That’s the literal inaugural platform–as in the actual stage at the US Capitol on which the President and his guests will stand and sit during the swearing-in ceremony on January 21. Just as I did when Mr. Obama was first sworn-in, I recently went to the ceremonial door on the West Terrace of the United States Capitol Building to pray and to anoint the archway through which the President will walk on his way to the podium on Inauguration Day. Not everyone will agree with me on what I did, or why I did it, but I’d like to explain both here.
First, I went to pray for the President and his administration because the Apostle Paul urged that, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (First Letter to Timothy, Chapter 2, verses 1-2) In case you think this applies only to likable potentates, keep in mind St. Paul wrote this when Nero was on the throne–he, of brutal persecution, including the infamous burning of Christians as human torches for his backyard barbeques. So, prayers are not just for the “good guys” or the politicians we like.
Second, I went to pray for the President, his family, and the members of his administration because they need prayer–badly. You may not like what a president stands for, but he is the chief executive and commander-in-chief, and in that way he serves all of the American people. It’s one of the most stressful jobs in the world and it takes its toll on him and his family. Whether you like his administration’s political platform or not, much of what you benefit from, including a federal security apparatus that keeps you safe, a military that keeps our nation strong, highway, rail, sea, and air traffic control systems, Social Security, etc., etc, are all administered by the executive branch. (I know, they also collect the taxes, fuel Planned Parenthood, etc, but that only means they need even more prayer, the only thing that can lead them to conviction and repentance!) Prayer is both the most powerful agent we can bring to bear on the conscience of our national leaders–and the most generous gift we can give to them. In case you think that politicians are not deserving of kindness, think about how gracious God was in offering up his only Son for each of us, “while we were yet sinners.” (See Romans 5:8)
Third, I went to pray for the President and his administration because the inauguration of a president is a momentous and enormously consequential time for our nation and for the world. A president is charged with carrying out the laws passed by the Congress, that in turn represents the American people. A president wields significant power through his command of the Armed Services and the federal police power. The president conducts global diplomacy on behalf of the American people. The presidency is anything but inconsequential. That would seem justification enough to pray for every president.
Fourth, I anointed the archway through which the president will walk on his way to raise his right hand before the Chief Justice of the United States because the application of oil suggests the setting apart of physical space for the purposes of God. Anointing is an act of consecration. The people and places anointed throughout the Bible were far from perfect–and anointing did not cure that deficiency. It simply meant that the anointed person or object was consciously held accountable to God’s intended use. Plenty of “anointed” persons and things turned out to be misused, but that never changed the intention.
Finally, I prayed for the President and all those in authority with him because–to put it simply–such prayer pleases God. Need I say more on that?
I know it’s tough for many to pray for President Obama, but for the sake of his soul, for the sake of the souls in his family, for the sake of the souls that work for him, and for the sake of the soul of our American civilization, I urge you to follow the urging of the Apostle and obey the command of God. Here it is again in its entirety:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2: 1-6)
Just in case you’re still uncomfortable with my actions, let me assure you they don’t stop with a prayer and some oil. I’ve written a long and heart-felt letter to the President that will shortly be hand-delivered to him at the White House. After it’s safely there, I’ll share it here with you.
Oh, and watch, too, for the big banner soon to be unfurled on the front of our ministry house just a stone’s throw from where the Inaugural Ceremony will take place. I call our banners “two-story Gospel tracts.” This one will send a very important message to the President and to all that support him.
Oh, and one more thing: Yes, I plan to be at the Inaugural Ceremony, God willing, and I will be praying . . .
Below is a post by Pastor Mark Buckley of Living Streams Church in Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve always loved reading him, and thought you might appreciate his perspective on the recent election outcome. I’d especially like to know your reactions to Mark’s piece. Please post here or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week I’ll post specific action steps I think Christians should begin making BEFORE the new terms in Congress and the White House really get underway. Watch for that.
November 2012 ~ Dysfunctional Dynamics (by Mark Buckley)
Kristina and I spent the first seven years of our marriage running a discipleship house. Some of the young men and women we helped became pastors and leaders. Others left us and ended up going to jail. We helped people transform their lives through the grace of God, but we also learned our limitations. When we did for people what they should have been doing for themselves we didn’t help them at all.
A dysfunctional concept of love permeates our society. This was evident when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana and other states voted to legalize gay marriage. Giving people what they want rather than what is good for them is a flawed concept of love. The last thing we should be doing in a time of financial crisis is to make drugs that diminish mental capacity more widely available. Do we want our doctors, car repairmen, computer technicians and airline pilots to get stoned? We should also know that marriage was established by God for a man and a woman. Healthy marriages are the foundation of healthy families and a strong society.
