A Christian Looks at the US Presidential Election

The World Watches

The entire world watched the recent American presidential election with both fear and hope. Depending upon your political point of view, you feared that Bush would win, or lose, and hoped that Kerry would win, or lose! More than that, however, the closeness of the race raised the possibility that the drawn-out legal battles of the last election would be repeated. If that happened, not only would world financial markets suffer from uncertainty, but the nature and future of American democracy would suffer a devastating blow. The tone of the campaign also caused concern. Though less acrimonious than campaigns in some other countries, such as Taiwan, this election nevertheless evoked more anger and contention than any since the 19th century. Looking on, the rest of the world feared for the unity of America. When Kerry conceded, the sigh of relief from all around the globe was almost audible, and certainly understandable. At least democracy had worked once again, and the results were clear and decisive. On the other hand, those who oppose President Bush’s policies – and they are many – could barely hide their disappointment. What will the next few years under his leadership hold for all of us? What does the obviously deep division in American society - in which religion plays such a prominent role - mean, not only for America, but for other democracies? To understand this election and its possible implications, particularly the religious component, we need first to know some of the background.

Christianity and American Society

As I show in my book, Hope Deferred: A Study of Christianity and American Culture, the religion of the Bible has always played a major role in American society, including politics. Both Protestants and Roman Catholics have thought that their faith has social implications. The early Puritans wanted to construct a society upon the basis of Biblical truth. After the War for Independence, the new Constitution reflected a Biblical view of the nature of man and therefore the role of government: Since we are all created in God’s image, we should be allowed enough freedom to develop our unique abilities. On the other hand, since we are all fallen and sinful, no one person, or group of people, should be given too much authority, lest they exploit and oppress others. In other words, the concept of limited government lies at the heart of American political structure. Within the federal government, three branches are, at least in principle, independent and equal. Not only so, but the Constitution places strict limitations upon the federal government, so that individual and state liberties are protected. From the beginning of American political life, laws and customs reflected a Biblical world view. Marriage, commerce, entertainment, education – all were consciously regulated (or left unregulated!) according to what legislators thought the Bible said.

Continuing Conflict

Thus, if you want to understand the major political conflicts throughout American history, you must focus on these two facts: The Christian orientation of many of the people, and the firm commitment to limited government by most citizens. For example, the Civil War was fought over two issues (though many others fueled the fires of passion): Whether slavery was right or wrong, and whether the Federal government had the authority to force states to remain within the Union. Naturally, the North thought that they were right in restricting the spread of slavery and in preventing Southern states from seceding. The Southern states believed that the Federal government should not interfere with the institution of slavery. They also held that since the Union was created by the separate states, any state could voluntarily withdraw. Christians today agree that slavery was terribly wrong and that believers in the South were greatly mistaken not to have taken more active efforts to end it. The constitutional issue was settled by force of arms: No state would think of seceding now. The deeper problem, however, was that both sides thought God was on their side, and would not consider the possibility that they were in any way wrong. Moral issues divided them, and religion played the major role in the way they understood those moral questions. Looking back, we see the folly and tragedy of this conflict. Likewise, later political debates in America usually grew out of different views of the proper role of the central government, and often also involved questions of morality. And yet, we may say that until the latter part of the 20th century, a common view of right and wrong, largely based upon the Bible, permeated all levels of American society, and formed a fundamental unity in the nation.

Deep Divisions

All that has changed in the past forty years. The radical movements of the 1960s shattered the consensus of what some have called “civil religion,” and created deep divisions that have only grown in intensity. These clashes have their roots in the 19th century, however. After the Civil War, Darwinism began to affect intellectuals and politicians. Skeptical ideas about the Bible crossed the Atlantic from German universities. Gradually, leading thinkers began to abandon traditional, orthodox views of God, man, and morality. This process gained momentum throughout the 20th century, though most people were not aware of the extent and depth of the new anti-Biblical perspective. Education, laws, and entertainment – all began to reflect both confidence in man and distrust towards God, especially towards the inspiration, authority, and reliability of the Bible. Increasingly, cultural leaders, and even presidents rejected notions of absolute truth and morality. Gradually, the Supreme Court began to re-interpret the Constitution. No longer did the original intention of the writers govern its interpretation. Now, sociology, economics, and the personal opinions of the judges made the crucial difference. Accordingly, the power of the central government was allowed to expand, and the authority of states and the freedom of individuals receded. Except in one area: Morality. As people began to reject the Bible, moral standards were loosened, especially in the realm of sexual conduct. Such views led to the marital infidelities of Presidents Woodrow Wilson, F.D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy (who had sexual relations with hundreds of women while in office), and Bill Clinton.

