This week’s news and links: Christians and the US presidential election

I’ve had a few discussions recently about the US presidential elections with a number of people and one thing has been blatantly obvious.  Everyone wants Obama to win.  Maybe this just reflects the people I know, but I suspect that’s not entirely the case.  For the Christians I’ve spoken to, Obama’s healthcare policies, international politics and domestic social concerns have won them over along with the public demonstration of his Christian faith.

Now I know that I’m not American and as an outsider you can easily miss the intricacies of foreign cultures, but even allowing for this there is a huge gulf between Christian voting tendencies in the UK and the US.  Do a Google search to find out who American Christians are voting for and it’s pretty much Romney all the way even if his Mormonism has caused some dilemmas as to whether it’s acceptable for a Christian to vote for a Mormon.  It’s almost a case of vote Republican first and then worry about whether they’re the best candidate later.

Take this blog post as a typical example.  It says:

A disciple of Christ cannot in good conscience, vote for Obama. It would be like placing a fox in a hen house. Obama’s Muslim / Islamic bent is destructive to Christianity and to our American freedoms.

America’s Christian voting bloc needs to vote for the candidate who best expresses its professed Biblical values. Mitt Romney, although not perfect; best mirrors not only good morals and Biblical principles; but traditional American free enterprise, which is, part and parcel, the foundational economic building block for this God blest, free society.

I find it unbelievable that after all this time that the story of Barack Obama being an anti-American Muslim is still taken seriously in some quarters.  I have an American friend living in the UK who is utterly ashamed of the way many Christians engage with politics.  Even the great Billy Graham has raised plenty of eyebrows by coming out in full support of Mitt Romney.  That’s a bit like Nicky Gumbel of Alpha fame and vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton endorsing David Cameron at the next election.  We just don’t do that sort of thing over here.

Wayne Grudem the well-respected US theologian has been calling for church ministers to preach sermons telling their congregations to vote for Romney.  He has also produced a document to help Christian voters decide which way to vote, which is heavily pro-Republican.  To my mind this is shocking behaviour.  Danny Webster, parliamentary officer for the UK Evangelical Alliance, has written an excellent piece on this that is highly critical of this approach.  He summarises it by saying:

‘I think that Christians should engage in politics, and I think they should join political parties, I think we should also live in an acute awareness that how our beliefs are worked out on the political stage will vary. And therefore, any attempt to take religious beliefs and turn them into a political platform is fraught with challenges and, I believe, inappropriate to be expounded from the pulpit.

‘The words and actions of many leading figures in the evangelical church offering support to the Republican Party misses one final fact. Many evangelical Christians vote Democrat regardless of what their leaders say. By using the pulpit for something that it is not there to do there is the risk of exacerbating the cleft between what congregation hear and what they do. Tell people to vote, tell congregations to join parties, even help them get information about the parties. But if you cannot do so in a non-partisan manner, keep it out of the pulpit.’

Viewing this behaviour from a distance it seems the issues that are highest on many American Christian voters’ lists of concerns are abortion and gay marriage, on both of which Obama is more liberal than Romney.  You’d probably find this is the case with a good number of Christian voters in the UK, but the difference is that in the US, Christians are more numerous and the subject of Christianity and belief is a far more important issue in US elections.  The Christian Right in the US have a highly motivated political lobbying machine that has plenty of influence and power.  My problem concerns the narrow set of issues that the Christian right focuses on whilst mostly ignoring or missing what I believe God cares about most.

This post from this week’s CNN belief blog succinctly summarises what I find most troubling about all of this:

‘Why are evangelicals like Billy Graham and Ralph Reed stumping for Mitt Romney? And why are roughly three-quarters of white evangelicals inclined to vote for him?

‘Because politics matters more to them than religion.

‘I used to believe that the purpose of the religious right was to infuse American politics with Christian politicians and Christian politics. I no longer believe that. The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes. Why any Christian, conservative or liberal, can say “Amen” to that is beyond me.’

Here are a few links to other pieces written in the last week on the US election that I’ve found interesting and/or helpful:

Jim Wallis – Religious Consistency and Hypocrisy: Election 2012

Jim Wallis – How to Choose a President

BBC Religion & Ethics – US election: Obama vote dilemma for black Christians

Sojourners – Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne: A Conversation About Politics

Cranmer – Sandy blows in and Romney bows out

I’ll leave the final word to Sojourners founder, Jim Wallis who provides some wise advice to Christian voters wherever they may live:

‘Christians can and will be voting in different ways in this election in response to different prudential judgments about how to best express their “biblical values.” But please, let us stop suggesting that biblical values are only involve certain issues or can only be interpreted in one partisan way or another.

‘This is not a one-way street. Those who are politically progressive need to ask themselves: have I been consistent with the values that I profess? On war — specifically the use of drones? Poverty? The environment? Do I make excuses for my candidate on the issues I care about just because I voted for them?

‘It’s important to have a dose of humility and recognize that we all have the capacity to be inconsistent. But let’s not use that as an excuse to remain that way. Let people see our religious consistency on the issues, not our political hypocrisy at election time by assigning ultimate biblical values to our different political choices.’



