Last Thursday Kevin McCullough caught me off-guard with that question. We were doing a live radio interview and were near a break when Kevin suddenly asked, "Pastor Ray, is it a sin to vote for John Kerry?" I had less than 20 seconds to formulate my answer.
I mumbled something that ended up being something like, "Maybe, but I can' t say for sure," which in one sense is a pretty good answer, but it sounded ambivalent and unclear. Thankfully, the break saved me and when we returned, Kevin changed the subject.
The question has lingered in my mind over the weekend. Are there some candidates whose positions are so wrong-headed that to vote for them is not just a mistake but an actual sin? The answer is yes, but how do you make that determination? Several days ago I read a fine article in Touchstone magazine called First Things First. The article begins by noting the many voter guides that various religious groups distribute to their followers. The various liberal and conservative versions highlight a broad spectrum of issues. The writer correctly points out that these guides, while helpful, present a false view of moral reality because they simply list the top six or eight moral/political/social issues as if they all stand on the same plane of moral equivalence. But not all issues are of equal importance:
Since no candidate is better on all the items, such an approach would seem to leave us morally free to vote for any candidate who is strong on several of them while bad on several others. Which are which doesn’t matter, since they are all offered, without prioritization, as biblical values. The Christian conscience is free to choose what it likes in this moral and ethical cafeteria.
The article makes a strong argument that two issues stand alone above all the others: the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage. These two form the foundation of civilization. When you meddle with the foundation, the entire building is at risk. Christians can and do disagree on many issues. The war in Iraq provides a good example. One can make good arguments for or against going to war when we did. And we can argue about the course of things since the conclusion of major combat. The same is true regarding tax policy, social security, educational policy, housing policy, and so on. These areas are hugely important, but they do not rise to the level of the two preeminent issues. These are fundamental biblical "values" taught in Genesis and confirmed by Jesus Christ.
But on the life issues and marriage, the differences are about ends, not merely means. Christians of goodwill cannot reasonably differ about the obligation of law and government to protect innocent human life against abortion and embryo-destructive biomedical research, or the need to protect marriage by opposing its redefinition to embrace sodomitical relationships.
Where does this leave us?
If we are serious about a just and humane society, we must defend marriage and human life above all, both in public and in private. All other matters are secondary. Not to put life and marriage first and not to let the candidates’ positions on them determine our vote is to become like the people of whom it was written, “They feared the Lord, but served their own gods” (2 Kings 17:33).
I do not want to bind the conscience of any one else. My plea to all who read this is simple. Vote your Christian conscience on November 2. Take your biblical convictions with you into the voting booth. Don't vote Republican or Democrat. Vote like a Christian who believes what God's Word says. This may be the most important election of our lifetime. The direction of our nation is at stake.
Having thought about it all weekend, I now realize that I know how to answer Kevin's question. I can't tell anyone else how to vote, and I wouldn't do it if I could because I believe in freedom of conscience. But this much is clear. It would be a sin for me to vote for John Kerry. Knowing what I know, and believing what I believe about the Bible, I can come to no other conclusion. No doubt many Christians will vote for John Kerry for various reasons, and I do not care to judge them. Each of us must give an account before the Lord for what we do, and that includes how we vote. For me the matter is settled. If you know that something is wrong, you must not do it.
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