Election 2012: A Difficult Choice (Detailed)

For my introduction, go here.

Which of the candidates more closely matches God’s intentions for civil government, as expressed in the Bible?

1. The civil government is to encourage people to do good (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). 

Both candidates encourage people to be “good citizens” and to engage in acts of charity. However what Peter and Paul most likely mean when they refer to “good” includes living a righteous life. Romney’s personal life and actions, including stewardship of his own resources (e.g., charitable giving) model this idea. I also believe that Obama’s compassion for the poor, a righteous character trait, is genuine.

My conclusion:  A Draw.

2. A. The civil government is to discourage citizens from doing evil, and to punish people who do evil (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). B. This includes managing a just criminal justice system (e.g., Deut 16:18-20; Psalm 72:1-2).

Obama. He encourages socially just attitudes and behavior and an earnest desire for economically fair policies. However, he also directly and indirectly encourages and legitimizes evil (i.e, sinful) behavior through his strong support for abortion rights in the US and abroad, which licenses and promotes murder of unborn innocents; and through his strong support for same-sex marriage, which licenses and legitimizes sinful behaviors.

Romney. I think he also genuinely believes that his economic policies will produce a more economically just set of outcomes. He supports the biblical ideal of marriage. His tepid anti-abortion position seems mostly designed to win the Republican nomination; but even half-hearted support for pre-born children is better than Mr. Obama’s policies.

My conclusion: Romney

A just criminal justice system, according to the Bible, is one in which justice is applied equally regardless of the social and economic position of the accused or the victim.

Romney. His judicial philosophy seems to be based on Natural Law theory, which coincides with ideas such as the “rule of law” that make the basis for judicial decisions the constitution and stated intents of law writers. This should, though doesn’t always, lead to more evenhanded application of the law.

Obama’s judicial philosophy emanates from Critical Law or Legal Positivism theories, in which judges’ discretion is broader, and which views the legal system as a primary means for undoing and remedying systemic social injustices against historically “oppressed” groups. In this philosophy traditionalistic religious views are viewed with suspicion and are generally falling under the category of “hate speech.”

My conclusion: Romney, because Natural Law theory, justly applied, does not advantage any one, rich or poor, whereas Critical Law and Legal Positivism assume someone must be oppressed and freed from something.

3. The civil government is to provide a secure and a tranquil social environment in which the gospel can be freely proclaimed (1 Tim 2:1-4). 

I believe both candidates care about the United States’ national security; in general their foreign and defense policies don’t really differ all that much.

Obama. The president’s policies toward freedom of religion are rather antagonistic. His administration re-defined the “free exercise” of religion to include merely “freedom of worship.” This means that your freedom of religion extends only to the ways in which you specifically worship, and not in the way you live your life; thus, for example, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services requires every company, except for churches, to include abortificants (pills that cause abortion in case of “accidental” pregnancy) in their health insurance coverage, even if the company is religiously opposed to abortion. (Technically, HHS requires the company’s health insurance provider to include this “benefit,” but the effect is the same because the company still pays the premiums.) Obama’s Department of Justice has specifically said that a company owner gives up his or her right to religious free exercise when they offer services to the public. This is inconsistent with an environment that permits free discussion and application of the gospel to people’s lives—basically, DOJ says you’re allowed to believe the Bible, you’re just not allowed to act like you believe the Bible. In the international arena, the Obama administration has virtually ceased any efforts to systematically report on or promote freedom of religion around the world.

Romney. Appears to hold the more traditional view of free expression of religion. Since Mormons were historically persecuted because of their religious beliefs, they tend to be tolerant of alternative religions in the public sphere.

My conclusion: A draw on national security; domestically: Romney,because of the Obama administration’s policies that limit freedom of religion to freedom of worship.

4. The civil government is to facilitate a just social and economic environment in which the poor are not oppressed (Ps 72:3-4; 12-14) .To provide for those in society who have no family or church means of support (1 Tim 5:3-16; Ps 72:12-14), but without discouraging people from laboring to provide for themselves (many Proverbs praise diligent labor and criticize slothfulness; 2 Thess 3:8). 

A biblical policy for this area would be to (1) strongly encourage people who can provide for themselves to do so, strictly limiting benefits for able workers; (2) strongly encourage family members to care for their own “truly needy” family members; (3) strongly encourage churches to care for their church family members who are truly needy and truly can’t provide for themselves; (4) strongly encourage churches to care for those in their communities who are truly needy and truly can’t provide for themselves [By the way, this requires Christians and local churches to genuinely step up to do these things.]; and (5) identify those people who are left (after policies 1-4)  and who are truly needy and truly can’t provide for themselves, and facilitate their temporary support until their needs can be met by family or a local social support network or agency. The benefits of all of these family- and local-based support are clear—help is available from my family, church, and local community when I need it, but because these are “my people” I will be less likely to keep going to them when it isn’t really necessary. The creation of a remote, faceless bureaucracy for getting help provides no social accountability for my actions.

Neither candidate poses a public policy agenda that looks like this. So which comes closer?

Obama. I believe he is strongly motivated by compassion for the poor and this is worthy of praise. One of his major solutions has been to expand access to government support by redefining “poverty” to include a lot more people. While I don’t think this is wrong in and of itself, there are well-known “unintended effects” of these kinds of policies, including the tendency to discourage people from providing for themselves while encouraging them to continue seeking government support even when they could provide for themselves. (The Heritage Foundation—a conservative think tank—has reported that the Obama administration weakened federal requirements to seek work in order to continue receiving social welfare benefits; if this is true, this moves the government’s programs even further from the biblical model.) Support in the administration has dwindled for Faith-Based Initiatives, in which local faith communities had expanded access to federal social welfare support grants; while I have problems with churches going to the government for funding, the principle was a step in the right direction; that the administration de-prioritized faith-based solutions was a step in the wrong direction.

Romney. His personal record is also one that reflects compassion for and service to the needy, but his public plan deals with poverty less directly than Mr. Obama’s. His plan seems to have more general macro-economic focus, in which economic improvement for all will lift many out of poverty. The budgetary priorities of Paul Ryan include dramatic cuts for many government programs, including social welfare programs that support the newly-expanded definition of people in “poverty.” Simply cutting these is not a solution for poverty, nor does it move us in the direction of a policy that strongly develops local solutions to support the “truly needy” in society. On the other hand, Romney’s emphasis on locally-based job retraining programs suggest a step in the right direction. Romney’s stated plans for ensuring the long-term stability of federal insurance programs for the elderly and “truly needy” also don’t ensure local engagement.

My conclusion: A Draw. Neither set of programs come close to the Bible’s approach to caring for society’s “truly needy.” Obama’s policies emphasize government benefits, but have a high risk for encouraging dependency on the government. Romney’s policies don’t adequately emphasize local solutions to poverty.

Election 2012: A Difficult Choice (Brief)

This is a tough one.

Ideally, the 2012 elections would have produced a viable presidential candidate who is a Christian committed to understanding and applying the principles found in the Bible, both for personal righteousness and government action.

Neither candidate fits in this category: Mitt Romney is a Mormon, whose faith tradition differs significantly from traditional and historical Christianity on many important points, including the nature of God and Jesus. Barack Obama is a Mainline Protestant, whose church and preacher in Chicago preached primarily Liberation Theology, a Karl Marx-informed version of the social gospel that tends to reject traditional biblical standards of personal righteousness. (I do not believe Mr. Obama is a Muslim, because so many of his policies are directly against Islamic teaching, including support for abortion, same-sex marriage, and his continued prosecution of the wars in which Muslims are the primary people who are killed.) Both candidates show that they and their campaigns are willing to be selectively honest about their own and each other’s’ records.

As a Christian in this less-than-ideal situation I must then decide which of the candidates, regardless of his religion, more closely match God’s intentions for civil government, as expressed in the Bible. (There are many examples in the Bible of God’s people temporarily partnering with non-believers in the political arena, including Joseph, Daniel, Esther, Haggai and Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah.)

There are four main purposes of government, according to the Bible. Below, I briefly list each one, with core verses, and describe how I think the candidates measure up. I should note that both candidates envision a much greater role for the civil government than can be supported by what the Bible says its role ought to be.

If you’re interested in a more thorough statement of my reasoning, I go into more detail here (or scroll down to the previous post).

1. The civil government is to encourage people to do good (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). 

My conclusion:  A Draw. Both men encourage “good citizenship,” though Romney personally models it more clearly than Obama.

2. The civil government is to discourage citizens from doing evil, and to punish people who do evil (Rom 13:3-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). This includes managing a just criminal justice system (e.g., Deut 16:18-20; Psalm 72:1-2).

My conclusion: Romney, because of his support for the biblical ideal of marriage (as opposed to Obama’s position that legitimizes sinful behavior), and support (though tepid) for the unborn. Romney’s legal philosophy is based on Natural Law theory, as opposed to Obama’s, which is based on Critical Law and Legal Positivism.

3. The civil government is to provide a secure and a tranquil social environment in which the gospel can be freely proclaimed (1 Tim 2:1-4). 

My conclusion: Romney, because of the Obama administration’s policies that limit “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship,” and its assertion that company owners give up their freedom of religious expression when they enter the public economy.

4. The civil government is to facilitate a just social and economic environment in which the poor are not oppressed (Ps 72:3-4; 12-14) .To provide for those in society who have no family or church means of support (Ps 72:12-14; 1 Tim 5:3-16), but without discouraging people from laboring to provide for themselves (many Proverbs praise diligent labor and criticize slothfulness; 2 Thess 3:8). 

My conclusion: Draw. Neither set of the candidates’ programs come close to the Bible’s approach to caring for society’s “truly needy.” Obama’s policies emphasize government benefits, but have a high risk for encouraging dependency on the government. Romney’s policies don’t adequately emphasize local and faith-based organizations’ solutions to poverty.

My final conclusion: I will vote for Mr. Romney, because far fewer of Mr. Obama’s policies match what The Bible says are the appropriate roles for the civil government.

Regardless of whether you agree with my reasoning, it is critical that faithful Christians show up to vote on November 6 (or earlier where that is permitted). If we do not express our beliefs in the political arena, we should not expect our government, society, or culture to be friendly to us. To paraphrase a famous saying, “All that is needed for non-Christian views to succeed is for Christians to do nothing.”

Again, you can check out my detailed reasoning here (or scroll down to the previous post).