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
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.’