Present Conflicts

If you look at the 2004 elections – not only for President but also for Congress – you will see these two themes playing a prominent role: The power of the central government, and the role of morality in American life. A few questions highlighted the profound cleavage in the religious and ethical, as well as the political, convictions among Americans: Abortion. Should the government allow, or restrict, abortion? Protestants and Roman Catholics believe that abortions involve the taking of human life. Non-believers do not. For followers of Christ, personal freedom should be limited by the law of God. Non-Christians think that personal autonomy reigns supreme, and must not be restricted by any laws of God or man. Thus, the government should allow abortion at any time and for any reason. Note the other aspect of this controversy: The Supreme Court in 1973 struck down most state laws prohibiting abortions. Not only did this decision reject all British and American legal concepts up to that time, but it also radically re-interpreted the Constitution, in two ways: It invented a new “right” – the “right to privacy”; and it obliterated the rights of states to regulate personal behavior. Same-sex marriage: Conservatives think that marriage is for one man and one woman, both because the Bible says so, and because homosexual behavior wreaks huge damage in society. Not only is the family shattered, but sexual diseases, including AIDS, become epidemic through same-sex relationships. Liberals do not think that there are any absolute moral standards, and that everyone should be allowed to behave as he wishes. Note again the role of the Supreme Court: Recently, the Court struck down state laws against homosexuality. Once more, this not only shattered the universal consensus of Western civilization, and especially British and American law; it also intruded into an area once considered the domain of states. Personal faith and politics: Conservative Roman Catholics and Protestant believe that the Bible contains standards that are permanently and universally valid. These apply to all of human life, including politics. No government official acts without a certain worldview. Those with the Biblical understanding of life will, of course, apply that moral framework to their decisions. Liberal Christians and non-believers, on the other hand, think that religious views should play no role at all in public life. In this, they are, of course, inconsistent: Al Gore’s passionate commitment to environmentalism reflects his worship of the earth-goddess Gaia. Likewise, the “religion” of liberals consists in a belief in relativism, the supreme role of man’s reason and feelings to determine moral values, the autonomy of individuals and – at the same time! – the right of the government to regulate almost all areas of life, except sexual activity. Perhaps it is no accident that all the presidents of the 20th century who continuously engaged in sexual misconduct were Democrats with little religious affiliation. Enter George Bush. He is considered to be an Evangelical Christian. He reads the Bible, prays, goes to church, and has remained (at least until now) faithful to his wife. His religious convictions lead him to oppose abortions and same-sex marriage. These personal views influence his politics. In particular, he has consistently nominated conservatives to government office, and particularly as judges. The Clinton White House was filled with the odor of marijuana, the highest number of scandals in American history, and blatant sexual activity, both homosexual and heterosexual. For the past four years, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has not only seen the lowest number of scandals in recent American history, but has been the location for numerous Bible studies and prayer meetings. Liberals despise and fear all of that religious activity, and have opposed Bush and his government from the beginning for that fundamental reason. That explains a great deal of the hostility that marked the statements of supporters for John Kerry. To understand why Bush won in 2004, consider this: In 2000, many conservative Evangelicals and Roman Catholics stayed home and did not vote. This year, they turned out in unprecedented numbers, and ensured Bush’s victory. Many polls both before and after the election showed that frequent churchgoers favored Bush by an overwhelming majority, and non-churchgoers voted for Kerry. Likewise, single people tended to vote Democratic, and married people went for the Republicans. It’s as simple as that. (The major exception is African-Americans: Though most hold to traditional views of morality, they support the Democratic Party because it favors welfare programs for them.) And why did they vote for Bush? Because they oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, and they wanted him to be able to nominate members to the Supreme Court who would reverse recent trends.

