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Friday, December 30, 2011

The Cumberland Cruiser in My Mississippi River Port

Vanderbilt athletics got me hired at First Evangelical Church.

Well, in a circuitous way. A gentleman on the search committee assigned to vet me nine years ago played baseball at Vandy, and thought it curious I listed on my resume, under “Interests,” Vanderbilt athletics. I find that curious too looking back now.
But it’s true. One of the few things men get to take into adulthood from their boyhood is their team allegiances. I’ve really had only one: Vanderbilt. I didn’t go to college there; my paternal family heritage is centered in Nashville. My grandparents actually honeymooned in October of 1931 in Columbus, Ohio, to take in the Vanderbilt v. Ohio State game. The football program was great then but waned into misery by later decades.
I don’t know when my prayer-warrior grandmother began praying regularly for her “Vandy boys”—SEC people will understand this passion—but she did on game days. And probably did during the week too. And yet, year after year after year Vandy seemed to be a team almost divinely cursed, like the Chicago Cubs. If we are, I blame the institution’s ultra-liberal divinity school for making God mad and He’s taking it out on the team. But my grandfather finally dropped his season tickets sometime in the 1970s, disgusted that Vanderbilt could lose at home to Furman. FUR-MAN!
You can’t be a Vanderbilt football fan if you have no stomach for losing. Nor can you be a Vanderbilt football fan if you can’t take the annual autumn reproaches of higher and mightier SEC brethren. I’ve seen every other SEC team’s bubbas outnumber Vandy fans at 41,000-seat Dudley Field. They come in the gates scorning our stadium’s size and age and—horrors!—lack of a gargantuan jumbotron. They pencil “W” on their schedules beside the Vandy date before they even play us. Then the ones that fall to us make ridiculous excuses like—I’m looking at you, Ole Miss—we have to play Vandy early, in September, before they’re all banged up!  Hotty Toddy, gosh you’re whiny!
Alas, for it is written! “The reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9).
In my lifetime—42 years—Vandy has posted four winning seasons in football. They can make it five this Saturday if they win the Liberty Bowl, which is why I’m writing this post. My beloved Commodores are in Memphis this week and I’ve been reflecting on why I love them; on why as a grown man I was so giddy to get to breakfast with two of the players Wednesday morning at the FCA Liberty Bowl Prayer Breakfast in the hotel just down the street from my church. I couldn’t wait to call my wife and oldest son and tell them, and email my dad about it.
And I grew up in Alabama! Mostly in a town about an hour-and-a-half north of Tuscaloosa, the absolute ground zero of football fan frenzy. My Boy Scout troop for years ushered one or two Alabama football games a season. I remember the Bear leaning against the goal post in one of the end zones as his team warmed up. Every boy in the stadium would congregate at the chain-link fence behind him, hoping Coach would speak to us. And he often did.
Roll Tide! never stirred me, though, even as I watched them routinely drub Vandy back in those days by margins like 63-3. I even watched Bear Bryant’s TV show, sponsored by Golden Flake, on Sunday afternoons—and you haven’t really lived unless you heard Bear Bryant thank “Golll-den Fl-aaake” in his low gravely voice. If I wanted to pull for a winner, the Tide would have been the logical choice.
But I just loved that star with the V. “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” (Isaiah 49:16).
Some readers will remember the “Leonard’s Losers” radio broadcast. I liked it even though Leonard always picked Vanderbilt to lose. Leonard nicknamed all the SEC teams, calling Vanderbilt the “Cumberland Cruiser” (the Cumberland River runs through Nashville). With his thick Southern brogue, Leonard would usually preview a game, Vandy v. Alabama for instance, like this:
Vandy v. Alabama. The Cumberland Cruiser sets sail for Tuscaloosa this week. Comin’ off a vic’try over ‘dem Blue Pitchforks of Duke, the men in black-and-gold are sailin’ high. But they’ll encounter a pack of angry crimson pachyderms and have to row back to Nashville on the wreckage. Leonard’s Loser: Vandy!” 
Vanderbilt football has vastly improved since my childhood, even giving the mighty Tide some jolts of fear over the last ten to fifteen years. I noticed on the redone 2012 SEC football schedules released this week, that in order to accommodate Missouri’s and Texas A&M’s entrance into the league, Alabama dropped Vanderbilt. At least that’s how I’ll construe it. Because as Warren St. John observed in Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey Into the Heart of Fan Mania (the author followed Alabama football for a year): “Playing Vanderbilt is like riding a roller-coaster—not in the sense of highs and lows, but in that we can experience the free falls and g-forces of a close game all with the knowledge that at the end, we’ll pull safely into the station.”

