Blog

Elections and Idolatry: Afterword

11/13/12+ Share

I really wanted to be done with the Elections and Idolatry series, but my wife Beth didn’t like the way it ended. She did not think I clearly communicated my stance on voting. She’s right, of course. Some of the feedback I have received indicates that at least a few people heard me say something that I don’t believe and didn’t intend to say. They heard me say something to the effect that all who vote in presidential elections are idolaters. They felt that I wrote this series in order to bash Christians who vote. They are wrong, but I am partly to blame.

My intention was not to fault those who do vote, but to give believers a reason to stop faulting those who don’t. I was weary of watching believers brand one another as lazy, unloving, and irresponsible for not seeking to do their best to influence the direction of the American government. I wanted to help people see that it is quite inaccurate to lump all non-voters into a single category and then dispatch them all with one fell swoop.

In retrospect I realize that I made this motive more clear in part three than in parts one and two. As a result, those who never got around to part three, or jumped to conclusions before reading it, did not have the benefit of reading it as one piece, like I originally intended. But things got too long and I needed to break it up some.

As a general principle, however, I strive to avoid as much as possible the ethical legalism of determining in advance what is always the timelessly right or wrong answer to a specific ethical question. The reason for this is that the meaning of an ethical question usually changes when it is asked in a different time and place. I say "as much as possible" because some questions can only be answered affirmatively or negatively, regardless of the time and place.

I suspect that this is one of the reasons why Jesus spent more time providing the disciples a general vision of what the kingdom is like than he did answering what it looks like to bring that vision to bear in the concrete life situations of first-century Palestine. He gave a general vision because he would later send the Holy Spirit who would guide his followers to implement his kingdom vision in ways that are appropriate to the diverse times and places in which they would later find themselves.

So if someone were to ask me whether it is timelessly wrong to vote, I would say no. And then I would quickly add that it is not timelessly right either. Each election should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in light of the host of complex factors that are involved in each one. We should also be open to the possibility that it may be right for one person to vote in a specific election and not for another person.

In one part of the country, Christians may have a properly sober perspective on the limitations of government. They may also have avoided getting sucked into rampant nationalism with its misplaced hopes and fears. In such a context, it may well be appropriate for Christian leaders to quietly go about their business and to vote for a candidate that they believe would do less damage.

In another part of the country, Christians may be helplessly embroiled in rampant nationalism. They may have misplaced their hopes and fears in governing authorities, and they may be divided among themselves in ways that mirror the division in Washington. In such a context, God's Spirit may direct Christian leaders to take a different sort of stand—one that intentionally minimizes the importance of the powers and principalities.

In the second scenario, leaders may choose to respond in a variety of ways. They could choose not to vote, they could choose to intentionally vote against two parties who exercise a monopoly of power, or they could choose to write in their own nominee—someone who will certainly lose. The options are not as simple as vote or no vote.

This does not mean that voting is an entirely neutral practice. Christians should be open to the possibility that conditions could emerge—even in America—that would make participation in voting (among a variety of other practices) a form of idolatry. In Scripture, idolatry is not a purely religious matter. Governments and politicians are certainly caught up in it.

The book of Daniel gives some indication of this. In fact, I originally thought I might blog simply on the book of Daniel rather than give the topical, historical, biblical survey that I ended up giving. Here is another terribly simplified sketch that is more easily appreciated when some of the key verses are read in the original languages. If all of this seems alien to you, I recommend you read John Goldingay and Paul Lederach's wonderful commentaries on Daniel. I don't think I argue anything here that they don't help clarify. (Anyone who wants further clarity on the biblical portrait I painted in part three can consult “The Politics of Yahweh,” a book where I go into much greater detail to explain that particular way of interpreting the grand narrative of Scripture.)

In chapter 1, Daniel and friends refuse the "king's portion" and chose to eat water and "seed-based food" instead. There are many reasons to think that this is not about health or unclean food laws or idol feasts. I won't bore you with the details. The key issue appears to be identity. To eat the king's portion is a statement of loyalty. This passage anticipates 11:26 where Antiochus Epiphanes is betrayed by those who "eat of the king's portion." It is the same word in Hebrew. The irony is that Antiochus is betrayed by those whose diet indicates that they are among his loyal companions. There was no rule in Torah against eating meat and wine. Indeed Daniel has to later fast again from eating them in 10:2-3, which indicates that the chapter 1 diet is temporary. Daniel discerned that in that time and place to eat of the king's portion was to communicate that he was about something that he was not truly about. He was willing to put his neck on the line rather than simply blend in with the brain-washed masses and in so doing defile himself.

