“My pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote! What he does is give out a score card that describes what the issues are and then shows what each candidate stands for. But then he tells us to make up our own minds!”
Anyway, that’s the word on the street.
How neutral is this method? The mid-term election is coming up on November 4; let’s look at two preachers in Anytown, USA.
Pastor Smith is guiding his congregation with a list of political issues that he has compiled. He puts on the agenda high taxes, the Second Amendment, American military superiority, gay marriage, the minimum wage, capital punishment, Common Core curriculum.
So, says Pastor Smith: “Who stands for God’s truth, Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley? I’m not telling you how to vote, I’m just giving you the facts!”
Across town, Pastor Jones designs questions about the environment, the Innocence Project, high military spending, labor rights, the Fourth Amendment, concluding: “I wouldn’t tell you how to vote, but who is closer to the Bible: Candidate Anderson or Candidate Benchley?”
Both can claim “I’m not using the pulpit to tell anyone how to vote!” Both might be faithful to the letter of political neutrality, but both would be violating its spirit. And two congregations will go away believing that they know who is God’s candidate for the office – except that they will be backing different candidates.
Even when your pastor doesn’t give you a political ANSWER SHEET, he or she inevitably sets up the QUESTIONNAIRE or SCORECARD so that they lead to a specific end. The same thing happens when a news outlet brings on an expert to tell you The Truth – even experts have their agenda. For example, in the last week I have seen two Gulf War veteran leaders talk about what we should do in Iraq, and they had completely different opinions, both of them well thought out. In fact, Pastors Jones and Smith might both put, oh, let’s say school lunch programs, voter registration laws, Iraq, the minimum wage on their charts, and yet come up with two different sets of “Bible answers”. Look up “Bible-based” voter guides for the 2012 presidential election, and you’ll be surprised at how contradictory the answers are! And they don’t even consistently take you to the Bible, but rely on cultural values or good ol’ common sense.
In fact, nobody ever gives you simply the facts; everyone is making prior decisions about which questions should be important for the Christian. That is how the human mind works, but it can lead to the sort of blinkered thinking one sees in books like How Would Jesus Vote?: A Christian Perspective on the Issues; the author checked off a long list of issues where he was certain Jesus would vote this way or that. He did so too easily, in my opinion.
My pastors for the past couple of decades have generally, I think, been sharp and even-handed when it comes to the Bible and politics. Nevertheless, I do not rely on them or anyone to tell me what the fundamental issues are, nor to give me the correct viewpoint on, for example, Common Core, climate change, immigration, economic policy, capital punishment, SNAP (“food stamps”), military spending, federal investment into scientific research, school lunches programs, to name a few. In part this is because I study the issues and draw my own conclusions. And in part, I’ve seen too many Christian leaders pull out a predetermined set of Bible verses to support one side or another, and that can lead to reckless exegesis. I’m not even going to get into the wild claims or shady statistics or internet rumors, which data do nothing to make me have greater confidence in Christian political gurus.
Yes, God’s Word is there to show us the path of righteousness, but it’s tough going to escape our prior ideological commitments and let the Bible redraw the map of our assumptions. One way to try to dampen down the partisanship is to make a grand effort to raise all the questions that the Word of God tells us are important, and not just the issues that appeal to us or our political party. There is no way that I myself am reliably non-partisan or specially illuminated on all political issues; that’s what makes me suspect that other Christian leaders aren’t either. I’m dubious about anyone who has a black-and-white Bible answer for every political issue.
Yes, the Bible has the answers, but we need to be “exegetically humble” in the way we put our questions to it.  Otherwise we are mishandling Scripture.
 People of my generation will remember the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it’s heavily-ironic “Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. The answer is 42. The trouble is, no-one knew what the question was, so they took millions of years to figure it out. In the Bible, answers are available, but the Bible also comes as the gift of God to point out to us what the Big Questions are.
“No, but…MY pastor doesn’t tell us how to vote!” by Gary S. Shogren, Ph. D., Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica