Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We Are Not Voting For a Savior

The best and most coherent “endorsement” for Barack Obama that I have seen, not surprisingly, comes from The Economist. They acknowledge that Obama is a gamble, but one the United States should make. What follows is a plea that I don’t think we should, for reasons different than what you might expect.

I know, I’m exposing the information that is supposed to be just between me and the ballot box (like you didn’t already know). I commented recently in response to Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama that I don’t take endorsements seriously unless they come from someone who has held or at least run for the position they are endorsing. For that reason, I don’t expect you to take my “endorsement” seriously, but I hope you do take my reasons seriously and at least consider the implications of them. Please believe that there is great concern and great love and great depth and explanation behind each of these reasons (except maybe for the ones trying to make this like a Letterman Top 10 List); but for the sake of brevity (um...define brevity?) I’ll leave mostly unsaid what might be obvious anyway. You will do with it what you will.

Let me say by way of disclaimer that I didn’t want to get this political this season on this blog. My intention is to present the simple truth of the Gospel to our complex culture, and I’ve justified these types of posts saying that politics is a clear contributor to this complexity. But please know that the main reason I am being so outspoken about this election is that I have legitimate concerns with what I see the political campaigns, specifically of Barack Obama, saying about, and doing to, our culture. So what I am doing here is confessing that I have concerns that are out of my control that I’m giving to the Lord through my expression and trusting Him to do what He will for the ultimate good of all those who love Him. If you disagree, please don't get mad at me, but just understand my agony, which is for your good, and know that I am no perfect man. I hope that not only the act of my expressing such concerns in this way, but also the nature of the concerns itself, will capture your attention and cause you to take them seriously if for nothing else than to understand better the intricate balance between Christ and culture; and when in doubt never compromise Christ. I was humbled to read John Piper’s article Let Christians Vote as Though They Were Not Voting. That’s really what I want to do.

Because at the end of the day, through all the elections, economics, politics, wars, and disasters, my trust, my hope, and my salvation is not found in any president or any government. It is in the God of the Universe and only by the grace, and only because of the Cross, of Jesus Christ. God is Sovereign and his glory will not be mocked and his plans will not be thwarted. His Son Jesus Christ has the supremacy and will reign forever. That is good news. May our elections and our country and our government glorify Him in all we do, and honor the original foundation of our nation, which was in God, not in government.

So, with that said, here are my (hopefully humble and as informed as possible) Top 10 Reasons I’m Voting for John McCain:

10. My name is Joe.

9. McCain says he will balance the budget in his first (read: only) term. I don’t believe him, but at least he is going to try.

8a. The media is voting for Obama, and they are annoying. For the record, Keith Olbermann is the most opinionated and unprofessional journalist in the history of this country, and I bet his network will realize that soon enough. Until then, I’m inclined to do the opposite of what he says, and vote the opposite of how he would vote. Maybe I’ll get on his worst person in the world segment. That would be an honor.

8b. It should be unconstitutional to have one party control both the Executive and Legislative Branch as dominantly as would be the case in an Obama Administration in 2009. I learned about checks and balances in high school sometime, but I forget how it works. Can someone explain it to me?

7. Joe the Plumber. Yes, I know, his publicity is a bit ridiculous, but his logic is undeniable, and some have rightly observed that he explains the Republican philosophy on taxes better than John McCain. This should not be as much an indicator on the inability of McCain to explain his points, as it should be that his points are logical and in the best interest of the country. That he can’t explain them as well as an average Joe is less important than the fact that they are good points. I’d rather support poorly explained logical arguments than well explained idiotic ones (if I had to choose). As a sidenote, McCain could also rightly argue that labor unions send jobs overseas and are not in the best interest of workers. This is a fact. (Look at the automotive and electronic industries, to name a couple). Obama would eliminate the requirement of secret ballots and make them very easy to organize. Unions will lead small businesses to have less employees, which does not go well with a 'jobs agenda'. The fact that he doesn't argue this is irrelevant to the truth of the argument. Obama knows how to campaign and dish rhetoric. McCain knows how to fight and lead. Which you would rather have is what I think is being decided on November 4.
6. People who need help (What people, Derek?). Not raising taxes on those who make more than $250,000 (or is it $200,000 now?) will not only encourage growth, motivate hard work, create jobs, and increase discretionary spending, helping the economy as a whole, but also it will (God willing) increase generosity to charitable organizations and faith-based initiatives that pursue some of the causes that Barack Obama says he is passionate about, but has very little means or ability to impact (at least right out of the gate). If you are a Christian you probably know and believe that the Church is the hands and feet of Christ, and we individually and as a united Body, through the Spirit, can do a lot more for the Kingdom and for hurting people than any government. Why is the Church more able to impact the Kingdom than government? Because soul change leads to social change, and the Church can freely acknowledge and proclaim that. We should not substitute government policies for individual generosity, service, and Gospel proclammation. Read Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger for some ideas; I'm re-reading it for this purpose. You can be compassionate, care about poor people, and actually make a difference without supporting bad economic policies.