Complicating Factors

Politics, like all of life, is extremely complex. The picture I have just painted of the recent election campaign does not include a number of important factors which played a huge role, and which will continue to affect not only America but all of the world. The war in Iraq: Though most of the country, including John Kerry, supported the attack on Iraq, significant dissent has arisen since then. The reasons are two: First, was the invasion justified? In other words, was this war essentially aggressive, or was it offensive – that is, unprovoked – and therefore wrong? Second: Has the war been conducted as well as possible? While the answer to the second question is a resounding “No!” the first one remains debated, even by Christians. For my part, though I tend to think the war was unnecessary, I am still undecided, because I believe we lack the necessary information to evaluate the situation. We are all deeply saddened by the continuing violence, and disgusted by the practice of abuse towards prisoners. Most disturbing is evidence that President Bush authorized, or at least allowed, practices towards prisoners that are at least abusive, even if he opposes torture. Furthermore, we can see how much most of the world opposes this war, and how it has greatly eroded America’s moral standing, and thus America’s previous role as a relatively just and righteous nation. America and the world: Kerry Criticized Bush for failing to gain international support for his policies. France, Germany, Russia, and China had close ties with Saddam Hussein and stood to lose by his defeat, so this criticism is not totally accurate. Nevertheless, this administration does seem to believe that America has the right to act alone in a way that is new – and very unpopular – in recent history. In particular, the formal doctrine of pre-emptive strikes raises fears around the world and has provoked sharp criticism from China (though Communist China has launched many surprise attacks). Economic policy: The Bush administration has allowed the growth of the federal debt, fed by huge annual deficits. This has contributed to a growing weakness of the dollar and to a huge fiscal crisis for the government. The American Patriot Act: This law was passed without much debate, but it dramatically expanded the reach and power of the central government. In the hands of the wrong people, it could lead to a tyranny as bad as any Communist country. His nomination for Attorney General of Gonzalez, who defended the Administration’s treatment of prisoners, has caused concern that the U.S. Government will not be as attentive to the rights of accused persons as it has been in the past. The environment. Large corporations have tended to resist controls on their activities that would reduce profits, and so they – and the Republicans – have often opposed new regulations to protect the environment. Be careful here, though: Richard Nixon, a Republican, launched the national environmental protection process in 1970, and much of the activity and fervor of “Greens” stems from a religion of pantheism, a hatred of private enterprise, a love for government control, and fundamental ignorance of economics. They are also often just wrong in their assertions (such as about the environmental impact of oil drilling in Alaska). Big business: Since its founding in the 19th century, the Republican Party has supported big business. Today, though many rich people (like George Soros) support the Democrats, and both John Kerry and his running mate Edwards are very wealthy men, this connection of the Republicans with large multi-national corporations is as close as ever. Many people resent and fear that connection. For these and other reasons, many American Christians voted for Bush with great reservations, and despite some of his key policies. It was only because they thought the Kerry and the Democrats would be worse that they turned out in such large numbers for Bush and the Republicans. In other words, American Christians saw little difference between Bush and Kerry on the question of the war in Iraq and economic policy. They saw a huge difference in the area of morality, and voted accordingly. We need to realize that no one is perfect, and that even a Christian president is capable a making major mistakes.

America’s Future?

Though they may have voted for Bush, most American Christians are deeply pessimistic about the future of their country. They watch its moral decay with great fear, knowing that God must punish unrighteous men and nations. The attacks on September 11, 2001, seemed like warnings from the Lord, and many calls for repentance were issued at that time. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Many criticize the Bush administration’s foreign policy as arrogant. To the degree that this criticism is true, it points towards national disaster for America. As you look at the facts, it does seem that this great and mighty county is poised for a sudden collapse. At home, the nation is divided among Christians and those who fear religious faith. Unprecedented debt hangs over national, state, and local governments, as well as corporations and individuals. Companies and individuals are going bankrupt at a rate unknown since the Great Depression of the 1920s. Abroad, America is increasingly distrusted, despised, even hated. Muslims grind their teeth over what they see as America’s moral depravity, its support for Israel, and its military dominance in the Middle East. China protests against American “hegemony” (while rapidly expanding its own power in Asia and the rest of the world.) In Latin America, anti-American Marxists and other leftists, strongly helped by China, have gained control of Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina. Cuba is an armed Communist state just 100 miles from Florida. A Chinese company controls both ends of the Panama Canal. Former allies like Germany and France now actively oppose America at every point. Former enemy Russia continues to re-arm, sounds increasingly anti-American, has a strategic military agreement with China, and looks less and less like a democracy. Surrounded by potential enemies, abandoned by friends, running out of money, rent by deep religious and political divisions, riddled with corruption, ravaged by divorce, burdened by a huge under-class of uneducated people without stable families, distracted by an addiction to pleasure and entertainment – can any nation like that long survive? Or does the recent affirmation of traditional – even Christian –morality among a majority of the electorate indicate a turn for the better? Only God knows the future, but the Bible teaches that a country which resembles Babylon will come to a sudden and terrible end. As an American Christian, I ask for your prayers for my president, my country and for the world. Wright Doyle November, 2004 “Post-words” in response to two responses to this article. If Dr. Feng would read my book, Hope Deferred, he would see that I agree with some of his concerns about America. His very strong anti-Bush, even anti-American response deserves a long response, for he raises crucial questions. In particular, the relationship between private morality and public policy needs careful discussion among Christians. Unfortunately, his response is marred by what appears to be passion and prejudice. It seems also that he has access to very limited, biased, and even inaccurate information. Thus, several of his charges lack sufficient evidence. The second letter has only one comment to which I need to respond: It is not Wright Doyle who connects most church-going Christians with the Republican Party. I am only reporting the results of all the polls, both before and after the election, as my article clearly stated.