Can a Christian vote in good conscience for Mitt Romney?

In an article on the Aquila Report in August  Jason Cunningham made a case as to why Christians should not vote for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Throughout his piece Cunningham makes numerous assumptions that dictate his ultimate conclusion, but we need to question these assumptions.

For instance, Cunningham writes,

Leaving aside the fact that by any historical definition Romney is not a “conservative,” or why we would want to ‘conserve’ any aspect of the political environment today …

Cunningham claims to leave aside these questions but the very fact that he raises the latter one is astonishing. Does Cunningham really think there is no aspect of the political environment today that is worth preserving? Does he really think that Romney stands for nothing positive? Presumably not. Presumably this statement just reflects rhetorical frustration with Romney and the conservative movement today. On the other hand, perhaps Cunningham’s criteria for assessing American politics is what is the problem here:

… the political environment of the moment does not set our standard for leadership, God does. Why do we look to Scripture for our standard of leadership both in home and church but leave civil government to pragmatics and compromise?  Said another way, we eagerly support candidates for political office that would be easily dismissed and disqualified in other institutions.

We look to Scripture for our standard of leadership in the church because the church is ordained by God and derives its authority from Scripture. But things get complicated when we consider the family or the state, institutions grounded in creation and in the Noahic Covenant, not in Scripture. To be sure, Scripture teaches standards of justice and righteousness for leadership in the family and the state. But while these standards are rarely met, we do not exclude from institutional leadership those who fail perfectly to meet them.

For instance, Scripture calls a husband to serve his wife and to sacrifice himself for her after the example of Christ and his love for the church. No nonbeliever can meet this standard. But we do not as a result say that nonbelievers may not marry. In fact, we encourage them to marry, both for their sake and for the sake of our society. The alternative would be nothing less than disastrous socially, economically, and morally.

The state is really not so different. Scripture calls a political ruler to submit himself or herself to Christ’s lordship, and to serve their people in a manner consistent with justice and righteousness. But no person perfectly meets this standard, and certainly no nonbeliever can meet this standard. Should we therefore say that nonbelievers cannot hold political office? Was the constitution wrong to declare that there should be no religious test for such office?

Cunningham would respond here by distinguishing what God may bring about by his providence and what Christians should support:

There is a big difference between God using wicked pagan rulers for His purposes and God’s people ‘asking’ for one by casting their vote for a known pagan, anti-Christ worshipper. The prophet Habakkuk was incredulous at the thought of God using the Babylonians to punish them but it appears in the case of America, we are self-consciously asking God for Babylon to rule over us. The only place we find Israel asking for a king is in their disobedience and lack of faith by wanting to be ‘like the other nations’. Peace and freedom are by-products of obedience, faithfulness, and repentance, and these will not be accomplished by asking God to give us Cyrus over Nebuchadnezzar.

It is obvious here that Cunningham views America as being in a situation analogous to ancient Israel, and he therefore expects us to evaluate our leadership on the same basis as an Israelite was supposed to evaluate his or her leadership: the Torah. He seems to think that the goal of Christians should be to establish our own political nation in which nonbelievers are excluded from positions of political authority. As he puts it,

If Christians demanded more from their candidates and withheld their votes from those that do not seek to uphold righteousness according to God’s law, the bar would be raised and the doors opened for true Christian statesmen to take office.

But is the gospel call upon Christians really to take over the nations, working hard to ensure that only we attain positions of political power, or is it to serve them, witnessing to the love of Christ by seeking the welfare of our neighbors in the city in which we live? As Jesus himself said, “The kings of the nations exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:25-26). Paul describes pagan civil government as appointed by God for our “good,” to carry out wrath on those who do wrong. He commands Christians to pray for those in political office, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). Peter reminds Christians that their obligations to “every human institution” are fulfilled in the call to serve, using our freedom as an opportunity for service, and keeping our conduct honorable such that we will not be a scandal to the nations, but that they will rather glorify God for our good works (1 Peter 2:12-17).

In his commentary on Jeremiah 29:7 John Calvin comments on Jeremiah’s exhortation to the Jews in exile to view Babylon as their own country, praying for and contributing to its peace and prosperity. Declaring that Christians are to think similarly of their own governments he writes, “they ought to have deemed their union [with Babylon] such as though they were of the same body. For by saying that their peace would be in the peace of Babylon he intimates that they could not be considered as a separate people until the time of seventy years was completed.”

The criteria by which we are to evaluate political candidates are not found in the Old Testament laws concerning Israel. They are found in the call of Jeremiah and of the New Testament to serve our neighbors by seeking their good. If we have the opportunity to choose political rulers, we should choose those who will do justice for all, enabling all to live in peace and quiet.

Under certain circumstances, this might involve voting for Christians. But in other circumstances, it is possible that a non-Christian might achieve these ends more effectively. The point is, we should choose the candidate who is most likely to contribute to justice and peace. Refusing to vote for any candidate who is not perfect hardly serves this end. It leads, rather, to political apathy, division, and gridlock. Christians who insist that they will only participate in the political process if they can choose godly Christian leaders are not displaying an attitude of love and service to their neighbors. They are displaying the desire to lord it over them.

Cunningham asks, “Why do we look to Scripture for our standard of leadership both in home and church but leave civil government to pragmatics and compromise?” We are open to pragmatics and compromise in political affairs because love for our neighbors demands this openness. A servant does not insist on his own way. Rather, a servant pays attention to the “political circumstances of the moment” and seeks to emulate the way of God by serving his neighbor in a manner appropriate to those circumstances.

There may be perfectly good reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney in November. But the fact that he is a Mormon is not one of them.

[Note: this post is re-blogged – with a few minor changes – from August 27, in response to the request of some readers for my thoughts on this subject.]

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on October 15, 2012, in 2012 election, Mitt Romney, Republican Party and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Can a Christian vote in good conscience for Mitt Romney?.

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