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Notes from a Disillusioned Evangelical Voter

I’m probably not the only conservative disillusioned by the four remaining Republican nominees. But my political malaise goes far deeper than having to choose between a Mormon and a liberal — it concerns john-mccain-pirate.jpgpolitics in general.

Is it just me, or do Christians place far too much import on politics? Don’t get me wrong, I believe Christians should be involved socially and politically, and that God’s kingdom and Man’s kingdom do, occasionally, cross paths. Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21), thereby preventing us from total isolationism. But just how much we need to be involved in Caesar’s palace is another story.

Though I’m up on political talk radio, I’ve caught myself snickering at the recent hysteria many of the conservative talk show hosts are exhibiting concerning the potential endorsement of John McCain.

Yahoo News reports:

Talk radio pioneer Rush Limbaugh said that if McCain or Mike Huckabee are nominated, “it’s going to destroy the Republican Party.” Mark Levin calls the senator “John McLame.” On Monday, Laura Ingraham said she was “concerned about the mental stability of the McCain campaign” and had cuckoo-clock sound effects accompany his words.

“Sen. McCain is a great American, a lousy senator and a terrible Republican,” Hugh Hewitt told The Associated Press. “He has a legislative record that is not conservative. In fact, it is anti-conservative.”

But the panic doesn’t end there. Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation and a founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Moral Majority, said “McCain hates strong conservatives. McCain hates the religious right” and conservative diva, Ann Coulter said that if John McCain gets the nod, she would support Hillary Clinton.

For the record, I don’t like John McCain either. His positions on immigration, taxes, stem cell research, global warming, and gay marriage differ from mine and most evangelical voters. But will his nomination, rush.jpgas Limbaugh suggests, “destroy the Republican Party”? Give me a break! And if it does, maybe the GOP needs destroyed.

All this hand-wringing makes me wonder if one of the big losers in this election, so far, isn’t conservative talk radio. That was columnist Michael Medved’s point when he called talk radio “a medium that has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility because of its hysterical and one-dimensional involvement in the GOP nomination fight.” At one time, conservative blogs and talk radio were feared (by liberals) to be brainwashing the masses and steering the country toward fascist control. The Fairness Doctrine was introduced to curb what was perceived as rampant Right Wing propaganda. But with the New Media apparently unable to lead the “sheeple” to greener pastures, I guess freedom of speech is safe once again.

Hey, I like Rush, Ingraham, Hewitt and Hannity. But is it possible they’ve constructed an echo chamber of their own making, a level of self-importance that, as Medved suggests, “has unmistakably collapsed in terms of impact, influence and credibility”? Then, to top it off, you have Joe Scarborough saying that McCain can’t win without Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson’s endorsement. Limbaugh and Dobson? Is that who’s steering the Right Wing? The Pundit and the Preacher? Maybe McCain was correct when, during the 2000 campaign, he said that the Religious Right had a “stranglehold” on the Republican Party.

I have long felt that evangelicals’ preoccupation with politics isn’t exactly biblical. To be sure, there are two extremes among American Christians regarding politics:

  1. Politics is an essential tool to implement and enforce Christian principles and values
  2. Politics is completely irrelevant to the furtherance of God’s kingdom

The first position produces activists, and compels devout social action and accountability; the second position produces separatists, and leads to retreat, isolation and social disconnectedness. From my vantage point, neither are biblical.

When Jesus issued that classic statement — “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” — He set forth a wonderful balance. Like it or not, we live under God and Caesar, and both demand their due. As Christians, we know God’s kingdom will prevail, and we should work heartily toward its establishment. But in the meantime, Caesar rules and — fo’shizzle — we have a say in which Caesar rules!

The fact is: America has survived bad presidents and will do so again. . . whether it’s Clinton, Obama, HillaryClinton.jpgRomney or *gasp* John McCain.

However, the real soul-searching for this evangelical voter is not whether or not I will support McCain. (When it comes right down to it, I’ll hold my nose and pull the lever for the liberal Arizona senator.) The real challenge is whether I will quaver and kowtow at the shrill threats and dire predictions of the conservative pundits. (Weren’t these the same folks who said Bill Clinton would destroy America?) It’s the beauty of the evangelical position that, though we may work hard to champion causes and elect candidates, God reigns in spite of who occupies the White House. Politics are important, but they cannot change the human heart. And changing the heart is what Christians should be about.

Super Tuesday will come and go, swallowed by lotsa not-so-super Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Without bloodshed and riot, we will eventually elect a president. Some will hail the chief, others will not. Scandals will follow, along with overspending and abuses of power. But as for me, I will “render to Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”. . . and keep my eyes fixed firmly upon the Throne.