Not just Alabama fans feel this way. The rest of the conference does too, including the Arkansas fans who sat behind me in the stands at this year’s contest in Nashville, bemoaning the whole time how their seventh-ranked Hogs could possibly be getting beaten by Vanderbilt. Vandy committed some costly turnovers down the stretch and missed a chip-shot field goal for overtime (“How long, O Lord?”, Psalm 6:3), granting Arkansas an eked out victory. I’ve seen this happen many times—rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory, we Vandy old timers call it. But the couple behind me whooped and cheered at the end as if they could now return unashamed to Arkadelphia for a feast of pickled chitterlings. At least we don’t eat our mascot.
I don’t know why I love Vanderbilt football. I’ve tried not to love it. I don’t get upset anymore by the losses as I did when I was younger—well, okay, I did experience mild upset by the way we lost to Tennessee this year. But I haven’t thrown anything in years because I am nowhere near a rabid fan. I don’t follow Vandy’s recruiting or avidly listen to sports talk or send Tweets to their players. I would have years ago but my allegiance is well in check now.
And it’s fine with me that none of my kids like Vandy. After the third or fourth game he attended (all losses) my now 15-year-old asked me a few seasons back, sincerely, “Why do you like this team again, Dad?” I’m taking my 11-year-old daughter and a friend of hers to the bowl game Saturday. She has recently proclaimed her affections for—(sigh)—Ole Miss. I count my blessings though: UT would be worse.
I suppose I’m still interested in Vanderbilt football because of the memories. Yes, a lot of forgettable football. But when I walk into Vanderbilt Stadium I meet myself again as a boy, a teenager, a young adult. I’m not trying to sentimentalize or enshrine it, but Vanderbilt Stadium is perhaps the one specific locality I can say I’ve been going to consistently for most of my life. And it hasn’t changed that much since my grandparents’ time, which actually comforts me.
I inevitably think of them when I go to Vandy home games, as I miss them, and as well an uncle who took me to some games. I remember my dad taking me to games when we’d visit my grandparents in Nashville, and how we’d stay to the end to gather up plastic cups for our cupboard. (I first learned what a flask was collecting cups.) Back home in Alabama, we’d tune in to the powerful WLAC 1510 AM station out of Nashville to hear Commodore broadcasts on Saturday nights. When Lynn and I lived in Nashville after seminary, Dad got season tickets for my brother-in-law and me and him to attend home games together. We’d joke that we were there to see the other SEC teams play—my brother-in-law is an Alabama fan with Vandy sympathies. But what kept us going back was the hope that the next game, the next season Vandy’s fortunes would turn and we’d be there to see it. “Hope springs eternal on West End,” as the Nashville locals say.
Following Vanderbilt football has probably taught me some things about hope. But more so about loyalty. I think that’s why I put it as an “Interest” of mine on my resume ten years ago. I was trying to indicate that I’ve learned the qualities of loyalty and resilience and tenacity, and to some measure I have to credit Vanderbilt football with that.
There’s a lot about fandom I despise and reject. It brings out the silliness and boorishness in people, and too many hang too much vicariously on the shoulders and legs of 18-year-olds. In Alabama college football has crossed over into idolatry.
But I think being a Vanderbilt fan has in its own way made me a better pastor. You can’t be a pastor if you have no stomach for setbacks and disappointments. And like some of Vandy’s teams, the church has seemed to me at times incapable of winning, hopelessly outmatched, and even unworthy of my loyalty. I’ve tried not to love her. But I can’t. She’s part of my heritage. And I thank God often for this now.
I had hoped sometime during my tenure in Memphis that Vandy would get a Liberty Bowl bid. Kind people in my church made sure I was given tickets. Vandy’s opponent is a very good Cincinnati team. I thought of dressing up for the game like John the Baptist and carrying a large placard with “DEFEAT CIN!” on it. Clever, yes? But then my 11-year-old and her friend would be mortified, I’m sure. So I’ll just wear my hat with the star and the V. And I’ll wear my heart on my sleeves.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I don’t know that parenting in general is any better or worse than it’s ever been. We all recognize I hope that some of the best parents have rotten kids and vice-versa; that within the same family one can find a child who is a credit to his parents but his sibling is not—see Cain and Abel, for example, from the Eden East subdivision. Parenting has been a very human experience since even antediluvian times. And as such it is, among the varied ventures of life, one of the most resistant to glib formulas.
That is not to say there is no tried-and-true wisdom to commend to all parents. Consider this axiom: If you expect respect from your children they will render it. We’ll immediately think of exceptions to this, living as we do in an age of simple yes-but retorts to every rationale. But really now: Aren’t you doing your child a comparatively better service to expect him to respect you? How he or she treats you directly correlates to how he or she will treat others. Laissez-faire parenting is not only weak but weakening.