While our government provides many vital services for those in need, it is also like a dysfunctional parent who provides benefits even to those who don’t want to work. If we do for others what they should do for themselves, we are hindering their development, not enhancing it.
America has over 16 trillion dollars in federal debt, and trillions more in unfunded entitlements (Google the national debt clock). It’s going to be a painful mess when interest rates start to rise, inflation increases and another economic down turn begins.
Our twelve year war in Afghanistan exemplifies dysfunction. Our soldiers are being shot by the very people we are trying to help. We cannot be a savior to the Afghans. We should have defeated the Taliban and left their country ten years ago. America needs to cut military spending, cut domestic spending and change our attitude about the responsibility of the government. It is not righteous to keep borrowing from the next generation to fund our current budget.
I had a heavy heart one day as I contemplated these realities. I laid down on a rug in our living room to pray. Within a few minutes the Holy Spirit began to refresh and encourage me. The storm clouds of spiritual warfare parted, and the light of God’s grace gave me a fresh perspective. The Holy Spirit comes to us because Jesus has risen from the dead. Every trial shrinks in the light of the glory that God reveals when we experience the reality that Jesus is alive.
Kristina and I prepared our children to face the trials of life, but each of them has to fight their own spiritual giants as they go through life. Likewise, every generation faces unique challenges which help people see their need to turn to God. The dysfunction in society gives us an opportunity to share God’s word and bring the gospel of Christ to those who are open. Some people look for scapegoats when their lives fall apart. Others look for solutions. The Word of God has wisdom for the problems people face.
I have been meeting with pastors from some of the largest churches in Arizona. We are working together in unity to glorify God. We want to mobilize the Church to help vulnerable children. Networks of pastors have formed all over the country to work in unity to serve our communities in Jesus name.
The Church of Jesus Christ is filled with people who love God and care for each other. We help each other triumph over the trials of life. We bring healing to the brokenhearted and hope to the discouraged. There is nothing better in life than the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God that Jesus gives to everyone who calls on his name. Living Streams has helped plant five churches in the last several years and all are thriving. Churches where the grace and power of God are present bear fruit regardless of political circumstances, because Jesus is the head of all authority, and Lord over all creation.
Maybe you’re feeling like I am about the presidential election. On a personal level, I’m disappointed. I came to know Mitt Romney as a decent man and a capable leader. I think he would have done good for our country at this critical point in history. At the same time, I expected many of the same challenges to face him that will present themselves under four more years of the present administration, just on a smaller scale and with greater possibilities of resolution. For example, the immoral debt we are piling up as a nation is tied to the political utility of the public dole. Handing out fistfuls of money helps politicians of both parties to secure their jobs. That’s a tough thing to defeat, even for a fiscally conservative president. Only a tiny remnant of politicians are willing to put their own positions at risk by turning off the spigot. On abortion, while Governor Romney announced he would work for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, that would take a Supreme Court with a firm pro-life majority, which we don’t have. Of course, he might have appointed one or two pro-life justices during his term, but even a pro-life court is highly unlikely to have reversed Roe in one fell swoop. Knowing the justices as much as I do, I think the only one likely to leave the court during Mr. Obama’s second term is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be replaced by someone just like her. On America’s security, of course a President Romney would have been militarily strong and foreign-policy-tough, but I have great confidence in our clandestine and federal police agencies, and, of course, our highly dedicated men and women in uniform. They’ll continue to get the job done regardless of the political machinations at the higher levels.
All this to say, Yes, I believe things are going to get worse–and worse faster–because Mr. Obama has four more years. Yes, I believe it was the wrong decision for the majority of voters to make. Yes, I believe that in the course of time, many will come to regret their vote. But am I surprised by the outcome? Not really. For a culture that produces superstars like Lady Gaga, social heroes like Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, and for a population that can’t tell the difference between God and government, my only surprise is that things are as good as they are–not as bad as they are!
After all, what would make anyone believe a majority of any population group would choose virtue over vice? This nation once chose slavery over it’s founding creed that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In fact, rather than choose to let the sin of slavery go, we decided instead to litter fields and farms with the bloodied cadavers of more than 50,000 fellow citizens and even family members.
I’m not a five-point Calvinist, but I do believe we’re all utterly stained by sin and unable to save ourselves. As the Psalmist declares of God, “He alone
is my rock and my salvation.” (Ps 62:6) If we are unable to save ourselves individually, then what would make us think we are able to save ourselves together as a nation. Repentant believers will always be a minority. Jesus said, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matt 7:14) So, believers will always be a voting minority–and voting minorities rarely get national leaders elected. My point here is that the country is just doing what we should expect it to do. Tuesday should not have surprised any of us. The only surprise would have been if the country had taken a different path.
