In this and the next three posts, I will recapitulate the connection between religion and politics, discuss two different Christian approaches to voting, and conclude with several of my complaints about how the U.S. political process currently operates. For a fuller exposition of the appropriate interplay between religion and politics, consult these previous Ethical Musings posts: Religion and Politics - parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and Was Jesus a politician?
Briefly, when Christians pray “your Kingdom come” they acknowledge that politics and the Church are inherently and inextricably intertwined. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey in his book, The Christian Priest for Today, helpfully articulates four guiding principles for that complex relationship (pp. 33-40, freely adapted).
First, the gospel takes priority over politics. But the Christian rightly emphasizes the gospel’s message for the whole person. A gospel focused only on the explicitly spiritual has fatally compromised the gospel.
Second, the Church inevitably makes judgments about right and wrong. At its most basic, these judgments include proscribing murder, theft, dishonesty, adultery, and coveting as wrong while promoting fidelity, honesty, and human dignity as good. Pretending that the Church has nothing to say about communal life is not only disingenuous but also dishonest.
Third, the Church bears a manifold, plural witness. Consequently, Christians cannot speak authoritatively with a single voice. One implication of this diverse witness is that the Church should intentionally make room for multiple perspectives. Some Christians, for example, believe that life begins at conception. Other Christians hold divergent opinions. Thus, even though Christians agree about the sacredness of life they disagree about whether abortion is murder. Other issues on which Christians bear plural witness, most of which are less emotionally charged than is the debate over abortion, include whether all Christians should be pacifists, the proper scope and policies of public welfare programs, etc. Another implication of this diverse witness is that Christians should actively resist most efforts to legislate morality (i.e., involuntarily impose on others).
Fourth, the overarching guiding principle of Christian political participation should be to promote the reconciliation of God and creation. The alienation of God and creation is evident whenever people are treated with less than equal dignity and respect, including deprivation of basic human rights and the essentials of life, and whenever the rest of creation is treated as only a means to an end rather than as having intrinsic value because God created it.
Within those broad principles, two distinct approaches two Christian voting are discernible: character and the common good. A subsequent post explores each.