Monday, February 01, 2016

Christians in the voting booth


If you are a dedicated church-goer and consider yourself a committed Christian, then your faith probably has a big impact on your politics. In fact, in the United States many of the hot-button political issues are the issues that are significant to Christians: you believe the Bible has something to say about abortion or marriage or refugees, and so you support candidates whose platforms, you feel, are in line with scripture. Following Jesus means I need to vote for [your candidate of choice here], and it's as simple as that.

Or is it?

Dr. Christena Cleveland (a recent addition to the faculty at my alma mater, Duke Div), in an article for Christianity Today, has some bad news for all of us Christian voters: it's really not that simple. Her piece, "All Christians Are Biased Voters," makes the point pretty clear: other factors, beyond your faith, influence your vote as well - factors like your personality, your race, and your life experiences. Studies show that people who otherwise you'd expect to have pretty similar views will diverge sharply along these lines. In other words, nobody, she argues, votes just what the Bibles says, just what Jesus teaches. There's more impacting our decisions than that.

As I was reading her story of teaching undergraduates about these factors that affect our politics (where students insisted, "come on, Dr. Cleveland, you have to admit that [my party’s] values best reflect the values of Jesus”), and as I read her description of our "bias blind spots," I found myself thinking, "sure, but I've thought through all this stuff, and my votes really do reflect Jesus' teachings!"

Keep telling yourself that, Nance.
The thing about a blind spot is, you can't see it. I can't see it.

We'd all like to think that, if people really read their Bibles, if people really prayed, if people really let the Spirit guide them, then they'd think like me, they'd vote like me. And during the long campaign season, it's easy to get frustrated with your fellow citizens and their positions ('how could anybody in their right mind support ____________??'). I think this is especially true on Facebook, where other perspectives can be pretty in-your-face: "Share if you think Donald Trump will make America great again!"; "Share if you think a woman's place is in the White House!"; and on, and on. We're all so sure that we're right, and they're wrong. We're voting the Christian way, and they're not.

Well I'm not going to tell you the 'Christian way' to vote. I'm starting to think I'm a little too biased for that.
But I can tell you one thing: during election season, especially on Facebook, we all have the choice between holier-than-thou and humility. And I think, in this case, there really is only one Christian response. 

For more on all of this, check out Dr. Cleveland's article (it's not long!): "All Christians Are Biased Voters."

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