That’s my take on the macro of this election. A sinful people bent selfishly on themselves made a selfish and sinful decision. It’s the story of humanity since the Garden of Eden. It’s the story of Israel. It’s the story of every empire. It’s the story of every culture we are called to evangelize. In this way, nothing has changed. One of our Supreme Court justices told me, “Do you want things to change in this country? Go out and change hearts and minds. Get people converted out there and things will change in here.” I agree. That is our task. It has always been and always will be.
So, yesterday morning was for me very much like Tuesday morning–and like the Monday morning before that–and like the Sunday morning before that. The course of this country hasn’t changed–and neither has my mission or the mission of Faith and Action. Our only calling is to announce and advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is our shared mission. It is the Great Commission delivered to us by Christ Himself, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This mission remains constant whether we are in a United States of America or in the People’s Republic of China.
Now, no doubt some of my friends are wondering if this recent event signals the soon return of our Lord. Well, if it does, it’s joined to many other phenomena. As for me, I’m not sure it signals anything more than our propensity to choose sin over salvation. It’s a bad political decision to be sure, and it places many innocent lives at risk while it further demoralizes an already demoralized society, but what’s new about that?
In ruminating on all this, be aware that the negative always commands more attention than the positive. The public acceptance of same-sex marriage in two more states is certainly negative for the culture. However, on the other hand, the famous “Ten Commandments Judge,” my friend Roy Moore, was elected Chief Justice of Alabama, the same seat from which he was removed in 2003 for acknowledging God by installing a Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama Supreme Court building! Now that’s a positive outcome on Election Day!
So, be of good cheer. The temporary king that was chosen on Tuesday may be a terrible disappointment to you–maybe even a fright–but there remains a greater king in the heavenlies, “And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’”(Rev 19:16)
The Republican nominee for president lost on Tuesday, and many poor decisions prevailed across the country, but of the One to whom all will ultimately make account, the Scripture says, “His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”
Now, of whom shall we be afraid?
Let’s get back to the work God has given us to do.
Even after nearly twenty years of ministry on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, it’s still amazing to watch the reactions of many in my mission field to calamities like this epic storm, Sandy. There is a lot of hand wringing–mostly over possible political implications–and questions about things like–no, not entire towns being under water–but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s declining a visit from President Obama.There’s a lot of fretting over the impact of Sandy on the election.
At times like these, are these the things that are most important? St. Paul answers in a succinct way:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”–Romans 12:9-16 ESV
At Faith and Action, we’ve prayerfully decided to work with our friends in the regions most affected by establishing a Sandy Relief Fund to be distributed to expert relief agencies doing the most to help. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution, use the Donate button at www.faithandaction.org , call in a gift using your credit or debit card at 202-546-8329, or mail your check to Faith and Action, Sandy Relief, 109 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20002.
Some of our supporters may think this is a bit of mission drift, but we can’t preach that the church is a better helping agency than government if we don’t practice what we preach. The most effective preaching is done in practice. That’s as simple as it gets. We don’t need words right now, we need action. That’s our moniker: Faith AND Action. Most of the time our emphasis is on the first word. This week it must be on the both. Please join us in “Faith” by praying for all those so gravely affected by this disaster, and join us in “Action” by doing something tangible for them.
Somebody asked me today, “Do you think the hurricane is a judgment from God?” I had an answer, but I’ll tell you what it was in a minute. First, it’s important to look at what judgement means in this context. The theological term is often used in a punitive way. In other words, God “judges” people when they do wrong. However, the biblical use of the term is more expansive. In reference to suffering, St. Paul said to the Thessalonians, “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God . . .” (2 Thess 1:5a ESV) The “righteous judgment of God” is part of God’s goodness and grace–it is a gift to humankind because it reminds us of who is really in charge.
After nearly twenty years of ministry to America’s top elected and appointed officials, I’ve seen plenty of political grandiosity. It’s easy for those at the pinnacle of earthly power to believe they can control everything. All it takes, though, is a tropical cyclone–something that has happened since time immemorial–to remind us we are not all-powerful. In fact, as happened today, rising air, blowing winds, and whirling clouds can bring the most powerful political forces on earth to a standstill. While the loss of life and property already tied to Hurricane Sandy (and the prospect of much more to come) is reason to weep with those who weep, yet there is a silver lining to this otherwise dark and menacing cloud. Hurricanes remind us just how dependent we are on God, on each other, and even on nature. Such calamities give us perspective; they humble us; they remind us of how small we really are when compared to the Lord who “sits enthroned on the flood.” (Psalm 29:10)
A CNN anchor opined today, “Hurricane Sandy has thrown a real monkey wrench into the presidential campaign. ” I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I think it’s exactly the opposite. This storm took the two presidential candidates off the campaign trail eight days out of the election. That has enormous consequences for both. Now, I’m not so naive that I don’t to see how the incumbent president is using the situation to his advantage. Nonetheless, it’s a good thing for the country to see top tier politicians at least pause in their contest to give attention to something much bigger than themselves. This hiatus is a gift from God. Politics–and the politicians at the core of it–can become smaller and smaller as a campaign approaches its conclusion. This is an opportunity for them–and more importantly for all of us–to recalibrate hearts and minds.