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{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Ltl Hugo February 4, 2008, 5:11 PM

    I am just shocked to see how voters can be swayed by people who indorse a candidate. Can’t they make up their own minds as to who they desire. Why does it take an endorser to change their minds? Example, many women will change their minds to side in with Oprah, why? As an independent voter I will alone decide who I feel is best suited for the postion of President of the USA.

  • Nicole February 4, 2008, 7:08 PM

    (Just an aside, Yahoo misquoted Rush. He said McCain is in no way a Conservative, and that when representatives of the Republican party imitate liberal philosophy, they lose. He indicated if the Republican party sided with liberalism, then the party as representative of Conservatism would be destroyed.)

  • Mike Duran February 4, 2008, 8:06 PM

    Nicole, the transcript for that show can be found on Rush’s site HERE. There, he says, “I’m here to tell you, if either of these two guys [Huckabee or McCain] get the nomination, it’s going to destroy the Republican Party, it’s going to change it forever, be the end of it. A lot of people aren’t going to vote. You watch.”

    In another transcript called Rush to Saunders and Brooks: McCain’s Liberalism Is the Problem, the same trumpet is sounded:
    “. . . this election is about defeating the left. This is crucial. The future of the country is at stake here. This is not about attracting a big tent of Democrats and liberals and doing it by being like them, to get them. That’s going to destroy the party. That’s why I say, McCain or Huckabee, if they get the nomination, this party, as we know it’s finished. It’s going to be reconstituted somehow and you’re not going to recognize it.” Interestingly enough, the word “destroy” is used five times in this piece.

    It’s hard to downplay (not that you did) the severity of his concern. To me, this type of rhetoric potentially smacks of fear-mongering. As I said, I like Rush and think he’s been good for America and the conservative movement. However, I’m a little bit concerned at the way some Christians seem to almost reverence the man and his opinion.

    Thanks Nicole! Blessings to you!

  • dayle February 4, 2008, 8:06 PM

    Nicole, Rush did say the quote (I was listening when he said it), but his intended point was glossed over.

    What bothers me about Rush is that he said if we nominate Huckabee, the Evangelical right will be destroyed. I think this is a scare tactic from someone who is not an evangelical (unlike his brother) and really doesn’t want an evangelical to win, he just wants their votes to go to his type of Conservative.

    (Btw, his brother David is an evangelical and wrote a great book called Persecution – about the current war on Christianity.)

    Rush claims this is because Huckabee is not a true conservative to which he gives no evidence. Romney’s past doesn’t sound too conservative either, but Rush doesn’t apply the same standards to him.

    Mike, to answer your point about Christians putting too much import on politics:

    I think, once again, you have listened to the squeaky wheel on a particular topic and assumed the whole car is a rust bucket.

    But let me sumise what I think you really meant :). There is no panacea in politics. Don’t get too passionate beyond its reality. Most politicians are scumbags or they have to deal with scumbags. But, on the other hand, you have to pick the best scumbag or the worst scumbag will have a better chance of getting his way.

    But politics are important. We are one vote away from overturning Roe v Wade. If Clinton or Obama get in, we lose that battle for another generation.

  • Mike Duran February 4, 2008, 8:14 PM

    Dadgummit, that “squeaky wheel” got me agin!

  • dayle February 4, 2008, 8:25 PM

    Sidenote: I love the word “dadgummit”.

  • Nicole February 4, 2008, 10:55 PM

    Thanks, guys.

  • Mark H. February 5, 2008, 2:46 PM

    I am a Christian conservative…and I like John McCain. There. I said it.

    I’m not going to spend time arguing about him, though. You guys are smart enough to make up your own minds about the candidates. I agree with the general point of the post and the comments–that all the hand-wringing and “fear-mongering” over McCain is completely overblown. God is sovereign, and He raises up and overthrows leaders according to His will. As Christians, we vote for the people that we think best represent our worldview. But to think we can impose our worldview through politics is ridiculous. I think it’s important to remember to respect the office, no matter who occupies it. Every president will do good things and bad things (the amount of each differs, of course). The world in general seems to have lost the art of respecting those with whom you disagree. Shouldn’t the likes of Limbaugh and Coulter at least have more respect for McCain, even if they don’t like him?

  • Nicole February 5, 2008, 3:35 PM

    Respect is earned. Respecting Bill Clinton, for example, is not something he earned. Respecting his “position” as president is exactly why it was so difficult–because he defiled it.

    The “ideals” of a candidate is what we must ultimately vote for. If you see in evidence those ideals, practices, or philosophies you can’t respect, don’t trust, etc., then you don’t vote for the candidate. If you’re in the media, you diss those particular “values” and give your reasons for it. If you’re Rush or Ann, you don’t tread lightly.

