Friday, February 08, 2008

The Elect and the Election

Just kidding about "the elect" part, but we do have an election in Virginia in a few days, or, at least a primary. Here in Northern Virginia we are getting a good dose of Democrats, of course. Hillary spoke at one of the Arlington high schools yesterday and Obama speaks at T.C. Williams, of Remember the Titans fame, on Sunday. No sight of McCain yet.
Elections are a great temptation for churches. To flirt with power is, as Jesus knew, a fundamental human temptation. The Lenten fast traces its roots back to the Biblical story of Jesus being tempted with just such power.
The temptation of the church is to align itself with a particular candidate or party as if the desired results of any election might bring about the coming of the kingdom. Of course, when it’s put that way it’s easy to dismiss the rhetoric, but too often religious leaders speak and act as if salvation depends upon voting right.
Of late, that has usually meant also voting Right.
Scripture, although thoroughly concerned with politics, clearly distrusts such alliances. As the psalmist put it,
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
If one does not put trust in the princes or princesses of any given moment, where does trust lie when it comes to exercising one’s democratic responsibilities as a person of faith? Surely it comes down to bringing core values and commitments into the decisions.
The issue that has been troubling me this week is torture. As the present Administration has been found to be less than truthful in its denials of using torture, the candidates for “next” have been forced to confront again a fundamental moral choice.
Here’s how the three leading candidates have said they would handle the proverbial “ticking time bomb” thought-experiment that asks, “would you approve the torture of someone with information about the bomb?”
John McCain: “Should [an interrogator use torture] and thereby save an American city or prevent another 9/11, authorities and the public would surely take this into account when judging his actions and recognize the extremely dire situation he confronted.”
Hillary Clinton: “Those are very rare, but if they occur, there has to be some lawful authority for pursuing it…. [If] we have sufficient basis to believe that there is something imminent, yeah, but then we’ve got to have a check and balance on that.”
Obama: ”The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security … torture is not a part of the answer - it is a fundamental part of the problem…. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. … When I am president America will … [stand] up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won’t work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.”
There are other issues and additional core values, to be sure, and final decisions are always a collection of judgments that add up to something we hope is more than a hunch, knowing that the coming of the kingdom does not rest on our decision.
Still, it seems to me that we bring our core faith values and convictions to bear precisely when we are called to judge such issues as this, and those judgments are our best guidance when election time comes around.


yo sistah said...

Obama--he da man, yo.
One of Terry's co-workers is pulling for Oprah for VP: O-O in 08, whaddya think?

Anonymous said...

"Still, it seems to me that we bring our core faith values and convictions to bear precisely when we are called to judge such issues as this, and those judgments are our best guidance when election time comes around."

Just what are "core faith values and convictions"?

Are the the same thing as truth?

Are my "core faith values and convictions" better or worse than yours?

Aren't you really saying that it is best to be guided by one's own preferences, as opposed to what is truly moral?

cledster said...

I'm wondering how "anonymous" responds to the central question of this post: torture. "Who would Jesus torture?"

Anonymous said...

Here is my response to cledster: You ask "Who would Jesus torture?" I might ask "Who would Jesus tax?" Or, "Would Jesus enlist in an army?"

Jesus, I would argue, would tqax no one. Nor would Jesus ever join an army. But what does that, really, say? Does it say that it is immoral for a government to tax its citizens? Does it suggest that the act of joining an army is un-Christian?

I might also ask this: "If Jesus were a physician, how many abortions would He perform?" My answer to that is "Zero", but other people -- other devout, Christian people -- might suggest otherwise.

It seems to me that there are many things we as individuals do (abortions, sometimes) that Jesus would never do. And there are also things that our government does (like send young men adn women to war) that Jesus would never do.

Here is what the PC(USA), at its 217th General Assembly in 2006, had to say about abortion:

"When an individual woman faces the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy, the issue is intensely personal, and may manifest itself in ways that do not reflect public rhetoric, or do not fit neatly into medical, legal, or policy guidelines. Humans are empowered by the spirit prayerfully to make significant moral choices, including the choice to continue or end a pregnancy. Human choices should not be made in a moral vacuum, but must be based on Scripture, faith, and Christian ethics. For any choice, we are accountable to God; however, even when we err, God offers to forgive us."

It went on to say this:

"Our Reformed Tradition recognizes that people do not always make moral choices, and forgiveness is central to our faith. In the Reformed Tradition, we affirm that God is the only Lord of conscience-not the state or the church. As a community, the church challenges the faithful to exercise their moral agency responsibly. (bolded added)"

God alone judges those whom we elect, and who must make very difficult decisions that affect the safety of our country. I would hope that we would pray for our leaders, and ask God to direct them in making very, very difficult decisions.