So, what was my answer to the initial question of whether or not Hurricane Sandy is a judgment from God? Of course it is–as is everything we know in this world. Nature is both punitive and redemptive–reflecting two attributes of its Creator, the One whom our American founders called, “The Supreme Judge of the World.”
For those who have forgotten God–or, worse, who may be confused if they are God–this storm is an awesome reminder and a corrective measure. For those who know the One that controls the seas, it is an opportunity for awe and worship. Both outcomes are consistent with the purpose of judgment. This event is beyond our control–and that is a powerful way to learn who indeed is.
But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
His images are a fraud;
they have no breath in them.
They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
when their judgment comes, they will perish.
He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the tribe of his inheritance—
the Lord Almighty is his name.
– Jeremiah 10:12-16 NIV
With prayers for all in Sandy’s path,
As I travel the country speaking at churches and talking with people in lobbies after services, it’s clear the looming presidential election is gnawing at Christians. Something else is even clearer: Christians of traditional belief do not want Barack Obama to be re-elected–but they’re not altogether certain they want Mitt Romney to replace him. What are Christians to do?
I suggest there are five things Christians should do in view of the election:
1) Pray. None of this escapes the sovereign hand of God: “For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28) We may be nervous–but God is not.
2) Make the BEST decision you can–not the PERFECT decision.
3) Realize we are choosing a chief executive–not a chief theologian or pastor. This is a secular post that calls for the highest caliber of leadership and management skills. Ask yourself, Who will do the best at this job, while maintaining moral and ethical integrity?
4) Pray again: Commit your decision to God and ask Him to use it for His glory, whether or not your candidate wins. There are no useless votes, because even votes cast for the losing candidate informs the winner about the boundaries he will need to respect in governing.
5) Encourage and assist others to vote: Help the elderly with rides or single parents with child care so they can go to the polls. (Churches can recruit volunteers and open their nurseries all day Election Day.)
Being a responsible and intentional citizen will help our country and speak well of our reputation. Plus, non-partisan involvement with the electoral process opens future doors for evangelism and ministry. It’s a win-win!
“Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”
– 1 Corinthians 4:2
The above verse could be easily dismissed as simply supportive of an earlier statement by St. Paul about the apostolic calling to proclaim the Gospel faithfully. I think it suggests more than that, though. In my opinion, not a single word in the Bible is wasted. Every book, chapter, verse–and word–has meaning. Even this sentence, which could be treated as a parenthetical thought, or dismissed as a subordinate clause, can stand alone with profound implications.
To make my point–and bring this verse to bear on, of all things, the upcoming presidential election, requires we first go to the ancient Mediterranean. In the New Testament period the “steward” was the chief administrator of the household. Back then, the household, or family unit, was more expansive than it is the contemporary west. Households were more like small businesses, consisting of family members, household servants–some paid, some slaves–nannies and teachers to care for the children, security personnel to guard the household property and inhabitants, and a product or service that was the source of sustenance or profit. Maybe it was a certain crop, or skill, or import / export. Whatever it was, it meant the household was a complicated, busy, and multifaceted place. The steward, as the chief butler, was charged with ensuring that everything ran right. The steward was a sort of chief executive officer and reported to the head of the household, generally a patriarch (though, in some instances a matriarch) who played the part of chairman of the board.
And that’s what brings us around to this election. The original Greek word used in this passage and translated “steward” is οἰκονόμος (oy-kon-om’-os), from which we get our modern English word “economy.” In other words, it refers to systems related to labor, capital, and other resources; as well as the social structures, production methods, trade, distribution, and the consumption of goods and services. For those in the New Testament period, much of these things occurred within the framework of just a few households. In Bible times, economic responsibility came right down to the family itself. While today’s macro economy is much larger than it was in St. Paul’s time, in the micro it’s the same. The family is still the basic unit of any society, including it’s basic economic unit. So, we’re back to, “It’s the economy . . .” Well, you know the rest of it.