    I don’t respect the liberal candidates because they disrespect the sanctity of unborn life and the preservation and protection of our nation through the military, and without campaigning directly for it they advocate socialism and the homosexual agenda.

    But I do respect you, Mark, because you’re thoughtful in expressing your opinions and generally they agree with mine. 🙂

  • Michael Ehret February 5, 2008, 5:36 PM

    To answer your question: Yes, Christians place for too much emphasis on politics. We are responsible to vote for the person we believe will do the best job — regardless of party. There are bad Republicans and good Democrats and vice versa.

    But if we, Christians, spent half the time evangelizing, sharing our faith, getting into relationship with those who don’t believe in order to earn the right to speak to them about Christ — if we spent HALF the energy on that as we do on politics, we’d see how almost completely unimportant politics is — at least politics as we currently know it here in America.

    I say that above condemning myself. I don’t do it either.

    It’s not going to matter in the long run. When Christ returns, it is not going to matter a whit whether the current President is a Republicrat, a Demican, an Independent, a woman, a black, a Muslim, etc. It’s not going to matter. It’s not going to matter.

    Let it go, Christians, the path to the promised land does not lie through politics. Let it go, but don’t give it up. You are still responsible as a citizen of this nation.

    Enough.

  • janet February 6, 2008, 12:09 AM

    Hey Mike. I go so far as to say that politics is something Satan uses to distract Christians from their calling, which is to reach the lost with the gospel. We get stuck on defending morality, which isn’t the same. Reach the lost. If we do that, the Holy Spirit will come to reside in peoples’ heart and changes in morality will follow. Yet, we should be informed an involved, making the best choice we can.
    The conservative talking heads ticked me off the most when they spent all that time making fun of Hillary for getting emotional. Gimme a break.

  • Mike Duran February 6, 2008, 2:16 PM

    Mark H., thanks for your perspective. . . and admitting you like McCain. There are many conservatives who like the Arizona senator, so I don’t want to give the impression he is without support among Republicans. For instance, Michael Medved, prominent conservative talk radio host, has adamantly supported McCain. (See his column, Six Big Lies About John McCain, at Townhall.) It’s led to some interesting scuffles between other radio Republicans.

    Mike E., I do agree that politics is a tempting apple for Christians. In a way, it promises a shortcut for societal change, without the real work of evangelism. The problem is, evangelism is less a program and more a lifestyle. Herein lies the real temptation — We can elect people and implement policies that reinforce “Christian values” without having to actually apply them on a day-to-day basis ourselves. We’d rather have a law that outlaws abortion than articulate and sustain rational arguments, and exercise the type of love, that makes abortion undesirable. I don’t know if I’d go so far as suggest we completely bail on political involvement, but that we keep any involvement in the proper perspective.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • dayle February 6, 2008, 4:36 PM

    Janet, I find myself in the unusual and awkward position of disagreeing with you.

    Everyday, we all do things that distract us from spreading the Gospel. Whether it is watching TV, reading a BOOK, preparing food for a church function, playing golf, going to a movie, etc.

    To use your logic we’d have to stop all these activities completely.

    One man’s political obsession is another man’s 4 book a week habit. And it would be just as easy for that man to point his finger at someone and say you shouldn’t be doing X, because it’s distracting you from spreading the gospel.

    Prioritization may be the key.

    The reality is that there will always be a huge population in the U.S. who are not Christians and they will then try to influence others by creating an environment via politics and pop culture where as we become less effective at outreach.

    Just as important as saving a drowning man is to stop the guy who is pushing him under.

  • janet February 6, 2008, 5:53 PM

    No,no, no Dayle. That isn’t exactly what I mean. I’m not thinking of individuals and their habits/interests so much as I’m thinking of churches and Christian organizations who get all worked up about the spiritual and moral state of the country and then decide that the way to fix it is to FOCUS on political involvemente: preaching on in, lobbying, picketing, making radio programs, going on TV and shouting about it, etc. etc.
    I’m not saying some measure of this isn’t okay. I’m just saying I’d rather see Christians putting more energy and money into a more powerful way of changing America.
    I’ll admit there might be flaws in my theory, but it’s how I feel.

  • Michael Ehret February 7, 2008, 12:55 PM

    No, I don’t want to bail on politics either. We just have to come to see it differently. We still have our responsibility as citizens, including running for office if we feel God calls us to that. I think politics has become a big distraction to CHristians on both sides of the political spectrum. Too many people, myself included, have looked to politics to accomplish the changes that can only be rightly accomplished by a changed heart. As you said.

  • Mark H. February 7, 2008, 1:55 PM

    Here’s another defense of McCain’s conservative credentials, similar to Medved’s column (thanks for the link, by the way):

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/02/06/roland.martin/index.html

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