The 2004 Presidential election exit poll indicated that 22% of Americans chose who they would vote for based on moral issues. The Economy was 20% Terrorism 19% Iraq 15% Health Care 8% Taxes 5% and Education 4%. Of those voting, 80% of those who picked their candidate based on moral issues voted for George Bush. For this reason, analyst conclude that the most influential topic in determining the presidency in the 2004 election were moral issues.[i]
You may be wondering how we define “moral issues.” Given that moral issues where placed separate from issues like the economy and the like, it is safe to conclude that moral issues in this poll were items like abortion gay marriage, and separation of church and state. These issues have particularly been talked about by the evangelical church. Dr. James Kennedy says this about abortion, “There is probably not a more controversial subject divining Americans than the issues of abortion. At the same time, I believe there is not another subject where the stakes for Christian voters are so high or the moral contrasts so clear.” He goes on to say that no matter what else a candidate says, if they are pro-choice, he will not vote for them.[ii]
In this sermon I want to examine these moral issues in more detail and talk about how, as Christians how we can best represent our faith when it comes to voting. I want to say a couple of things up front though.
First, while I am using moral issues to talk about abortion and gay marriage, I also recognize with people like Jim Wallis that the economy, healthcare, and other issues are moral in nature. I am using this category because this is how the church has often talked about them. I do think God cares deeply about other issues as well.
Secondly, I want to again stress to you that I am NOT trying to tell you who to vote for, but rather I am trying to introduce you to the issues and some guidance the bible gives for the issues. The hard work then begins because you have to research the issues and decided where you stand when you go to vote later this fall.
As we consider moral issues together, I want to begin by explaining a simple truth that often goes ignored. Every person holds “moral values.” Whether a person is a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, or an Atheist, they still hold moral values. Any person who steps up to vote for a candidate for any office votes for the candidates that hold positions that are constant with their moral value.
As a Christian, we hold certain moral values that we share with non-Christians and we hold certain values that others may not hold. For example, as a Christian, we hold the 10 commandments to be of moral value and we believe if a person lives by those commandments, they will be doing well. Atheists on the other hand would not hold the 10 commandments as something they valued. At the same time, both Christians and Atheists could agree that it is wrong to murder.
As a Christian, when I go to vote, it would be consistent with my character to vote in such a way that reflected my moral values. At the same time, we must ask another question which figures into this discussion. While I believe that Judeo-Christian values the values that I wish we could all follow, does this mean that we must pass laws in order to ensure that others will have these values? If not, is there a better way to help those around me live a more moral life? An example of this could be found when it comes to watching television. I strongly believe that children (and adults) should not watch programming that contains sexually explicit content and violence. That is a value that I personally hold. However, the question I have to ask is this: Is the most helpful way to express my value to support legislation banning all programming that contains sexual content and violence or would I be better served to talk with people about the importance of turning off the television and spending time with your family?[iii]
As you can see, there is far more at steak than simply believing something to be good or bad when it comes morality and politics. I want to demonstrate how this works with two issues: abortion and homosexuality.
Most Christians, especially evangelical Christians would consider themselves to be pro-life. This position, while it is not directly affirmed in the Bible, gains support from passages in the Bible such as Psalm 139 which says,
13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, [iv]
The pro- life argument begins by saying that life begins at conception and the fetus is an actual person, so to abort a fetus at any stage in pregnancy is to terminate a life.
On the other side of the equation folks that consider themselves to be pro-choice believe that while a fetus is inside the mother’s womb, it is part of the mother’s body, therefore the mother should be free to do with her body what she chooses. While the bible does affirm life, it also affirms the value of freedom and to take away this freedom from women does much to undermine how far women have come in their fight for freedom.
On one extreme, pro-lifers believe a child should never be aborted and on the other extreme, pro-choicers believe woman should have the right to perform an abortion anytime during pregnancy for any reason. Most of us as Christians probably do not fall on the extremes. Many Christians who are pro-life do recognize that there are some cases in which an abortion could be allowed, such as the woman’s life being in danger or in cases of rape or incest. Pro-choice folks, while not wanting to take away a woman’s right to an abortion also recognize that like is sacred and that during the pregnancy the fetus does become a life, therefore they support some kind of band on abortion during the last trimester of the pregnancy.[v]
The other hot button moral issue that we face in this election year is over gay-marriage. The question at stake is really two-fold. One, how do we define marriage? Secondly, as a direct result of how we define marriage, how do we ensure civil rights for those people who live a homosexual lifestyle? For those who are opposed to gay marriage, they believe the bible teaches that marriage is defined as being between one woman and one man. Furthermore, they believe the bible does teach in several places that homosexuality is sinful. The one passage that really stands out in this issue is Romans 1:26-27
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error[vi].