How does this relate the verse above to voting in this presidential election? Because the biggest question on the table in this election is the economy and how it affects families. People are suffering from the economic downturn. This suffering brings conflict–to families, to communities, and to the nation. It even has a bearing on the rest of the world, but that’s a subject for another post.
“Stewardship” is at the heart of this election. Stewardship over our own households, and stewardship over the American household. As the Scripture says, “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” Some translations render “faithful” as “responsible.” In other words, the steward must carry out his or her duties in responsible and productive ways. As American citizens, every one of us has a duty to participate in government. It’s the way our Republic is structured. An active and engaged citizenry is necessary to its success. An apathetic electorate that doesn’t do it’s due diligence, that neglects its responsibility, that doesn’t show up, only contributes to the failure of the nation.
Whether you know it or not–whether you like it or not–if you were born in the United States of America, or you were naturalized here, you have an inherit responsibility to cast your ballot in as informed a way as possible. You have the prerogative to shirk this responsibility, but it won’t serve you, your family, or your neighbors well. You don’t have to do it perfectly–just responsibly. In other words, you need to do your duty as best you can. Read the candidates’ websites (Obama / Romney) and their respective party platforms. (Republican / Democrat ) Read the U.S. and state constitutions that clearly set out the job descriptions of those offices up for election. (For the U.S. presidency, see the U.S. Constitution, Article II.) These tasks take only a few hours; then pray. Ask God to enlighten and guide you in your decision. Finally, vote. Get an early ballot or make an appointment with yourself to go to your polling place on Election Day. Go online or call your local election bureau to find out where you must go and what you need to bring with you. This is your responsibility before God and before your fellow citizens. This is your responsibility to yourself and to your family. This is how you bring your Christian convictions to bear on the wider society. Voting is a signal act of Christian stewardship.
The concept of stewardship in this election is even larger than these things. Because the main question before us in picking a president is how he will manage the economy, this presidential election is about both our own stewardship–as well as the stewardship of the future president over the affairs of the nation as a whole. We are, in fact, exercising our own stewardship in choosing a “chief steward” of the American household. The question then becomes, Which candidate will make a more faithful steward over the nation and it’s economy?
May God grant you wisdom as you make your selection on or before November 6.
This is not an easy election for me. My decision is charged with an emotional component I have never before had in picking a presidential candidate. Having grown up in a family that supported the struggle for civil rights, I felt the election of a president with African-American background was vitally important for our nation. Of course, I didn’t vote for Barack Obama last time—because his position on abortion was so very wrong—but, none-the-less, I was relieved and even grateful that the country chose a man of color in 2008. It was a milestone for our culture and one we needed to achieve.
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 yielded this great accomplishment for the United States: It broke the barrier of skin color and ethnicity when it comes to the highest office in our land. That was critically important to our culture and remains so. No one will ever assume again that a black person can never be president. But if this is the fulfillment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream, we must remember that dream in its totality. King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s on this point that my current decision for president turns.
President Obama has a serious character issue. He remains staunchly pro-abortion. He once referred to pregnancy and childbirth as a form of “punishment” for teenage sexual indiscretion. Surely the conception, development, and birth of a child are never, by definition, a form of punishment. Babies are blessings, not curses. Life is precious and sacred; and every human person, regardless of his or her history, circumstance, or condition of dependency, shares the same supreme value and dignity endowed by their Creator. To not see, understand, or champion the most fundamental human right to life indicates a serious character flaw.
President Obama and his administration have pushed abortion on the domestic and international spheres, made Planned Parenthood (the world’s biggest abortion business) a showcase political ally, promoted same-sex “marriage,” and marginalized a stable and democratic Israel in favor of unstable dictatorships. The most egregious violation of the Obama Administration, though, occurred when the President ordered religious institutions to violate their own teachings and consciences through compliance with the HHS mandate on health insurance policies.
It is clear that President Obama does not understand his own limitations—or, the limitations of government itself. There are bright lines of separation between the church and the state. The church has its God-given boundaries—and the government has the same. The government is not limitless. Parameters are set around government by God, by human history and experience, and even by the Constitution of the United States. These limitations indicate that government is not the ultimate source for the needs of human beings. President Obama has repeatedly promoted government as a solution to nearly all that ills humankind. This is simply not the case. God—not government—is our ultimate source and the one in whom we must place our trust. We remind ourselves of this as a nation when, in the Pledge of Allegiance, we say “one nation under God,” and when we read the National Motto, “In God We Trust,” and when all of our public officials swear the oath of office with, “So help me God.” God comes before and is set above government. President Obama does not share this concept. His is ultimately an anthropocentric, or humanistic worldview. He places humankind at the pinnacle of all things, and uses human prowess and human development as the measure of all things. This is a distinctly non-theistic worldview and it has enormous implications for the way President Obama governs.
