Outside the perfection

Voters always judge: what flaws can we accept?

Oct 10, 2016 by

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Presidential elections test the conscience of two-kingdom Christians. We belong to God’s kingdom but live in the world’s. Every worldly state operates “outside the perfection of Christ,” as the Anabaptists’ 1527 Schleitheim Confession says regarding use of “the sword.” The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has strayed farther than ever outside the ideal. Many evangelical Christians have shown an unprecedented willingness to overlook glaring defects.

How much deficiency can we accept and still vote? Shall we shun a flawed system and its candidates? Plenty of conservative and plain Anabaptists do. They keep their hands clean of blame for politicians’ wars and lies. They dwell in a worldly kingdom but will bear no responsibility for deciding who runs it. This is a principled, biblical position.

Acculturated Mennonites mostly accept the compromises voting entails. From the perspective of God’s kingdom, every presidential election presents an imperfect choice — even a contest between evils, and thus the need to identify the lesser. There is no Christian purity in politics. Not even in third-party candidates, though the Green and Libertarian parties appeal to nonconformist idealism and merit wider acceptance.

The questions voters must ask, then, involve degrees of imperfection: Every candidate is willing to use military force, but who is less belligerent? Every candidate strays from the truth, but who is less deceitful? Every candidate’s words, actions and policy positions reveal character, temperament and moral judgment. Who scores higher on the balance of these assets and weaknesses?

Without expecting perfection, biblical principles remain an essential standard for judging the candidates’ promises and priorities. Scripture’s consistent concern for the poor and the immigrant presents a vision of justice that a secular state with the right priorities can move toward. Voters can find evidence to tell whether a presidential candidate appears receptive to the biblical call to show compassion to foreigners and those who endure prejudice based on race or religion.

For some Christians who apply these considerations to their voting decisions, Hillary Clinton is the choice. For others, especially those who place a high priority on conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, Donald Trump will get their vote. People of faith can pray and hope that all voters will base their decisions on principles and facts rather than empty promises and words that appeal to prejudice and fear.

We hope no Christian will vote for either Trump or Clinton because they’re so fiercely loyal to one party they would vote for anyone that party nominates. We hope no Mennonite will vote for Clinton out of admiration for her militarism, exemplified by her support for the disastrous and immoral invasion of Iraq. We hope no one will vote for Trump based on esteem for his habit of making statements that bear no relationship to the truth, notably his appeal to racist suspicion of President Obama by promoting the “birth­er” fraud for years.

Amid the dark currents that have swept the presidential campaign along in a flood of dishonesty and divisiveness, the struggle between God’s and the world’s kingdoms continues. The choice in the voting booth is important. The question of which kingdom to serve holds far higher stakes.

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