Friday, October 31, 2008

The Best Thing I've Heard from a Conservative Christian This Election: Pastor John Piper's Reflections

For the record, I disagree with John Piper on several issues (I'll let you guess which ones...not all are mentioned in this video). However, I was incredibly encouraged to listen to his message. If only more conservative Christians sounded like John Piper, rather than like Focus on the Family Action with their "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America," which I hesitate to even link to because I know it will only make a lot of people angry. Feel free not to read it. I am not recommending it.

Now, John Piper is not theologically very different from the Focus on the Family people. He believes God designed men and women to fulfill different roles. He believes homosexuality is sinful. But those aren't the only things he believes.

He believes there is hope in Jesus. He believes that God is in control, even of hard-fought democratic elections. He believes that we in the church should be about being Christians -- an astoundingly radical thought in an era when so many church leaders are deeply invested in being pro this or that piece of legislation. He insists that the church's mission is to "spread the gospel." Again, this should not be a radical claim, but somehow, right now, it is.

Christian involvement in politics is a complicated matter. Personally, I subscribe to the "sin boldly" school of Christian political thought (yes, I just made that school up). I believe that since Jesus is not on the ballot, I will be implicated in sin and evil and corruption no matter who I vote for. We are only human, and so are the candidates. Because I am human I must operate on limited information; I cannot predict the future. I will not be able to choose perfectly because there is no perfect option, and it is not altogether certain what even the "okay" option might be. I would have voted for George W. Bush in 2000, and today I would say I would have been wrong. Voting is not easy, and we should not imagine that either side has clean hands.

However, I also happen to believe that it's important to vote. Not to vote would be an abdication of my civic responsibility. And I do believe that important issues and ideas and even lives are at stake here. This election will affect the future of our country, whichever way it goes. It's important.

It's important, but it's not easy. Now, for honesty's sake here, I should clarify what I mean by "easy." I made up my mind in January, and I have not changed it. In fact, you could say I made up my mind sometime in late 2004, when I heard Barack Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention. I liked him then, and I like him now. I believe he will make a good President, and maybe a great one.

So in a real sense, this decision is very easy for me. I say it's not easy, though, because I still have a seed of doubt. I will enthusiastically vote for him, but I'll try to keep both eyes open. Doubtless there would be consequences of an Obama Presidency that would be negative, and it's impossible to tell now how significant those negatives would be. I am hopeful, but not without doubt. Trusting, but not without cynicism.

I think my posture is about as good of one as a Christian could have (um, humbly). Mostly, I hope, because it tempers the self-righteousness that comes with being on the obviously-superior-side (whichever side that is). I hope my seed of doubt leaves me more respectful of people who disagree with me. I know they have their reasons.

I wish we had more arguments about politics in church. I mean honest, respectful arguments, which are hard to have. It's easy to conclude that the people who disagree with you are stupid, crazy, evil, or some combination of the three. It's harder to listen to them and keep in mind the fact that your opponent is yet God's child, your sibling, no matter how different they are. No matter, even, how wrong they are. For Christ's sake, let's remember that our salvation does not hinge on how we vote.

When I remember Christ my Savior, I am less anxious about who to vote for. Sin boldly, said Martin Luther, the reformer who kick-started Protestantism 491 years ago today. Sin boldy because God is merciful, because you know not what you do. Sin bodly, as you cannot help but sin; yet nevertheless, live and love and risk and act and vote in the confidence that Christ lives to offer you forgiveness, to always invite you home.

What I appreciate about John Piper, I think, is that he comes to a similar conclusion. I hear in the background of his thought one theme: Jesus is my hero and defender, not John McCain. Jesus is my hope and reconciler, not Barack Obama. I could not agree more.

I am posting the "long version" of this video because it gives more context, even though in the short version he says fewer controversial things. I don't want to portray him as anybody other than who he is, and my whole excitement over this video depends upon Piper's theological conservatism. I would ask you to watch the whole thing -- but if you can't stand it, skip forward to about 2:44 seconds in. He's worth listening to. I wish more Christians would.

For more on voting from John Piper, read this.


Glen M said...

If Senator Obama wins this election, the following is what it has taken to get a very questionable, extremely inexperienced, very junior first time Senator past the mark:

1. Senator Obama’s campaign is outspending Senator McCain’s campaign 4 to 1 or more in some locations. This is due to Senator Obama backing out of an agreement he made with Senator McCain.
2. Senator Obama’s campaign has opened up about 700 offices nation-wide versus less than 100 than Senator McCain’s campaign has opened up.
3. The mainstream media has been completely biased against Senator McCain.
4. Biased organizations, such as ACORN, have received contributions from Senator Obama, have been openly supporting Senator Obama, and are under investigation for committing voter registration fraud in multiple states favoring Senator Obama.
5 An enormous number of biased celebrities have been supporting Senator Obama and speaking out against Senator McCain.
6. Even though Congress is very unpopular, both sides are controlled by the democrats and have been making biased statements against Senator McCain.
7. Senator McCain is disadvantaged because of the unpopularity of the incumbent President.
8. All four of the debate moderators lean to the left and were not 100% fair.