And this is where I turn from why I will not vote for Barack Obama, but I will vote for Mitt Romney.
I’ll begin by saying I don’t agree with Mitt Romney on everything. In fact, I’m sure I will never know a presidential candidate with whom I will agree on everything. It just won’t ever happen. I see choosing a president like I choose employees for my organization: I don’t look for the perfect—just the best. I believe Mitt Romney is the best prepared to be president at this time in our nation’s life and I will tell you why.
First, Mitt Romney has the proven skill set to attack and resolve the most immediate and vexing problems for our country—which are economic and security related. No one can ignore the serious financial crisis we are in. Our staggering debt has undermined the strength, stability, and security of the American people. It’s effect on the average American—from the loss of jobs and benefits such as health insurance and retirement—to the crushing tax burden that keeps shrinking take home pay—have caused widespread hardship and even despair for many, many people. These in turn bring conflict into marital relationships, family life, and communities. We are in urgent need of a chief executive who understands how the free market system works, how budgets are balanced, and how jobs are created and sustained. Mitt Romney has a proven track record of success in all these areas.
Second, Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he can work effectively across party lines to successfully resolve problems. He did it as a Republican in heavily Democrat Massachusetts. In the eighteen years I’ve been Washington, DC, I have never seen the extreme polarization and gridlock that currently exist not only between Democrats and Republicans, or just between the House and the Senate, but even between the three branches of the federal government: the executive, legislative, and judicial. The country desperately needs a real statesman that can reach across party lines and congenially bring people together and get them to cooperate in the interest of the country. Regrettably, Barack Obama’s ideological activism only polarizes people further. I’m convinced Mitt Romney, as an experienced chief executive in both the public and private sectors, prepares him to meet this challenge.
Thirdly, Mitt Romney has the right worldview. I may differ with Mr. Romney on the details of his theology, but his worldview is a theocentric one. In other words, for Mitt Romney, God is the measure of all things. Mr. Romney has a sense of ultimate accountability and a transcendent morality. He holds to a code of right and wrong. Barack Obama has the opposite: an anthropocentric worldview, in which man is the measure of all things and there are no moral absolutes. For Barack Obama, nothing is ever truly right or truly wrong; everything is in a constant state of flux and evolution. In my opinion, this worldview not only doesn’t serve us well as a civilization in the present, it opens a door for enormous evils to take hold in the near future. Mitt Romney understands this. His worldview informs him that human beings can commit terrible evils and that these evils must be met with the strongest response. I’ve traveled the world enough to know that respect for a country and its government is earned with strength, and that weakness only garners the contempt of enemies. That’s the way the real world works. Mitt Romney gets this and will act accordingly.
Finally, Mitt Romney really gets how things work overall—from the fundamental importance of religious faith in everything we do—to why investors will pour capital into companies so they can grow, produce jobs, expand the economy, and generate capital that turns into lending so people can buy homes and cars and educate their kids.
We will, as a people, continue to struggle with our demons and our failings. Human progress will never be finished until the end of time. God is leading us all on a journey and teaching us great lessons along the way. Our salvation will never be found in politics, politicians, or government. Our salvation is found only in God the Redeemer. We mustn’t let guilt over the past paralyze us in the present. What we must do is address our real, current troubles in the most effective and in the most certain way we can so we can move forward again. I endorsed Mitt Romney very early on because I was convinced then—and I remain convinced now—that Mitt Romney is the best prepared, the best experienced, and the most proven leader to get us to the next milestone in American history. These are the reasons I am voting for Mitt Romney for president.
Rev. Rob Schenck (pronounced Shank), who speaks here only as a private citizen and a registered Independent, and in no official capacities, has been an ordained evangelical minister since 1982. He is chairman of the Evangelical Church Alliance, one of America’s oldest associations of evangelical clergy, and is president of the National Clergy Council in Washington, DC. He holds a bachelor’s degree in religion, an M.A. in Christian Ministry, and the Doctor of Ministry in Strategic Leadership. He and his wife Cheryl, an occupational and family therapist, live in Washington, DC.
One thing I’ve learned in Washington over the course of my 18 years as a missionary to government officials is this: “Confrontation” doesn’t need to be acrimonious. In fact, you can actually be very respectful, congenial, and even deferential in a confrontation. To confront simply means a face-to-face meeting, or a clash of ideas. This happens to all of us, all the time, and in every type of situation, but such “confrontations” don’t need to be hostile.