Yes, at some level politicians, legislators, and even Presidents, need to fight to reverse some of the imperfect social structures that inherently lead to injustices, racism, and poverty; this is obvious. We will still fight for that. But a man who talks more about the middle class (who are able to vote) than he does those who are far worse off (who aren’t), and who doesn’t seem all that concerned about the justice of the most defenseless members of our society, is not the answer. I don’t believe it is God’s will for government to get us individually off the hook caring for the poor and loving our neighbor, and in my opinion Obama's message is less about encouraging people to be generous and more about supporting him to make it all better.

One concrete example of a ministry that would flourish with more generosity but could be crippled if the taxes of potential donors are raised is Rebuilding the Wall. This is their vision: 1) Stabilize and empower low-income families by renovating vacant inner city properties and giving the families the opportunity for homeownership. 2) Combat social injustice by building relationships across racial and socio-economic barriers. 3) Stabilize community by the recycling of assets within the neighborhood. This ministry would flourish more from (and be more fruitful for the community with) the generosity and volunteer time of Americans than it would from government funding and federal programs.

5. Tina Fey will make a heckuva Vice President.

4. National Security. John McCain is a seasoned and experienced leader when it comes to foreign affairs. Say what you will about Iraq, but Iraq will not be the dominate foreign policy of the next administration, whether we stay or not. We need a leader who does not haphazardly suggest meetings with our enemies and potential nuclear threats without much of a plan (Iran), or mildly react to the aggression of one of the next biggest nations in the world (Russia). We need a leader who has looked point blank at his enemies and without wavering, putting the interests of the country first, said “Do your worst”. (Count of Monte Cristo fans, anybody?) We need a President who doesn’t need to be tested in his first months in office, but who is ready for challenge on day one from a career and a lifetime of testing.

Allow me to mention two things to those who are prioritizing the economy over foreign policy in this election: First, it is more important to prevent terrorist attacks than recessions. Actually, recessions are quite normal in a system like ours. Second, governments are much less able to control the nature of the economy (unless we scrap the capitalism idea) than they are our national security, even with more regulation. Keep in mind that the present economic crisis should be partly irrelevant to the election, since neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is to blame for the problem, and neither will be able to entirely implement a solution (the crisis did not come only from bad policy, and had nothing to do with taxes). For them it is more about damage control. To prioritize economic policy over national security in a Presidential election is mind-boggling to me when you consider the world we live in and the dangers we face.

Yes, a strong economy contributes significantly to national security. Yes, the current economic crisis is not normal in a system like ours. Yes, economic policies of government do matter, and some regulation is necessary, and it should be an important priority in this election. Yes, struggling Americans should not lose their savings at the hands of greedy millionaires. But all this does not lessen the importance of competent foreign policy in our time or reduce the present danger in our world. If anything, it increases both.

3. His stand-up routine at the Alfred Smith Charity Dinner was priceless. Obama’s was good too, but not good enough for me to vote for him.

2. Obama’s moral judgment is questionable. I have said this before and many may disagree with me. If I had the opportunity to ask Obama one question it would be this: “I acknowledge that your social initiatives could very well eventually prevent abortions by increasing awareness, education, and means by which solid family structures are developed and provide alternatives to abortion, and I agree with some of these initiatives. But how can you say that you expect to reduce the number of abortions if you openly admit you would overturn the Hyde Amendment, vote in favor of the Freedom of Choice Act, and oppose bans on partial-birth abortion? Before your social initiatives solve the problem from the bottom-up, is there not a better way to love the women and families in crisis pregnancy situations than killing the defenseless babies in the womb?” His attempts to deny that he is a pro-abortion candidate are at best delusional and at worst dishonest, and that should be reason alone to avoid him like the plague.