In a word, my pastoral responsibility to parents is to encourage them. Understand “encourage” in this context to mean enabling their courage. James Dobson was right: Parenting isn’t for cowards.
For the parents I share church and school communities with, I don’t fear their making mistakes of overbearingness—overbearingness being a kind of false bravado whereby I’ll show my kids who’s the boss and what’s what and that’s that. I see some of that around and it saddens me when I do. Paul says bullying-as-parenting is precisely the best tactic for embittering a kid (Eph. 6:4). Whatever the short-term gains in respectfulness and obedience, one is landing the helicopter squarely on his or her children’s shoulders, pinning them under overweening expectations so that one can prove something to himself usually. This is, in St. Benedict’s words, rubbing too hard to remove the rust and crushing the vessel. What Benedict told his abbots translates to parenting too: “Let [the parent] so arrange everything that the strong [kid] has something to yearn for and the weak [kid] nothing to run from.”
But for the parents I share church and school communities with, I fear more the mistakes of underbearingness. I just made up the word, but underbearing parents expect too little from their kids. These parents permit sass, demandingness, ingratitude, untimeliness, inattentiveness, and other overtures of disrespect. It’s the parent that aw-shucks shrugs at his child’s rudeness (some of these kids, Eddie Haskell-ish, are polite to every other adult but their folks) as if nothing can be done about it, as if everybody’s kid is boorish and we just have to laugh it off. Teenagers! What can you do?
Underbearing parents put themselves at their kids’ beck-and-call in ways that aren’t good for the kids. Earlier this school year my son’s football coach sent an email out to parents seeking to rein in our Fed Ex Ground service to school for every little thing the boys were forgetting. He also noted that the office staff was dismayed by the tones of voice some of the boys were using toward their moms (like Napoleon Dynamite barking at Kip to bring him some ChapStick). If the underbearing parent finally does stand up for him/herself, the dignity of the stand is often debased by a frazzled display of pent up self-disgust, since most parents realize implicitly they should not tolerate the intolerable or suffer the insufferable.
Our children need the formation of our discipline, yes. But our children also need to learn to discipline themselves. The earlier we expect this from them the better it is for them. It killed me to see her tears, but this is why I refused to retrieve my daughter’s spelling book from her classroom a couple of weeks ago, even though I have a key to the room (her school meets in our church building). It cost her valuable points on an assignment, but she has to learn to be responsible for her stuff—and herself.
I retrieved my aforementioned son, a ninth-grader, from a class event recently. The event, a Christmas party, was held at a stately home and the kids all looked nice. At the designated pick-up time I pulled up in the cove to find a good number of my son’s male classmates in the driveway and yard, wrestling and chasing each other. It wasn’t hooliganism, granted, but it also wasn’t the venue for that kind of horseplay. I expect such from my younger son’s Junior Kindergarten class. As I probed my older son about the evening on the way home, I learned the same kind of stuff had gone on inside the house too. I was embarrassed for the girls in his class, and felt bad for the hosting moms who were subjected to it.
That a lot of those boys didn’t show the appropriate decorum at that event is the evidence of their immaturity. And immaturity is synonym for undisciplined. I think a 15-year-old boy ought to be young man enough to know how to conduct himself at a nice party. Furthermore, he ought to be young man enough at 15 to personally care about how he comes across. That’s the fruit of self-discipline: self-respect and self-restraint, recognizing what it’s time for and not (Eccl. 3). But boys, and girls, need their parents to both emphasize and expect this from them. It won’t occur by osmosis.
It was either my junior or senior prom. There was one nice restaurant in my Alabama hometown, and some buddies and I took our dates there for dinner. Somehow we neglected to tip our waitress. Since it was a small town word got back to our parents of our mistake, probably that night. To their enduring credit and our enduring benefit, none of our parents went to the restaurant themselves to pay the tip. Instead we each of us were confronted by our parents and sent back to the restaurant the next day to render the neglected tip and offer personal apologies to the offended waitress face-to-face.
Perhaps that waitress shouldn’t have made such a fuss? Maybe, but I’m thankful she did for what I picked up in self-discipline. It was probably the first time I realized just how responsible I was for me. I’m trying to pass the same along to mine. But sometimes it feels like too many of my parenting peers are running out on the check.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Searching for a Series