For Christians, confrontation should be marked by the overriding law of love: “God so loved the world,” and every person and kind of person in it; we are commanded by Christ to, “love one another” (John 15:12) and to, “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). When asked what is the greatest of all God’s commandments, Jesus declared they are two, “You shall love the Lord your God,” and, “You shall love your neighbor”. (Matthew 22:35-37)
All of this is to explain why, when drafting an emergency letter to President Obama regarding his recent edict on insurance coverage for employees of religious organizations, I prayed that my missive would be marked by Godly love for our chief executive. A draft of the letter is posted below. It will be hand-delivered to the White House this Wednesday–Ash Wednesday.
I’m sure some will think I was too “soft” and I’ve gone too easy on him, but so be it. This letter says it like it is, without the “ugly factor.” I’m convinced we can do this kind of prophetic work without being disrespectful, mean-spirited, or insulting. In other words, we can do both our jobs as Christians: Witness to God’s love–and truth–at the same time:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11 – 16.
Draft of my letter to President Obama:
Dear President Obama,
Your recent announcements regarding the policies of your administration on compliance with certain mandates related to health insurance, and the implications of these policies for certain religious institutions, and the churches, clergy, and individuals related to them, have induced this communique.
I write to you today in my capacities as an ordained minister of 30 years, a missionary to elected and appointed officials here in Washington, DC, as chair of the Committee on Church and Society for the Evangelical Church Alliance, and president of the National Clergy Council. Each of the constituencies I serve through these various roles have, by overwhelming majorities, expressed alarm over the nature of your decisions and the possible consequences of your actions. In this instance, our concerns relate particularly to the way in which your actions have broadly intruded on the sacred and constitutionally protected rights of Americans to religious freedom, and not necessarily to any particulars to the agency of that intrusion.
Mr. President, your recent dicta requiring religious employers to provide certain insurance products to their employees which violate the religious, moral, and ethical teachings and most deeply held convictions of the respective employers, their churches and institutions, is a flagrant abrogation of the First and preeminent right among those adopted by the Constitutional Convention as amendments to the Constitution, “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers,” and, with a view toward the purpose of, “extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, [that] will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.”
Mr. President, it is with this sense of alarm that the constituents I serve, and that are represented among the Executive Committee of the National Clergy Council, reflecting church leaders of Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions, declare to the churches a State of Emergency and a Status Confessionis, a Time for Speaking, during which we must take extraordinary action to respectfully resist your decrees, state our deeply held and felt reasons for doing so, and call our coreligionists, and all people of conscience to stand with us in doing so. With one voice we object to your interference in the affairs of religious institutions; and, we state to you our unwavering position on the sanctity of our constitutionally protected right to espouse certain principles of conscience; and, we maintain and insist on our God-given, legal rights to act upon these principles of conscience within our respective institutions and in keeping with their attendant prerogatives; Furthermore, while we hope for a resolution to this crisis that includes the rescinding of your directives, we must hold to our convictions and positions, and to act according to our prerogatives no matter the legal, social, pecuniary, or political consequences.
Mr. President, I remind you of your attendance and words at the National Prayer Breakfast, February 2, 2012, where you expressed your thanks to the keynote speaker, Eric Metaxas, for his address to the attendees related, in part, to the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and martyr, who is an exemplar of what it means to hold to and to exercise one’s religious, moral, and ethical convictions, even to the surrender of every other right, including the right to one’s life. Mr. Metaxas gave you a copy of his biography of Pastor Bonhoeffer, which you held up to the audience and to the cameras. I urge you to read the book with this missive in mind.
Mr. President, please be assured of our highest respect for the office you hold and exercise. Know also, that it is out of this respect that I humbly inform you of these matters, and convey to you their meaning and purpose, as an aid to you in understanding the words and actions of late by so many American citizens, institutions, and church leaders. Be assured, as well, of our constant prayers for you, in compliance with our pastoral concern for your soul and for your well-being, and out of our biblical obligation to do so.
My constituents look forward to your personal reply.
Very truly yours,
Rev. Rob Schenck
Thought I’d make that as clear as possible. I’ve been getting a lot of calls since I released a letter to fellow evangelicals in Iowa. Christian leaders, reporters, columnists are now asking me, “Are you for or against a particular candidate?” My unequivocal answer to this question is, “No.” I have not yet decided who I will personally support as a nominee for president in 2012. There are a lot of would-be candidates–and they include Barack Obama! I am not a single-party voter. In fact, I am a registered independent–for many reasons. I started out a Democrat when I first voted in 1976 for Jimmy Carter–(because he was “born again”), and changed to Republican when Ronald Reagan came to the fore. (I heard him speak at a convention of the National Association of Evangelicals and was very impressed.) All that to say, I am about as neutral as I’ve ever been when it comes to presidential candidates.