In chapter 3, all the king’s subjects are told to pay homage to his statue when the music plays. This statue is not necessarily a god. In light of the identification of Nebuchadnezzar with the gold head of the statue in chapter 2, and in light of the specific dimensions and gold composition of the statue in chapter 3, it is probably a replica of the king himself. The wider citizenry is not commanded to confess that the statue is a god. That was not the nature of Babylonian king veneration—even though religion and politics were intricately intertwined and could hardly be separated (v. 18). They are simply supposed to show loyalty and respect in a culturally appropriate way: to prostrate themselves and pay homage. These practices were not overtly religious, although they could be. King Nebuchadnezzar pays Daniel respect in the exact same way in the previous chapter (2:46). Yet the three Jews cannot go along because this act signals that the king is developing a disproportionately large estimation of his own importance. So they would rather face the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation in chapter 4 reinforces the notion that his over-inflated sense of self importance is the key issue.

In chapter 6, Darius has the same hang-up. For only a short while he demands that people pray only to him. This is not about the king's divine status; it is about the king's desire to assert himself as the prime benefactor of the people. There is nothing in Torah that forbade Jews from taking a short sabbatical from praying. There is also nothing that would have prevented Daniel from praying silently while lying in bed at night. This edict was extremely easy to break without being seen. But Daniel could not go unnoticed. The king is saying things about himself that ought not be said. So Daniel flung open the shutters and began praying his way into the lion's den.

These short vignettes paint an interesting cumulative picture. None of the focal actions, in and of themselves, constituted idolatry. One can imagine times, places, and ways in which doing what the kings had asked could be carried out with a clean conscience. But the perfect storm was brewing in exile. A certain sort of religious-political momentum had built up that rendered acquiescence to the king's beneficence a quasi-idolatrous act. If it could be demonstrated that a similar storm was brewing in America, then a practice as simple as voting might trip Daniel's rather sensitive idolatry wire.

Lamentably, American nationalism is replete with idolatrous tendencies. As time marches on, more and more tiny tributaries begin feeding and strengthening a rather large idolatrous subterranean stream that few Christians recognize. Every once in a while it bubbles to the surface, as it did in this year's third presidential debate.

Christians who care for this country and would like to see its best values exert a positive influence in the world should be eager to identify and criticize such pretensions. The worse evil is not that the candidate who will likely do more damage gets elected, but that God chooses to judge this nation for its idolatry and that several of God's people are also swept up this judgment.

The prophet Ezekiel teaches that God's judgment is not poured only upon those who participate directly in idolatry. It is also poured on those who fail to "sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed" (Ezekiel 9:4). The church in America has many abominations to lament. Foremost among them, perhaps, is our in-house division. Not only are we hopelessly divided along political party lines, but if the hostile feedback and ad hominem attacks I have received from this article are any indication, we are deeply divided as to what it means to be witnesses to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  

http://www.walkandword.com/blog/?id=345

Image for blog entry titled: Elections and Idolatry: Afterword

Blog Entries

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

A New Wave of Restorationism?

11/10/2016

This November, Great Lakes Christian College hosted its first annual Restoration Appreciation Week. The event was designed to foster…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Endangered Gospel is available...

06/09/2016

With an official publication date of May 31, Endangered Gospel is finally here!

You can purchase a copy from the publisher and even read…

> Read More

New website for Endangered Gospel

05/24/2016

I have a new website up to promote the forthcoming "Endangered Gospel" book. It includes a blog that I will contribute to somewhat…

> Read More

Beyond Pacifism and Militarism

04/05/2016

How should Christians really think about war? Too often we are led to believe there are only two options:

* Pacifist Idealism: war is…

> Read More

Endangered Gospel

02/01/2016

Many of you know I wrote a book over my sabbatical last Spring. Well the book is finally in the hands of the publisher and should be…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

There Is No Hostility

09/15/2015

It’s been 16 years and The Matrix is still my favorite movie. One of the most memorable scenes is Neo’s encounter with Spoon…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Baptism and the Formation of Youth

08/27/2015

At the July gathering of The Ekklesia Project I presented a paper about baptism and how it impacts how churches disciple their youth. This…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

The witness of Selah Brielle Apple

04/15/2015

I am honored to be close friends with a family that loves the Lord enough to welcome a child into this world who had no chance of…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Think Christian

07/22/2014

Tired of browsing social media and failing to find something that actually engages and enriches your mind? 

