Thursday, October 16, 2008

Smart Turk, Dumb Christian?

I want to talk politics more. It's on my mind, and I suppose I wish I could have more thoughtful conversations with Christians to think through the issues confronting us in this election. 

I'm bothered by Christians who are one-issue voters. Abortion for them is the make-it, break-it deal as they determine their political leanings. I can appreciate their moral convictions, and I myself do not support abortion. But if abortion is the only issue we have to consider when choosing between candidates, we're never forced to critically engage in the other policy debates and the implications of the candidates' positions. It's a kind of intellectual laziness that I think is in no way Christian. It's not Christian to check your mind at the voting booth. That's why some of political emails and YouTube videos (that Christians themselves are circulating) are troubling. They either contain completely false information (i.e. Obama is a Muslim) or they prey on emotional gut responses (i.e. YouTube video of the Chicago labor and delivery nurse). Where are the Christians asking us to engage, not just our soul and heart, but our mind as we consider the candidates?

My biggest struggle, which reaches beyond just this election, centers on the question of character and competence. When judging the candidates, how much weight does one give to moral character (or personal faith), and how much importance does one give to actual job competency? In our country's recent history, we've seen examples of presidents strong in one area, weak in the other: Bill Clinton - a few (just a few) moral failings, but a president that has been judged rather favorably in terms of job performance. George Bush - a man of sincere personal faith, but a president who, in my estimation, has done more harm than good for the country. 

How does the Bible answer this question? Does character always outweigh competence? We say things like, "What you have, what you know, what you look like, these don't matter in God's economy." And they don't in terms of God's attitude toward us. He loves everyone the same, not valuing one more than another because she's prettier or smarter. It's also true that God often uses weak and broken people to accomplish His purposes (cf. 1 Cor. 1). He does that for the purpose of reserving glory for Himself alone. But this does not mean that education, eloquence, and even physical beauty are irrelevant? I don't think so. They can matter for the job you're called to do. They did matter for Esther, for Daniel, and for Joseph, if you recall. And if you're the president of the United States, it matters what you know, how well you communicate, and how well you can lead. These are essential questions of competence, not eclipsing the question of character but adding to it.

I don't mean to imply I think a vote for Obama is a vote for "competence" and McCain "character. I don't think we can make those kind of discrete judgments between these two candidates. But I do think the competence factor needs to be given more weight, especially in the Christian community. Martin Luther weighed in on this question hundreds of years ago: "I'd rather be governed by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian." 


Carolyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyn said...

I think the reality is that God raises up and brings down (Daniel 2:21), despite their character or competency, and we trust in His sovereign plan.
Jen, have you ever studied abortion? I'm sure you must have. I spent 6 weeks doing so way back in 1987, from everything to the effects on the mother (from psychiatrists) to what exactly happens to the baby. There is a holocaust going on, and I can certainly understand people being one issue voters.
This doesn't mean that they are not intellectally engaged or simply too passionate about one issue.
If you go to the national right to life page, you'll see some interesting things about Obama, and I assume they are true. He is not only pro-abortion, he has promoted and sponsored legislation and would bring back partial birth abortion, etc.
As for Obama's faith, I don't know, but as to his competency, I don't think that's proven at all.

October 22, 2008 8:14 PM

Carolyn said...

Jen, sorry I removed my first post because I had misspelled a word! I simply reposted it with the word correctly spelled!