Even with all of the biased and unfair things mentioned above that are running against Senator McCain, Senator Obama only has a narrow lead. Should he not be way out in front? I have heard people state that on the news from both campaigns. That should tell you something. Also, Senator Obama pulled a cheap shot on Senator McCain and the American public in regards to campaign financing. Both campaigns agreed to use public financing during the presidential campaign. At the last moment, Senator Obama backed out of his agreement and took private financing, giving Senator Obama a significant advantage over Senator McCain in financing his campaign. In addition, Senator Obama is not being totally open as to where all his contributions are coming from. But even though Senator Obama took a sucker punch and tricked Senator McCain and all Americans by backing out of his agreement, Senator McCain is keeping with his word and using public financing. This is severely disadvantaging Senator McCain’s campaign financing by putting much lower caps on the amount of money he will have available. This is the reason Senator Obama can outspend Senator McCain 4 to 1. This also shows that Senator Obama does not keep his campaign promises, just like his past campaign promises.

Just imagine what it will be like when you have both the House of Representatives and the Senate controlled by the democrats, and Senator Obama in the Whitehouse signing everything that comes across his desk from them. In other words, the person writing the check will also be the one cashing it. There will be no “checks and balances”, especially if the democrats pick up a few more seats in the Senate and it becomes filibuster-proof, which means they will have a monopoly. Again, there will be no checks and balances. We will have higher taxes, more government, and fewer rights. They have already promised all of those things. You will have a government that will tax the people that are creating the jobs so they can “spread the wealth around”. Who do you think creates the jobs in this country? Have you ever seen a business owned by a poor person? Are they the ones starting small businesses and creating jobs? Obviously not! So we have established the fact that the people that own the small businesses and create the jobs are NOT the poor. So lets talk about what is going to happen when they start taxing the people that do own the small businesses that create the jobs.

So what do you think will happen when they start taxing the small business owners? First, jobs will be lost. They will not be able to afford to keep the same amount of people they have now – they will have to let people go. In addition, they will not be able to expand their businesses and hire more people. The second thing that will happen is that prices will go up. Do you think businesses will not raise the cost of their products and services to offset the extra taxes they have to pay? This should be obvious. The prices will go up on everything and will affect everybody – to include the middle class and the poor. When you go to the grocery store, the food prices will be higher. When you go buy a car, the prices will be higher. When you go to the department store the prices are going to be higher. Put yourself in the shoes of a business owner; if your expenses go up, would you not raise the price of your products to pay for them? Of course you would! And taxes are an expense.

Now lets talk about presidential qualifications. When a federal employee or a member of the military has a need to have access to classified materials, they would need to get a security clearance. A security clearance attempts to certify that an individual is of high moral character and does not pose a security risk. If a federal employee or a member of the military admits to using a dangerous drug, such as cocaine, they will not be eligible for a security clearance. In addition, an admitted cocaine user would not be able to get in the military and if he or she is a federal employee, he or she would be moved to a position of lesser responsibility and not have access to classified materials. Senator Obama has admitted to using cocaine in his book that he wrote. As a candidate for president, should he not be held up to the same standards of a federal employee or a member of our military? As President, he is going to be exposed to an enormous amount of classified materials, have his finger on the nuke button, and be the commander in chief of the strongest military in the world. Would you not want someone in that position that can qualify for a security clearance?

Another point I would like to make is in regards to Senator Obama’s experience, which is a drop in the bucket compared to Senator McCain’s. With the world and the economy in such a delicate position, I cannot imagine why anyone would not want the most experienced person in the Whitehouse. Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, and even Senator Obama’s running mate, Senator Joe Biden, have made statements to the fact that Senator Obama is not experienced enough to be President and that the presidency is not the type of job for on-the-job training. They also said that Senator McCain brings a lifetime of experience to the table. Senator Obama’s running mate, Senator Biden, even said he would even be honored to run “with” his friend John McCain. These individuals are now claiming that they said that during the primaries when they were running against Senator Obama. Does that mean they were lying then, or now? Senator Obama claimed that he had more diverse foreign policy experience because he lived overseas as a kid. Living overseas does not give you foreign policy experience, unless you are an Ambassador, which he was not. If it did, then Senator John McCain would again best Senator Obama’s record since he has lived overseas being a member of the military.