Think Christian stands…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

The Christian Declaration of Dependence

07/04/2014

A timely excerpt from John Howard Yoder:

“All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” according to…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Genesis - A Missionary Manifesto?

07/01/2014

I've begun writing a commentary on Genesis for a new series: Polis Bible Commentary. This series pairs a Bible scholar with an urban…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Our Gift to Everyone

06/30/2014

Those of you who have kept up on my writing projects know that I've been working on a three volume series of easy to read material written…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Review of Slow Church

06/02/2014

This is a book review I wrote about Chris Smith and John Pattison's Slow Church (IVP 2014). I liked the book a lot because it provides…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Top 10 Books & Why

12/18/2013

These are the top 10 most influential books in my life.

1. Phil Kenneson’s Life on the Vine (discovered ~1999)

* I’ve…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

New School Year, New Resources

08/26/2013

Many of you have made use of the fill-in-the-blank “Story of the Bible” resource that I use in class and share on my website. I…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Practical Resources from the Ekklesia...

08/13/2013

The Ekklesia Project has posted on their website podcasts of all sessions from last month's conference ""Practicing the Peace of…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

God's Promise to a Violent World

07/12/2013

Why would a loving God flood the earth? How could a God of peace sanction such widespread violence?

I just added the sermon I…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Getting to Know the Just War Tradition

05/28/2013

In his May 23 speech on national security, President Obama claimed that America’s current war against al-Qaida is a just war.…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Stop Trying to Bring the Kingdom

05/23/2013

Kingdom language is back on the map as a way of talking about the gospel and the church’s mission. It is now time to tighten up our…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Recent Progress in Yoder Studies

04/16/2013

It has been a while since I’ve blogged, but a lot has been happening in my work in Yoder studies. Here is an update and as a bonus…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

The Cross and Martin Luther King...

01/21/2013

Below are two excerpts from a sermon John Howard Yoder preached the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The first is short…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Christmas for Israel

12/23/2012

What do the birth stories mean when they announce that Jesus came to "save his people from their sins"? Back then, "his people" did not…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Elections and Idolatry: Afterword

11/13/2012

I really wanted to be done with the Elections and Idolatry series, but my wife Beth didn’t like the way it ended. She did not think I…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

3 Reasons to Buy Radical Christian...

11/11/2012

1. It's on sale nearly 33% off at the publisher and on Amazon, and it almost Christmas!

2. The publisher has created a wonderful free

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Elections and Idolatry: Part Three

11/02/2012

The Power of a Priestly Kingdom

In parts 1 and 2 of this blog series I have sought to locate today’s presidential race in a wider…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Elections and Idolatry: Part Two

10/31/2012

Answering a Fundamental Objection

In part one, I expressed my increasing discomfort with voting in certain elections. I grounded this…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Elections and Idolatry: Part One

10/29/2012

Nationalism, Elections, and Idolatry

I have been reluctant to vote in national elections for as long as I can remember. My reasons were…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Radical Christian Discipleship

10/21/2012

We are one month away from the long-awaited release of Radical Christian Discipleship. This is the first of three volumes that make…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Politics of Yahweh for Kindle

09/26/2012

I am pleased to announce that we have sold enough copies of The Politics of Yahweh that Amazon.com converted it to Kindle format.

This…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Apologetics and Idolatry

09/04/2012

Stanley Being Stanley

Sojourners online recently posted a quote from Stanley Hauerwas that has me thinking about apologetics again. It…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

One way to pray on election day

08/29/2012

My brother-in-law Jamie tipped me off to a neat way some believers have chosen to engage the forthcoming Election Day as Christians and not…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Are Gays (as a Group) Still Morally...

08/06/2012

Back in 1993, Stanley Hauerwas wrote a provocative essay with the playful title “Why Gays (as a Group) are Morally Superior to…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

A tasty sampling from the forthcoming...