1. John McCain is running for President, but Barack Obama seems to be running for more than that. I won’t go as far as to defend the "messiah complex", but as a Christian I have to be concerned about the implications or motives of some of the promises he makes. Even if he unequivocally becomes the best and most popular President in the history of the United States, he will ultimately disappoint those who put their hope in him. And if it weren’t for his promises, his candidacy would be seriously lacking. Leading the most powerful and prosperous country in the free world is not all about promises and change, even if the American people deserve promises and the country is desperate for change. It is about possessing the character, experience, judgment, and integrity necessary to lead a complicated country in a complicated time and to face mostly unpredictable challenges. Voting based on promises will inevitably open up the likely possibility of disappointment (not to mention if those promises are either fundamentally counterproductive or morally questionable – but that was covered in the other reasons). Voting based on virtue makes much more sense.

Everything Obama’s campaign promises about hope and change, about caring for the people who need help, about restoring prosperity and freedom and security and justice to this country and this world, is only completely fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. Hope in anyone else and promises from anyone else will ultimately lead to personal and global devastation. Does God want the main focus of struggling middle-class Americans to be on the American dream? Maybe, but I would rather have a qualified leader as President and then by our proclamation and demonstration of the Gospel, help all Americans main focus be Jesus Christ. Hope in government will lead to dependence on government; hope in Christ will lead to dependence on Christ. We should look to Jesus for hope, and to a President for leadership. We are not voting for a Savior. We are voting for a President. Barack Obama confuses the difference and by his presentation distracts non-Christians from the true Savior they should be seeking. I cannot support that. John McCain is clear, and his lifetime of selfless service, and his experience and courage, more than his promises, confirm to me that he is the better selection.

As a Christian, I rejoice at the excitement for social justice, racial reconciliation, and inspirational leadership that Obama generates. My overall point is that I think his effectiveness in these areas will be marginal compared to his promises (not only because he is lacking in qualifications, but also because his role in these things in the first place shouldn’t be preeminent), and in the meantime, he compromises issues that I (as a Christian) consider non-negotiable, and he shows inexperience and naïveté towards issues that may be negotiable, but deserve more experience. So in the end, my one or two reasons to vote for him do not hold up at all to the 10 (listed here) to vote for John McCain.

There, I said it. I feel better. After the election, no matter the result, I am excited and hopeful to see how God desires to use me and this blog to continue to proclaim simple truth to a complex culture. I hope you’ll vote with me on November 4 (though you don’t have to tell who it will be for), and then entrust the result, and our concerns, into Almighty God’s sovereign and all-sufficient care. He will never leave or forsake us.

Political Cartoons found on Today's Best Cartoons.


Ray said...

This is extremely well-written and persuasive, Joey. My first reaction is that you should write for Wakeup Naptown, (which would be ironic). I'm curious why you think, if elected, McCain would only serve one term? Is it his age?

Joey Elliott said...

Thanks for the kind words my friend. Are you hiring? Just kidding. I am a loyal reader now though. Yes, my assumption was that McCain, if elected, would serve only one term because of his age. I think he has even said that before, but I'm not sure.

Ray said...

Joey, when you pay your writers zero, you are always hiring. ;-)

Obviously this is a very small point in your overall argument, but I am curious to hear your thoughts. If McCain's age is an issue in the sense that even he agrees he only has one term in him, do you have any reservations about Sarah Palin possibly becoming president?

Joey Elliott said...

Yes, it is a small point in my overall argument, so I hate to dwell on it. In fact, if I would have skipped the "(read: only)" in my post, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

But to answer your question, I think it's too early to worry about 2012. A lot could happen before then, and a lot of people could come in and out of the political scene in that time. As far as Palin becoming President before then (if the worst happened), as I implied in my reason #5, Tina Fey will be fine. Seriously though, I have fewer reservations than most, but this is clearly not my 'Top 10 reasons I'm voting for Palin', and I admit I would struggle writing that more.

The bottom line is that hypothetical situations are less important than the reality of this election. The top of the ticket is more important than the bottom. And God is still sovereign and we still shouldn't expect a savior in the Oval Office, which was the main point of my overall argument.

Just out of curiosity, did you mean my post was persuasive politically or spiritually? I guess I intended for both, but the main point of the blog implies politics is secondary. I will admit I always have a specific audience in mind when I post (while still hoping other audiences are reading), and this post was specifically written for Evangelical Christians who support Barack Obama for President.