This post will appear in the January issue of our church newsletter:

Occasionally I’m asked how I arrive at topics for preaching. John Houseman, the fusty old British spokesman for the Smith Barney ads of my youth, harrumphed in one of those ads, “Good investments don’t just bite you on the bottom and say, ‘We’re here!’” But sermon ideas sometimes do, and it is hoped each series is its own good investment in our church.

I live under creative deadlines for most of the weeks leading up to 52 Sunday mornings per year. I can’t stand before you on a Sunday and say, “Sorry, but this was a tough week and I couldn’t get any sermon writing in.” The word “amaze” is chronically overused, but truly I am amazed by God’s weekly provision of insights needed to write sermons. It is a source of weekly gratitude, experienced as one among many instances of God’s faithful care of His people.

Although I’m still early in my career, I’ve preached long enough now to have a file cabinet full of older sermons. I don’t often call these out of retirement though. When I do I usually feel the need to rewrite them anyway.

It is good when I force myself to return to texts already studied. One doesn’t want to treat Scripture like a daily commute. It’s just when I think I know something that I’ve stopped noticing. In this vein familiarity doesn’t breed contempt so much as unfamiliarity. So the aim in rewriting older sermons is to “bring out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52).  

But I struggle with using older sermons or revisiting older sermon series. I hate confessing this, but it is easy for me to slip into thinking that if I return to a book or topic previously preached—my 2005 study of Jesus’ parables, let’s say—some assume I’ve converted my study into a kind of homiletic microwave. I go in on Saturday night to heat up leftovers for the morning. In other words, if I re-preach a book or return to a topic from a previous series some will think I’m not working hard at preaching. I’m mailing it in; out on my boat Visitation during the week; not using the freshest ingredients.

So how do I arrive at topics and/or books for preaching? Take books first. Much of the Bible I still haven’t taught. As of this writing, cumulatively considered, I’ve yet to preach completely through three of the Gospels, Acts, six of the epistles, Hebrews, and Revelation. From the vaster Old Testament I’ve only preached four Minor Prophets, maybe 25% of the Psalter (some Laments in 2008 and the Songs of Ascents, Pss. 120-134, in my church in Franklin), the Ten Commandments, and only one Old Testament “life of” sermon series (David). While books and subjects I haven’t preached yet get primary consideration when pondering a new preaching series, I also factor how long ago I preached a book. I last preached Philippians, for instance, in 1995. I’ll likely preach Philippians sometime before 2015 but it will be an entirely reworked series.

Preaching is a unique medium. Time constraints and the thematic and declarative nature of preaching means one cannot cover every nuance or issue in a book’s texts. Topical sermon series are one way to compensate. Ideas for these series often emerge from preaching through Bible books. But preaching ideas also “just appear” epiphany-like—while I’m running, for instance, or watching a movie, or shaving (or growing a beard), or sitting on the beach, or in conversation with someone.

That sounds about as inspired as a bite on the bottom, doesn’t it? I wish I could tell you all my sermon series result from concerted prayer and painstaking planning. I do pray about what to preach, of course, and believe God impresses me with topics at times in prayer. He also guides me as I read widely and pay attention to my surroundings. And I make plans too—a good thing for one series in 2011.

I didn’t really want to preach 1 John (“The Gospel as Relational Hygiene: Love is Lather, Rinse, Repeat”). I almost talked myself out of it last spring. But I had committed myself to it as part of a preaching plan I laid out during the Family Meetings in 2010. First John is kind of a frightening book for preachers because it is so repetitive—love, love, love, love, love, and love again! But I found the repetition was the genius of the book, opening whole avenues of considerations for us where I’d only expected to find alleyways.

If done well preaching is expansive, for the preacher as well as his congregation. My sermon series become almost like friends to me. I hate to see them go when they’re over.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Sight

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2

And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Mark 8:23-24
Close the distance, span the chasm
Between the mawkish and majestic
Inhabiting a hunger, bilious dyspeptic,
I am gaunt of spirit, vision phantasm.

