Last night, the first votes of the 2012 election were cast in Iowa. While former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won the caucus, it was a virtual tie with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who came from nearly last place just weeks ago to earn a second-place finish. With the vote, the quest for the Republican nomination moves to New Hampshire and the first-in-the-nation primary.
If there is anything we can take away from last night’s election it is that the issue of faith and politics will be an issue in 2012, at least in the Republican field. Throughout the night, commentators made guesses on how evangelical Christians would vote. There are several reasons for this, but primarily they are that Christians make up a large base of the Iowa Republican vote and several candidates were attempting to parlay their faith to a victory Tuesday night.
Granted, this is typical election season fodder. For as long as there have been popular elections in the United States, media have attempted to guess and analyze how certain voting blocks will vote. The media does so by placing groups of people in these blocks, and then make general comments on the group as a whole. With this understanding, making suggestions on how Christians will vote in Iowa is the same as trying to understand union voters in West Virginia.
There is a basic flaw in making general comments on any voting blocks. That is that we can make general assumption about the whole without really understanding the group at all. It is an even more profound flaw when looking at how Christians will vote in the election. The reason gets to the complex relationship between faith and politics, but also the depth of Scripture and our response to live it out as Christians in the world.
To often, we believe that a “true” Christian can only vote for a certain type of candidate, which has typically been seen as socially and economically conservative. The media has perpetrated this claim, especially since the growth of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many Christian leaders advance this claim. In doing so, they both claim Christians must all look the same.
When we make this claim, we are exhibiting a limited view of Christianity and the depth of Scripture. Christianity is above left and right definitions. It cannot be defined by these terms. Yes, Christians are concerned about issues that appeal to social conservatives. As well, Christians are concerned about justice and reconciliation. Christianity is not an either/or proposition, as if to say that because someone believes in Christ they can remove whatever things from Scripture that they do not want or support. Christianity is a faith that calls us to a reverence and humility before God. In that humility, comes a love for Christ who died for us. That love and the life of Christ that continues today, then, informs how we interact with the world, especially in politics.
Christians should be concerned about social and justice issues. Thus, a follower of Christ can be a Democrat or a Republican. No matter what party a Christian supports, ultimately our worldview should not come from our ideology. Our worldview must be defined by our relationship with Christ. It is out of our relationship that we can engage the many issues that plague the country and world, such as economic growth, poverty, terrorism, and so on.
For the most part, most Christians will support this statement. However, it is how we apply it is an issue. In applying a statement that Christ is above our ideological boxes, we will run to the other extreme and claim it is only here that God is active. In doing this, we deny God’s actions in other viewpoints, or other candidates, and, again, take on the claim that a good Christian must look like me. This is a misguided approach and it places our own ideology, and views, above our relationship with Christ. It sets up a victim response to politics, and fosters the continued uncivil dialogue that occurs in our political spectrum. As Christians, we rise above the way a typical political analyst responds to elections, and respond with a Christlike demeanor that seeks to serve Christ in all things, including at the polling place.
This is not a new problem. Christians have longed struggled with how to engage the political spectrum. In the book A City Upon a Hill, Larry Witham mentions that during the Civil War many preachers in the South took up the cause of protecting the Confederacy over top of their allegiance to God. This is no different from pastors, today, who have no problems singing the praises of America first, before singing the praises of God.
Christians should engage the political spectrum, but we must do so with knowledge of the issues and, most importantly, knowledge of God. We should not walk into the political realm as the world does, but do so in response to our faith in Jesus Christ. When we do, we will offer a different type of engagement that will have influence on our political process and produce honest and humble solutions to many of the issues we face today.