Ray said...

I found it to be persuasive on both accounts.

From a spiritual perspective, I hear you echoing what I consider to be one of the most important truths: placing your hope in anyone or anything other than God's sovereignty is a recipe for disappointment -- all those things will let you down. They will. This is the problem of idolatry. Turning Obama (or any leader) into an idol is a grave error.

From a political perspective, I find your argument for McCain is also compelling and well-reasoned.

In the end, obviously, it will matter very little who you or I vote for or even who is elected president or what they do because the God who is sovereign over all things is unerring, trustworthy and faithful. (Or, as Spock puts it in Star Trek 6, that the universe always unfolds just as it should.)

This line of thinking becomes a little problematic because part the Kingdom message is so obviously political... and a radical type of politics at that. So not doing anything doesn't seem to be the answer. We should be involved in changing this world into one that embodies God's grace. But I think it is possible to have absolute faith in God's sovereignty and still try to get political change to happen.

Joey Elliott said...

I had a long comment written, and the little man in the internet erased it. Oh well. I wanted to point out that this is a record number of comments on any post on this blog, and that is exciting.

I absolutely agree that it is possible to have absolute faith in God's sovereignity and seek political change. I'm glad you articulated it like that too because in my longwindedness I was not clear about that possibility. The question becomes what kind of poltical change and how to seek it.

If you read early posts on my blog, you'll see that I have been trying to think through this politically in the last several months, and culturally from the beginning. Its actually the whole point of my blog.

I'm going to be continuing to think through this, with the primary help from 2 pastors who I continually rely on: John Piper and Tim Keller; and 2 authors / speakers who have an amazing clarity of though when it comes to culture and politics: Albert Mohler and Ronald Sider. I would recommend anything by these guys.

And you're right, in the end, God knows what he is doing. As my pastor said this morning, what we really should want is just a President who in one way or the other creates an envrironment that maximizes the openness to the Gospel and to Jesus (even if that is done unintentionally). And then we, as citizens, should be available and willing to respond to that openness with grace and truth.

dottie said...

Hey Joey-
Great dialogue btwn you and Ray. And amazing number of comments. Haha.

Have you heard of the book "Jesus for President"? I haven't read it yet, but I enjoyed "The Irresistible Revolution" by Shane Claiborne, co-author of JfP. I read the following quote this morning that echoes much of what you've articulated in this blog post.

"...Part of that perspective is not canonizing one candidate while vilifying the other. 'You can quote both Republicans and Democrats who have had that triumphalism and messiah complex,' Claiborne says. 'We’re ultimately not thinking that this person is our savior or the source of real change for the world.' ...

In fact, much of Claiborne and Haw’s mission has been to deflate the idea that one candidate or party symbolizes hope for society. What people do with that message, Claiborne believes, is up to them and their convictions. 'We’re inviting people to think,' he says. 'Some folks go out and organize for one of the candidates. Others say, ‘We’re going to write in Jesus.’ Ultimately, [we hope] whatever they do is seeking first the Kingdom of God and embodying their politics with their lives rather than just trusting in a single candidate or a single politician to change the world for them. We vote every day with our lives. We vote every day with our feet, our hands, our lips and our wallets. Ultimate change does not just happen one day every four years.'”
-Adam Smith, Relevant Magazine

And I think that's comforting and amazing.

Ray said...

Dottie, I'm glad you mentioned Adam Smith and Relevant Magazine. I'm only passingly familiar but I remember he was asked to lead the DNC in prayer and declined, saying that his hope was that the new generation of politically-active Christians would avoid being associated with any one political party.

dottie said...

Hi Ray,
Yeah, the crew at Relevant is pretty cool. I freelanced for them a time or two in college and just after I graduated. Cameron Strang is the founder, and you can read his blog where he articulates his decision much more clearly than I could try to summarize it.

What he thought would be a great attempt to "reach across the aisle," ended up being seen as just a blanket endorsement of one party/candidate, which wasn't his intent. So yeah, even though I said I wouldn't summarize it, looks like I just did. Oops. You should read his thoughts on it, though, since he's much more of an expert on his own life and decisions than I am :-)

Take care,

Ray said...

Dottie, how cool that you were plugged into Relevant. (My mistake on misidentifying the DNC non-speaker). Thanks for the link.