Starved for the sputum that feeds a famished eye
Limber and lithe the hypostatic reach, render me
Blinking now, squinty epiphany;
Gleaming but gimpy, the dawn and dusk vie.

Bemused by the probing: Do you see anything?
The landsmen seem as much grove as grave.

Sepias of shade and shadow in the foregrounds,
Elbows and boughs both leaf at odd angles.

Peculiar people we are, ambient by dint of glint
I see darkness retreating, slowly, since Light its canopy rent.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Then Should We Vote?

Another presidential election looms in 2012. At the time of this writing the Republican candidates have completed eleven televised debates with the election still roughly a year away. Presidential campaigns are now almost two full years in length and cost multiple millions of dollars.

Eventually I will be asked my views on this election and its issues and candidates. These questions come around every four years, as do complaints from some that I don’t give the church enough guidance in these matters. In my church there are at least four categories of public preference on presidential politics:
1.      Those who prefer I say nothing at all about anything political from the pulpit.

2.      Those who simply want me to encourage voting as a sanctified civic duty.

3.      Those who believe I need to use election years to sound an alarm about anti-Christian cultural tides but prefer I do this in a way that sounds nonpartisan, or at least not incendiary.

4.      Those who believe true Christians can only vote Republican and thus I should condemn the current president and muster the laity to unseat him.
I won’t take the space here to address what should or shouldn’t be said from the pulpit about presidential elections. But even those in Category 4 still have questions about their candidate options. I have already been asked whether evangelicals can in good conscience vote for a Mormon. (It wasn’t so long ago that Protestants wondered if they could vote for a Catholic.) Four years ago, I was asked whether evangelicals could in good conscience vote for Mr. Obama.
Pastors counsel their people through a wide variety of considerations and conundrums. Politics ensconce both. A voter simultaneously finds in presidential politics much to consider and much that confounds. Candidates romp and stump before a cynical populace and a jaundiced media. This is why it works for Matt Damon’s defeated senatorial character in The Adjustment Bureau to confess that his entire campaign was scripted—even down to the focus group approved scuff-marks on his shoes. It was a trick to make him appear genuine, a true man-of-the-people. And everyone in the theater readily accepts the scene to be art imitating life: Movies tell the truth but politicians lie. We are convinced every man or woman running for our highest offices has a little huckster in them.
But still we hold the presidency in high esteem, as well we should. That office in our system of governance is a marvel of civic philosophy, if not a trophy of God’s common grace when we consider America’s unparalleled role in the world. Biblically considered, occupants of public office are servants of God whether they sufficiently acknowledge God or not (Rom. 13:1-7). The people of God are thus to pray for civil leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2) and not speak evil of them (Titus 3:1-2), regardless of their policies or personalities or beliefs. If nothing else, attaining to high office is no small human achievement, and to whom much is given much is required.
So it is fitting for God’s people to carefully ponder all candidates for President, incumbents and challengers alike, vetting their stances on the issues of our times. But if you’re thinking of asking me who to vote for, I’ll present you not with whom but how in the form of three guidelines: vote your prudence and vote your conscience and vote your peace.
Vote your prudence: This is probably the hardest directive for most evangelicals to square with because in the last forty years or so we’ve conditioned ourselves to approach presidential elections with an all-or-nothing mentality. The reason is largely due to the civil religion influences of a few higher profile evangelical lobbying entities. Not all evangelical policy and activist groups qualify as civil religionist. Some have quietly achieved a great deal for the public good, such as those pro-life groups that have resiliently and effectively swayed public opinion—and laws—towards greater veneration and protection of human life in the womb. But civil religion in earnest speaks of the nation in terms of the church, conflating the good of the church with the good of the nation. It is biblically haphazard to do this, however, and has rendered some of our civic expectations unrealistic or naively optimistic.
A recovery of prudence is needed because prudence realizes that no one gets everything he wants in a fallen world. As Clarke Forsythe argues in Politics for the Greatest Good, “Prudence in politics aims not at the perfect good but at the greatest good possible in the real world” (p. 38). Os Guinness makes a similar pitch in his book The Case for Civility, that the Founders envisioned neither a sacred public square (which would be a “perfect good” for Christians) nor a secular public square (which would be a “perfect good” for secularists). They envisioned a civil public square as a real good for all and entirely possible in the real world.
