A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Deconstructing Memes: Voting Biblically

As we are in the throes of another election season, I think visiting a meme about what it means to vote biblically is in order.

The meme above floats around on social media in every election season, usually posted by Christians whose politics are more conservative. At first glance, it appears to be well grounded in Scripture, but is it? I would say that it certainly is based on some Scriptures and it also makes some good points, but there are two glaringly large problems with this meme.

The first problem is that it doesn't recognize the context of most of these quotations and is really nothing more than proof-texting, which "is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological [or in this case a political] position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing." In other words, this meme is basically an approach to Scripture that starts with preconceptions and then hunts for Bible verses to confirm the view already held. Space does not permit looking at each one, but I will highlight three examples.

The first example: "I will vote for the most pro-life candidate, because God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17). "Now one can certainly make the case that abortion is the shedding of innocent blood, but there are more ways to shed innocent blood than abortion. What about drone strikes that kill innocent civilians? What about the executions of prisoners falsely convicted of murder of which there have been more than a few? Why is that one issue held above all other life issues? Moreover, when one looks at the context of Proverbs 6:17, one sees that the shedding of innocent blood is not the only thing the wise sage has in mind:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
   seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
   and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
   feet that hurry to run to evil,
a lying witness who testifies falsely,
   and one who sows discord in a family (Proverbs 6:16-19)

Of the seven things listed that the Lord hates, why just focus on one? Why not vote for the candidate who has less of a lying tongue? How about voting for the one who is least likely to devise wicked plans? How about voting for the candidate that doesn't lie falsely ten times a day, or the one who sows the least discord and does not approve of violence? This first example in the list is proof-texting par excellence.

The second example: "I will vote for the most pro-Israel candidate, because God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who don't (Genesis 12:3)." There is no doubt that in Scripture, Israel is God's chosen people and affirmed as such in both the Old and New Testaments. But there is a big problem here. Contrary to what some will tell you, it is not clear how biblical Israel is related to today's secular state of Israel. There is the thorny matter of Paul's discussion of Israel in Romans 9-11, as well as God's often harsh criticisms and judgments of his people in the Old Testament and Jesus' harsh criticisms and judgments of his own people in the Gospels. I am very sensitive to the church's long history of anti-Semitism, and I do not seek to give fuel to that here, but it is clear from the Bible that criticism of Israel is not cancelled out because they are God's chosen people. Those who claim they are pro-Israel today usually approve of any action the modern state takes because, after all, they are God's chosen. They also take any criticism of the actions of the modern state as being anti-Israel, something that has no warrant in the Bible. Indeed, whatever God means in Genesis 12:3 by cursing those who curse Abraham, criticism is not cursing. Disagreeing with Israeli policies is also not cursing.

There is also the matter of God blessing Ishmael and his descendants in Genesis 17:20. Should not those seeking the welfare of Israel also seek the welfare of Ishmael's Muslim descendants who God has said he too will bless?

Let's take one last example. "I will vote for the most pro-work candidate because God says if a man won't work let him not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)." This one is puzzling to me.

Here Paul's concern is very context specific. Paul is offering harsh words to those who likely have given up earning a living while waiting for the second coming, and are thus mooching off of those who are still laboring. I am not sure how this internal church matter relates to how one votes. It is true that the Bible does not affirm laziness, but why single this one issue out and ignore the fact that the Bible has much more to say about being generous to the poor and those who are unable to work? Indeed, Richard Stearns in his book, The Hole in Our Gospel, estimates there are approximately 5000 verses throughout the Bible about helping the poor and those on the margins. As a major theme, idleness is not in the center of the Scriptural Radar. Why put it at the center of a Christian voting guide?

Thus, when the meme ends by stating "I will vote based as close as I can on God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16)," it reflects a nice sentiment, but this is not a meme based closely on God's Word. In actuality, it is a highly selective cherry-picking of Scripture. For example, why can't someone produce the following meme also based on Scripture (I will leave it to the reader to look up the citations):

I will vote for the most pro-immigrant candidate
because God cares that the sojourner and the stranger are treated equally with citizens.
(Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22)

I will vote for the most anti-poverty candidate
because God wants the poor to be fed.
(Deuteronomy 15:11)

I will vote for the most compassionate candidate
because God wants us to support those who cannot support themselves.
(Leviticus 25:35)

I will vote for the candidate who is the most pro-peacemaking
because Jesus said that all who live by the sword will die by the sword.
(Matthew 26:52)

I can offer more examples, but I think this is sufficient to make my point. What it means to vote biblically cannot be reduced to a few verses of Scripture that appeal to us because they already confirm our politics. It is more complicated than that. Our problem is two-fold: First, we do not have a coherent hermeneutic (a way of interpreting the Bible) of the biblical canon (Genesis to Revelation) as a whole. Thus, we produce memes that are nothing more than a buckshot approach to reading the Bible, targeting our pet issues while often missing the bullseye. And second, because we do not have a coherent hermeneutic, we do not take into account the whole of the canon which is the only approach to Scripture that can point us to what it might mean to vote biblically.

1 comment:

Richard H said...

With all the talk about student loan forgiveness I've seen the easy "biblical
conclusion that God is all about forgiving debt so we should be too. There's certainly quite a bit there about forgiving debt. But debt doesn't function the same way now that it did then. Before modern western capitalism, debt was normally a crushing load, something one one took on as a matter of life and death. Now it is tool used to grow and advance wealth. We have billionaires borrowing (acquiring debt) based on their non-liquid wealth so they can have the money and avoid taxation. Is this a kind of debt we should nonchalantly forgive because "the Bible says so?"