What I’m not neutral about is the principles at issue in this race. For me, they are very different from the issues last time around. I’m convinced that if our country continues is downward slide economically, it will soon lose its position as the leading moral force among nations. In order for America to remain a leader on the paramount moral questions–the sanctity of life, marriage and the family–it must remain a strong economic force. One of the reasons we have been able to advance human rights and religious freedom is because we have the economic strength to do it. The reason we have been able to lead the world in global security against terrorism is because we have had the economic strength to do it.
I remember my trip to the new Russia only months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was on a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow that was like something out of the 19th Century–it was even heated by coal-fired furnaces stoked at every stop! On that train I thought about my landing at the St. Petersburg airport, and the numbers of airplane carcasses along the runway that had obviously been canabalized for parts. I thought about the empty counters at the food stores and the sparse, mouldering meats in the butcher shops. I realized then that the Soviet empire was a farce. It could not survive because it was really an underdeveloped country disguised as a super-power.
Evangelicals are not used to thinking of the economy as a moral issue (unlike Catholics), but talk to any pastor and you will soon discover it is. Financial problems are the number one contributor to marital problems. Divorce is the number one family crisis in our culture. Parents who cannot properly provide for their children understandbly experience enormous distress.(Two of the reasons so many young people live together rather than get married is because of the failure of their own parents’ marriages and their own economic uncertainties.) As is true with missionaries, you can’t preach to hungry people; you must feed them first. Jesus fed the five thousand before He preached his most important sermon to them. We must do the same. We must now address the most acute felt needs of the American people. Only after we do that can we get them to re-focus on the bigger moral issues.
All this to say the times have changed. The challenges facing the next president will be very different from the ones faced by the current or last president. The would-be candidates must speak to our times. As I say in my letter to Evangelicals in Iowa, religious labels have very little to do with this. The most popular president among Evangelicals, George W. Bush, never carried his Bible to the liberal Episcopal church he attended, while Bill Clinton, a Southern Baptist who carried a big leather King James Bible with him to church every Sunday, disappointed and even disgusted many Evangelicals. The same is true of Ronald Reagan, who attended a liberally affilliated Presbyterian church; and Jimmy Carter, a life-long Southern Baptist.
In my letter I suggest a series of questions we need to ask about the candidates. Of course, as with every one of life’s decisions, we must pray about this enormously consequential responsibility, and do our best to discern God’s will in it. Is it possible that God will direct two people to vote for two different candidates? I think it is. Why? Because even the losers in a contest contribute to the crafting of the winner’s policies, and, in our system, can continue to be an important influence in the legislative process.
Now, after having said all this, there is a different question that has also been asked of me lately. Do you favor a particular candidate? That’s a different question, and I have a different answer. I actually favor a number of the candidates–for different reasons and to different degrees. I have enormous respect for Rick Santorum’s courageous voice and history in defense of the sanctity and dignity of every human person–especially the pre-born. I admire Michelle Bachman for her bold Christian testimony and uncompromising stand on so many critical issues. I even appreciate deeply President Obama’s commitment to his marriage and to his children. In a recent face-to-face sit-down with Jon Huntsman, I was moved by his transparency and honesty. As with all the candidates, though, I must balance their appeal with my estimation of their ability to lead the country in the right direction, resolve its most acute crises, strengthen its moral and spiritual fabric–and win.
On balance, I start looking toward Mitt Romney, as I did last time. I traveled with him and saw him up close and personally. I saw him with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren. I saw the strength of his private life and how it informed his public life. And, because I was raised a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, and grew up in a liberal state (New York), I even understand why he took some of the positions he did as governor of Massachusetts. But I also saw during the last campaign that Gov. Romney is not a stubborn and hard-headed person. He’s willing to listen and to change–and change is a good thing when it’s a change for the better. Uncompromising ideology can cut both ways–as we are seeing with the current president.
On the other hand, there are some things that make me reluctant to support some of the candidates: I think Ron Paul is much too narrow and unrealistic to lead the country, and Newt Gingrich carries too much personal baggage to be electable. (And I’m not simply referring to his marital history or ethics charges, but other personality traits I saw up close when he was here on Capitol Hill.) He may be able to allay concerns about this, but that will take more frank conversations between Mr. Gingrich, church leaders, and with the public.
Having said this, I still have not personally selected a candidate, and probably won’t do so until after Christmas or maybe into the New Year. Of course, when I do, it will be only a personal choice. The organizations I lead never endorse candidates and never will. I expect our leadership, staff and supporters will vote for a number of different candidates.
This is where I stand now, but the race is still quite dynamic and will remain so for some time. More than anything else, I’m praying for our country and its future–as I trust you are, too.
Back with more on all, this,