Categories: International politics, Party politics, President Obama

Tags: , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. Excellent overview: thank you. Beats me completely how any follower of Jesus could favour Romney over Obama. Obama may not be perfect but if it’s a case of choose between two evils, he’s certainly the lesser. That excerpt from the CNN belief blog gets to the heart of the matter. The whole business is seriously skewed for a nation that claims to have separated church and state.

    Lord, have mercy on your screwed up, screwed over people…

    • May I ask why it beats you completely that ‘any follower of Jesus could favour Romney over Obama’?

      • Especially when Obama is in favor of allowing abortion, and not supporting Israel. I am not in favor of either candidate (god help us), but Obama is even further away from Christian values than Romney.

        • The problem with making God in your own image is that the values you think are Gods are in fact your own. Who are we to say President Obama is a lesser Christian then any of us. God is the Judge not us.

  2. Another excellent overview and although I clearly come to this topic with a clear party political allegiance, I share your exasperation at the blatant bias shown by so many prominent Christians in the United States.

    For balance, and accepting that his core theology is far many peoples’ taste, this link takes you to Greg Boyd speaking on the Myth of the Christian Nation on the Charlie Rose Show – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIWs_G4oJaA

    I also recommend the book for those who still like to gain insight and knowledge from reading directly from the source material.

  3. My problem concerns the narrow set of issues that the Christian right focuses on whilst mostly ignoring or missing what I believe God cares about most. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! Having lived for over 20 years in the USA, during the last election, I was encouraged to meet bright young Christians calling themselves “Progressive Evangelicals”. I hope that they have not given up – most evangelicals would consider them heretical, and Obama has been largely unable to deliver. As a Christian, very active in a party here, I am so distressed about US politics and the way most Christians engage.

  4. In my opinion, it’s tough to argue that God cares more about other issues when over 1 million unborn babies are killed (murdered might be a more appropriate verb) in the US every year. UK Christians should be challenged by the zeal of US Christians on this issue, rather than critical.

    That said, it isn’t the only issue and there are fair arguments for voting either way, so I don’t think Church leaders should persuade their congregations to vote one way or the other, but they should nail their colours to the mast on particular issues.

    I hate the CNN Belief Blog quote. Of course there are republicans who use religion to achieve political goals, but to say that politics matters more than religion to 3/4 of white evangelicals in America is hugely unfair. There will be Christians, valuing Christ infinitely more highly than politics, voting for both sides tomorrow.

    Jim Wallis speaks wisely in his quote and it is a good way to end the article.

    • Thank you. You do make a valid point about the CNN quote in that it is more of a perception than a reality, Certainly according to Pew Research Centre statistics 74% of white evangelicals support Romney which is by far the highest percentage out of all the groups surveyed.
      http://www.pewforum.org/Race/Latinos-Religion-and-Campaign-2012.aspx

      Of course that doesn’t mean that they all think politics is more important than their Christian beliefs. In the UK no party has that much support from any Christian demographic which makes me wonder why that is the case in the US.

      I agree that abortion is a hugely important issue. If you look at my posts on it, you’ll see it is something I think all Christians should care about, but I don’t think it’s the most important issue when it comes to voting, especially as Mitt Romney is unlikely to change legislation significantly if he wins from what I can see.

      Apologies for not wording things more clearly.

  5. Is there any chance that if you had the influence of the pulpit that you might try and convince people to vote Democrat? Is it just because you disagree with the Republicans that you criticise their active political involvement, often on issues that all Christians should agree on (e.g, abortion, gay marriage)?

    • I’m not convinced that the pulpit is the place to be preaching party politics either way. I don’t think either the Democrats or the Republicans are perfect. I’ve never heard anyone say you denigrate your Christianity if you vote Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative in the UK and I think the same applies with the Republicans and Democrats.

      If you look at this blog you’ll find that I’d probably be described as pro-life and anti-gay marriage, although I don’t believe that makes you automatically homophobic. I do believe these are important and that’s why I said, ‘My problem concerns the narrow set of issues that the Christian right focuses on whilst MOSTLY ignoring or missing what I believe God cares about most.’ There’s a lot I think God cares about that I don’t hear either side talking about a great deal. Christian and Republican are not the same thing (or Democrat, Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour for that matter).

      • I suspect we can safely say that any Christian who votes BNP denigrates their faith. But as for the mainstream parties: personally, I wouldn’t vote Tory; but I know too many otherwise sensible people who do to be able to say that doing so brings their faith into disrepute … not so sure about their intelligence, though 😉

    • ‘… issues that all Christians should agree on’

      You mean, issues that all Christians should agree with you on?

  6. … and here’s the latest sad attempt to swing the vote Romney’s way, from Christian publishing house, Destiny Image: Destiny Image billboards send ‘No Obama’ message.

    I seriously don’t get it: why would any Christian group or organisation want a self-professed and committed Mormon for President? Have they not researched the origins of Mormonism and what these people believe? Barking.

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