be shocked to learn that a lot less of them would qualify than they think. Let me put this out here to make an example because clearly morality is not a similar thing across the board. Should a Christian ever vote for a homosexual? Those demanding a morality across the board that should be a point of contention for us would be horrified to learn that we might consider that as a condition to building the moral case if push came to shove. We have to make clear our positions is that people are fallen and need forgiveness while recognizing that the political game tries to pander to us when it wants our vote…shrewdness, remember.
I don’t ever want to trade morals for politics. We are voting for moral ends not the hearts of men. It would behoove us to have a standard of morality that asks first: is this person attempting to build a society that promotes justice, as laid down by the Founding Fathers who were attempting to bring God into the system? Is it one that actively promotes and honors God or not? Ask that first, then realize they are fallen and then examine how their personal sin undermines those goals. See how they respond when sin surfaces, always remembering the requirements for an accusation to stand.
Obviously, their character can undermine their message, so look at it. Does their record agree with what their mouths are saying or not? That is more important than flies in the soups of their past. Shrewdness is something we need to learn also. I can honor Christ while becoming aware of the tricks of politics and the name calling of the enemy. In fact, we are called to, as Jesus tells us to be as crafty as a snake but innocent as doves.
Without a blanket standard, this often ends up being which fly in which bowl of soup? When you play that game you quickly realize everyone is willing to overlook something for their side. Specific sins aside what about timetables? The Old Testament allowed for jubilation after enough years had passed. The manslaughter-er was released after the death of the high priest. So what sins left unsaid for twenty plus years should we be forced to care about today? Don’t we have the statute of limitations for these things? Can’t people change and grow? Shouldn’t we allow them to move on? Isn’t Christianity based on the idea of forgiveness and how people can change? They will give account if they are hiding something, will they not?
I am not here to tell you to yes vote or no don’t in this or that, but to think through the why? This is why I waited till now to post this. This is one of those things we have to have a clear conscience before God. This is a Romans 14 thing. If your faith allows you to pursue the greater good then do it, and if not then don’t. But we don’t need to be stifled by the world which doesn’t know God who wants to charge us on such things when they are really just concerned about a particular guy for a particular office for a particular side. Gain a heart of wisdom in all this, they are shrewd we are often not.
The point is I don’t see a hard and fast rule for this. When weighing a person for office I see someone legitimately withholding a vote for moral reasons and I see someone moving forward because of a possible bigger picture to the worldview approach. Or I see it as simply using a vote as a tool against something darker, a necessary rendering to Caesar. It is too easy to condemn each other because we don’t end at the same place. But that’s called virtue signaling, not Christianity. We never adopt the notion that sin doesn’t matter because it always matters, we never minimize and we never excuse our side, we always press for accountability but always withhold judgment till the actual due process is served.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean being scared into inaction every time moral charges are flung in our faces. Let’s see if they stick, let’s see if they are consistent, let’s see if this political maneuvering, let’s see if the players involved actually honor God or are they paying lip service, let’s see… Just like Hollywood swearing to leave the country and screaming for moral perfection in others have since been silenced. Let’s see…We are to be wise and yes Holy, but Holy means separate and special to God not perfect. We’ll get to that next time.