06/24/2012

I am in the middle of editing the full draft and simply had to share a glimpse with you all.

"How would Christians be different if they…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Why theology is tricky and ministers...

05/29/2012

"[Theology is not] a realm of free search where everyone is free to think whatever he or she wants and where the last resort is simply how…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Titles selected for a forthcoming...

05/23/2012

Through facebook and google survey tools, over 100 people (most of whom are probably reading this) helped the editors and publishers select…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Bible Resources

05/22/2012

Whenever people contact me for resources that they remember using in class at some point, I add those resources to the resources tab of the…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Top 10 Recent Developments You...

04/30/2012

I haven't blogged much this Spring and some of you have asked for an update, so here goes:

1. I received my first royalties check for a…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Does Yoder Need a Defense?

03/23/2012

Branson Parler has recently written a devastating critique of Paul Martens' new book, The Heterodox Yoder. Though I appreciate what…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

End of Sacrifice Under Review

03/19/2012

The End of Sacrifice has received decent press over the past few weeks. Chris Smith wrote a brief review for the Englewood Review of…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Relishing the View from the Foot...

02/14/2012

Here is a sermon I delivered at GLCC a few years ago and then again recently at Delta Community Christian Church. It unpacks the abiding…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

A good way to think about the Restoration...

01/04/2012

"It would follow that there is no point at which a renewed recourse to the apostolic writings and their point to Jesus cannot renew us. In…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Tribute to the Englewood Review...

01/01/2012

In my first blog of 2012 I want to thank Chris Smith and the Englewood Review of Books [ERB] for the exposure they have given my work and…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

A Tolkeinesque Sermon on Hebrews

12/16/2011

Is the work of Christ truly sufficient to meet humanity's deepest needs? No book of the Bible grapples with this question more than…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Big discount for my new book

12/05/2011

Yes, my new book is out, and yes it retails for a hefty $30. But the publishers have graciously given me a coupon code that I can make…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

My first book is finally in print!

11/11/2011

The Politics of Yahweh, the book that came out of my dissertation, is finally printed and scheduled to be available for purchase later…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

MQR Engages Defending Constantine

11/07/2011

Almost a year ago, I wrote a lengthy informal review article for the Englewood Review of Books that engaged Peter J. Leithart's…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Celebrating the Yoder Index

10/10/2011

Join Branson Parler, Jason Vance, and I as we commemorate the culmination of more than a year's work to get the John Howard Yoder Index

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

New Books on War and Enemy Love

09/25/2011

For those of you interested in contemporary conversations about war, enemy love, and Christian faith, there are two books you may want to…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

The End of Sacrifice is Here!

09/24/2011

My second book editing project is finally finished, on the shelves, and ready to own! Herald Press just released "The End of Sacrifice: The…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Continuing Conversations about...

09/08/2011

When Peter J. Leithart published "Defending Constantine," the initial response was overwhelmingly positive. Stanley Hauerwas' mostly…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Christ Did Not Come To Abolish...

08/28/2011

Some of you have read the article I posted a while back entitled "With and Against the Grain: Stanley Hauerwas and the Tumultuous Tale of…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

The Spiritual Writings of Yoder

08/23/2011

It may come as a surprise to some that Orbis Press recently published John Howard Yoder: Spiritual Writings in their Modern…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

John Howard Yoder Quotes

08/05/2011

I have been reading through all of John Howard Yoder's books as part of The Yoder Index Project. Those of you who want to keep up with all…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

For God So Loved the World He Sent...

07/30/2011

Thanks to Rob Bell's controversial book, Love Wins, the relationship between God's love and God's wrath is once again a hot topic.…

> Read More

"To do" and "Not to do" with Walk...

06/04/2011

To do:

*Provide students, former students, church leaders with resources that I have found helpful for thinking and teaching about…

> Read More

Thumbnail image for blog entry titled:

Why "Walk and Word"?

06/03/2011

The first major mistake of my fledgling publishing career was to name the first book I edited Radical Ecumenicity. Apparently, not many…

> Read More

The Story behind Walk and Word

06/03/2011

Two years ago I was invited by former students, now co-laborers for the kingdom, to attend what has become the annual “Outhouse…

> Read More

RSS