The argument goes that the nature relationship should be between a male and female and to exchange this for a homosexual relationship is sinful.
On the flip side, there are those who argue that being gay is not a choice, but something people are born into. By our government not including gays and lesbians in marriage laws, we are taking away their civil liberties. Even if the bible condemns the action of homosexuality, the bible does say everyone is created in the image of God and therefore everyone deserves to be treated as human beings.[vii]
Salt and the Light
These are just two issues that would be classified as moral issues. The question I want to turn to now is this: How would Jesus want to us to vote is such a way that we can influence our country with the values that he has passed down? As I began thinking about this question, I kept coming back to Jesus’ most famous sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount. I was particularly drawn to the introduction to the sermon where he talks about being the salt of the earth and a city on the hill. He begins,
13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.[viii]
Jesus uses two important concepts for his listeners: salt and light. You could say that these two concepts were the essence of life. We normally use salt to add to our food to make it taste better, but salt meant much more. They would use salt to preserve their food so they could store it and keep it from going bad. Salt was life saving. Light is used to guide us. The bible normally uses light as a means of conveying knowledge. In other words, we are to bring knowledge and life to those around us. As Christians, I believe we are to be the moral compass for our country. God calls us to speak light into the dark places and bring life to the lifelessness around us. If we fail to be a moral compass, we have become useless. We are salt that has lost its flavor and light that has been covered up.
Jesus then goes on to say,
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.[ix]
These words make since when we understand who Jesus is critiquing. The Pharisees were the religiously conservative group who really tried to get people to live by the Old Testament laws. They even enforced laws in order to enforce laws. Notice Jesus begins by saying that he too cares about the laws in the Old Testament and not one letter will fall away. Not only that, but he affirms that others should make sure that the law is followed. He then goes on to say that their righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. Why would he say this about a group that was so concerned to make sure everyone followed all the laws taught in the Bible? You would think that this would be the one group who Jesus would hold on a pedestal.
It seems that Jesus’ problem with the Pharisees was not that the taught the law or valued the Old Testament, but that they failed to value the people they were leading. The law itself became the end, rather than the means to help people live a life that honors God. Jesus gives a warning about being the salt and the light. In order to bring knowledge and life to the world around us, we must realize that the aim is bring life to people, not to gain political power or office.
When it comes to politics, Brian McLaren’s words are important. He said, "Remember in a pluralistic world, a religion is valued based on the benefits it brings to its nonadherents. [T]he gospel brings blessings to all, adherents and nonadherents alike."[x] The Christian values we hold should not just make it more comfortable for us Christians to be Americans, it should bring value to all people, the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Atheists, every single person.
Values to Vote For
As we set out to choose the candidates to vote for this election year we have a lot of homework to do. I believe each person needs to go back and examine the issues that the things they believe the bible teaches. We must first identify the moral values the bible teaches. Do we believe the bible holds a special place for marriage being between a woman and a man? Second, we have to then decide how we can best be the moral compass in sharing these values. Do we need to affirm legislation supporting this moral value or would that actually make the situation worse. Third, which policies will actually bring life and light to people rather than just make life easier for us Christians. We must ask ourselves how we can be of benefit to everybody, not just ourselves.
[ii] Dr. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote (Water brook Press: Colorado Springs, 2008)pgs 47-58.
[iii] Barak Obama The Audacity of Hope (Three Rivers Press: New York, 1996) The chapter entitled “Values” was the best chapter I have read in understanding how values shape our political views.
[iv] TNIV Psalm 139:13-15
[v] Tony Campolo Red Letter Christians (Regal: Ventura, California, 2008) I found Campolo’s chapter on abortion helpful. He moves beyond just pro-birth to pro-life.
[vi] TNIV Romans 1:26-27
[vii] Tony Campolo has a great solution to this issue in his chapter on “Gay Rights” Also Adam Hamilton in Seeing Gray in a Black and White World (Abington Press: Nashville, 2008) does a great job of explaining the heart of the issue and his own struggle with where he should stand in his chapter “Homosexuality”
[viii] TNIV Matthew 5:13-16
[ix] TNIV Matthew 5:17-20
[x] Brian McLaren A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan: Nashville, 2004)