What issue or issues are you going to base your voting decision on? Will it be the economy? National defense? Education? There are so many out there. Because of the current economic situation, a large number of you are going to base your decision on who is best for the economy. I would hope that I have answered this question for you earlier on in this article. Such as pointing out which candidate has promised to raise taxes and spend more reducing jobs and raising the cost to live. But just in case I have not, I have a couple additional items for you to think about. If you look at all of the campaign promises on Senator Obama’s web site, you will see hundreds of them. How is he going to pay for them? I think I answered that already. But, if you add of the costs of all of them, mathematically it is going to cost us a lot more than he will be able to raise in taxes. So many of these are going to be just like so many of his previous campaign promises – they won’t get done. Maybe the economy is not the best issue to use in making a decision for president. What about national defense? In my opinion, if you don’t have a secure nation, the rest of the issues are moot. With Russia and China outspending us two fold to build up their military; with Iran and North Korea toying around with nukes and making threats; with Russia making friends and conducting military exercises not too far from our back door in Venezuela; with Russia helping Iran build nuclear processing material plants; and with the terrorist threat growing in Pakistan (a nuclear country), Afghanistan, Africa, and several other countries throughout the world, I want the most experienced and tested person in that office. Not some junior Senator that has absolutely no experience in national security. The economy is important, but national defense is a must. Remember, if our country is not secure, then the economy means nothing, our freedom is in jeopardy, and our lives as we know them today could easily be drastically changed in a moments notice. Just ask the citizens of the country of Georgia. One last point: Have you see who is openly supporting Senator Obama in the news? Iran and the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah have made public statements that they would prefer Sen. Obama to win. Go figure.

So after reading this, where do you stand? The differences in these two candidates are very apparent. On one hand, you have an individual with many years of applicable “real world” experience, has been a public servant and leader for about 50 years, has a proven record to reduce taxes and government spending, and is dedicated to growing the US economy and jobs. On the other hand, you have an individual with very little experience, questionable associations, has a proven record to increase taxes, government spending, and earmarks, and has promised to increase taxes and government spending. As I said at the beginning of this article, I cannot imagine why anyone in their right mind, after doing a real comparison of the two candidates, would vote for Senator Obama. I admit, he presents himself well and has a good appearance, as long as he has a teleprompter to read from. So the bottom line is what do you want in the next president, appearance or substance?

Bethany Pledge said...


Thanks for reading and taking the time to write such a long comment. I think I under-explained my support for Obama in this post, making it seem like I was only looking at appearances. In fact, I am voting for several reasons:

1. I agree most closely with Obama on foreign policy - on attempting to use diplomacy as much as possible, creating a broad coalition for support, and on lessening troops in Iraq so that we can more effectively go after terrorists in Afganistan.

2. Energy independence. I want more than "drill, baby, drill." And I think Obama is right to talk about the importance of safety when using nuclear power.

3. People who make over $250,000 a year can afford to pay more in taxes. It's not a big group of people.

And all of taxes "redistribute" wealth. We already have a progressive tax code, in which the percentage of income tax you pay goes up as income level goes up. It's not like McCain is arguing for a fair tax. Small businesses need customers, too.

You say we'll have higher taxes, bigger government, and fewer rights. Under Bush we have had lower taxes, bigger government, and fewer rights. Plus an exploding national debt.

An as an aside, this is still the United States of America. No matter who gets elected, we will still have more "rights" than the vast majority of the rest of the world.

3. Obama no longer uses cocaine. Gov. Palin has used pot. Who cares. If they were using currently, it would be an issue.

4. I know Obama does not have a lot of experience. I have decided that is not the most important qualification. McCain strikes me as a gambler - a bold, risk-taker, a Maverick, if you will. In some circumstances, this quality in him has led to greatness. But I don't want a gambler in the White House. I want a calm, thoughtful, reflective person who won't make rash decisions. I know that Obama may err in the other direction - not acting fast enough, in some cases, perhaps. Personally, I would rather we err on the side of caution.

5. I'm sorry, but McCain isn't losing in the polls because of a vast, left-wing conspiracy. He is losing because he is in the same party as the unpopular incumbent, yes. But he has also run a poor campaign. In the days ahead, I hope the Republican Party learns from this election, regroups, and comes back stronger. We need both parties at their best.

Kerry didn't lose because he was Swift-boated by Bush. He lost because he ran a weaker campaign. Bush gave people a reason to vote for him. McCain has, for the most part, given people reasons not to vote for Obama.

Yes, Obama decided he'd be better off not taking public financing. OK, that was Machivellian of him. But it might not have worked. He might not have raised as much as he has.

It seems like you discount the fact that Obama has a very strong campaign operation, funded in a large part by small donors, and ran in the large part by enthusiastic volunteers. That's not a conspiracy against McCain. That's not bias. That's just a better campaign. If more people were excited about McCain, he would have more volunteers. Bush had plenty of enthusiastic volunteers.

Glen, I know I won't change your mind anymore than you will change mine. I did want to make it clear that I have a mind, and I am not just supporting Obama because cool celebrities told me to.

I hope the point of my original post was also clear. Neither candidate is ideal. I am a Christian first, not a Democrat. You didn't mention religion in your comment, and I don't know who you are. I hope that nothing I say turns you off from Jesus.

I wish the church were LESS partisan. That was my point. There is too much at stake to go all in with either party.

Peace to you,

jonathan_m_miner said...

Hi Bethany,

Thanks for the post, a very good one.

Ariah said...

solid post. I definitely stole the video a couple times.

Solid thoughts as always.