So we consider: Which candidate(s) is the realist? Which candidate(s) has the most realistic approach on the issues before the nation, and the approach that does the most good? Take gay marriage, for instance. I do not want to see the state recognize homosexual unions as legitimate marriage because I don’t believe homosexuality is good for anyone, even those devoted to it. But I don’t simply want to know whether a presidential candidate favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I want to know—and need to know—how he plans to prudently govern those who advocate the opposite position because they are citizens too.
Could it be that what sometimes accounts for so-called “flip-flops” in candidates’ views—and this is true for both Democrats and Republicans—is prudence? Though the public eye usually casts a suspicious glance at changes in policy positions, thinking we are always observing political expedience and gamesmanship at play, an adjustment to views on social or economic or foreign policy matters can be evidence of prudence doing its work.
Vote your conscience. Conscience is the collection of core settings within each of us. It’s the stuff “written on the heart”—what you know that you know is true; what you cannot not know is right and good (please permit the intentional double-negative). Conscience will thus condition or set the limits of prudence. If prudence knows we won’t get everything we want from a candidate, conscience knows what we must get from a candidate.
What if a candidate aligns with your values socially regarding the sanctity of life but has an illicit affair in his past? Is your conscience still free to support him? What if a candidate knowingly had business dealings with a corrupt foreign government and yet he has the best foreign policy platform for the times we’re in? What can you allow? What can you not allow?
Let’s consider the Mormon (LDS) question here, as two Republican presidential candidates are Mormons. I take it as a matter of course that one cannot cordon off his faith from his governance. I do not want anyone in high office trying to pull off that impossible (and ridiculous) stunt. Our faith is a lens through which we bring the world before us into focus, and to suggest that one’s faith won’t impact how he or she governs is a nearsighted candidacy.
As an evangelical, I do not and cannot in good conscience consider the LDS movement theologically legitimate unless they repudiate the errors of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, et al. Despite LDS protests that they are indeed Christians, Mormons propagate doctrines that misconstrue and misrepresent the nature of God and man, and advocate via their “other testament” another gospel that the New Testament apostles condemn (e.g., Gal. 1:6-9). A reconfigured Jesus will justify no one before God.
So this is serious. I would obviously not consider a Mormon for a Bible college presidency or to be the executive director of an evangelical missions entity. But the presidency of the United States is not an evangelical office. Therefore a man being Mormon does not automatically discount him from my consideration any more than I would discount a man who is an unbeliever. That the Mormon is not fit for the Bible college presidency does not mean he is not fit for the U.S. presidency because the comparison is not apples-to-apples. By the same token, a man who shares my evangelical convictions about the nature of God and the Bible does not automatically receive my vote for President, even if I found him ideal for the Bible college presidency.
These are matters of conscience. The writing on the heart for one voter is that he feels obligated before God to vote for an evangelical candidate because he is a brother or she is a sister in Christ. Then, I say, support that candidate in good conscience. Another voter may feel she cannot support candidates whose churches advance doctrines that lead people away from a true knowledge of Jesus, evangelically considered. Then she cannot support those candidates, and anyone who tries to make her go against her conscience is leading her into sin (see Rom. 14). In the absence of direct biblical references for what to do or not do, one’s conscience is guide. And to quote Luther: “To act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
Vote your peace. This comes from Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, that followers of Jesus are to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” In voting your peace, the consideration is: Which candidate has the clearest vision for living peaceably?
Yes, it is a “wars and rumors of wars” world. The consideration in voting your peace is not which candidate will keep us out of wars, for wars may have to be fought—and I don’t think isolationism is realistic (prudent) policy in the world we’re in. Likewise, the consideration is not which candidate will keep everything rosy and prosperous for everyone because no one can guarantee the best for everyone.
Some leaders are better than others. But no leader is going to be good to or for everyone. In voting my peace, I’m not only assessing which candidate presents a view of the world that lends the most to “peace and quiet,” but I’m also putting my peace on the line: If or when this leader makes hard decisions that aren’t good for me, will I still support him? Voting your peace is placing your trust with the officeholder, that when I don’t understand his rationale or actions I’ll not respond with suspicion and disillusionment. Which candidate(s) do you trust? To which candidate(s) can you entrust your peace?
More needs to be taken into account here—political philosophies concerning the size, reach, and essential duties of government, the stilting effect of modern media on the electoral process, the Founders’ presuppositions and vision for the republic—but this is a blog post and already much longer than a blog post should be. Voting is a civic duty, I believe, as well as a great privilege.
“For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.” (Psalm 47:7-8)