This is about to be new territory for me. Much more your expertise. I wish now we could have conversations about it. After all, you took me the first time I could vote. I actually remember the day very well. I don’t have very many memories from when you were healthy, but that one is vivid in my mind. Maybe because I knew how important it was to you. I know where you stand on most things. You were the one to stir up the politics discussion at family gatherings, much to the frustration of many members, but honestly, though I didn’t quite understand then, what important conversations they were. Just the ability to lovingly agree or disagree. To share the truth in love with people you love. My fear of disapproval from people often keeps my mouth shut in this regard. I do not always know what to say or how to say it, but I want to speak the truth. I do not want to take the responsibility of sharing truth lightly. And this is why I would have liked to discuss the following with you before sharing it here. It does not seem very safe, and I am still uncertain about some things. But that is the point, I guess. This is the purpose of conversation on hard issues. It is part of the risk of being truly known, genuinely transparent, authentically flawed, and unconditionally loved. Well, here goes.
I love Jesus, and I voted for Donald Trump last election. I’ve heard many comments about how the two could coexist. How could I love Jesus and vote for Trump? Maybe it was wrong or not “Christian” of me, but would I vote for him again this election? Yes. Do I agree with all of his views? No. Do I agree with some of Joe Biden’s views? Yes. Maybe I even agree most with the views of Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen. So what do I do? What is the right and just? Should I still vote for President Trump?
What I do know is President Trump is a human, a faulty human, just like me. I do not offer this as an excuse for any behavior but as a reminder and context for my broken opinion. I also know I must pick only one person. I cannot vote for Trump’s healthcare positions and Biden’s immigration positions. This would be easier, for sure. Thus, I do not know what else to do but choose what is most important to the truth, not most popular. I think I am asked to choose as lovingly as I can. To weigh the good in one candidate’s positions with the good in another. With all people in mind, as my neighbors, brothers, and sisters.
Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Love is the fulfillment of the law.
In this chapter of Romans, Paul is discussing how people should relate to governing authorities. He references Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Seems curious to include this in a discourse of submitting to governmental authorities. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament functions as the handbook God gives to the Israelites through Moses to achieve holiness. The commandments they were to follow to draw close to God now that He freed them from Egypt. Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the governing authorities, who unjustly enslaved the Israelite people. Paul is saying, as Jesus said, the most important commandment is to love. And this is the same for our interactions with civil authorities. However depraved of hope the sphere of politics may seem, it, too, is a means to achieve holiness.
One of them (Pharisees), a lawyer (an expert in the Mosaic Law), asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets.”
[Matthew 22: 35-40]
So, above all, I am bound by love. Loving God means loving my neighbor. But some of my neighbors may not believe in God. Some of my neighbors are unsure of the standard they live by or maybe abide by relativism. And they might be in authoritative positions I am subject to. This, it seems, may mean that when I imperfectly attempt to follow the law to love, some people may perceive something else. Maybe they will perceive me being unjust or narrow minded. And they may be right at times. This may also mean I have to lovingly “render to all what is due them,” even the people in authority who may not abide by the same law I abide by. How can I though? What if these governmental authorities stand for things contrary to the law I am bound to?
Paul touches on this possibility in the beginning of Romans 13. Jesus also speaks briefly on it.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God…For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
Well what about Pharaoh? What about Caesar? What about all the kings who persecuted God’s people? What about the leaders today who persecute and oppress minority groups? What about the first US Presidents who held slaves? What about the Presidents recently who have let slavery and persecution continue? Who say systemic racism does not exist? How can they be ministers of God? Servants of God? What if they don’t even believe in God or abide by His foremost and most important commandment to love? And how do I subject myself, who is under their earthly authority but also bound by a law to love from an eternal authority, to them? Not only under their earthly authority but divinely put under their authority. What does that look like?
In the Epiphany Fellowship podcast episode, “God & Politics,” Dr. Eric Mason (pastor and founder of Epiphany Fellowship church in Philadelphia) explores the responsibility of the Christian in relationship to civil authorities as Paul outlines in Romans 13. Dr. Mason emphasizes the importance and responsibility of Christian people to engage with politics, however uncomfortable or disagreeable. He says the question we ought to continually ask ourselves is this…
“What does the American government require of its citizens that’s not a violation of God’s Word?”
It is a beast of a topic to explore in full. Dr, Mason himself admits a whole series could be dedicated to expounding the full meaning of St. Paul’s words to the Romans. I would encourage the reader to listen to the entirety of the podcast. Without getting too deep into the exegesis of the passage, I think the key is what Dr. Mason responds to that requirement.
“We are willing and can help the government when they are honorably pushing forward an agenda generally good for all humans and reflects God’s heart for what we believe as Christians. We resist redefinition of family. We resist abortion. We resist racial injustice, inequitable education, redlining, etc.”
“[We are not to resist] when authority is not breaking God’s laws.”
Our responsibility as Christians is to engage with governing authorities just as we engage every part of our lives, “as application of the Gospel.” Thus, we are to engage and submit without conforming, just as we are to be in the world but not of it. To keep ourselves unstained but not indifferent. If man misuses government, it is on us, not God. Pharaoh enslaving the Israelite people is a misuse of governmental authority and political power. White people enslaving black people, often using Christian doctrine as justification, is not only a misuse of governmental authority and power but a serious perversion of the Gospel message.
“God didn’t mean people to own people, Gideon.”[“Harriet”]
“We are taught to give honor to princes and potentates, but such honor as is not contrary to true religion.”[biblehub.com Romans 13:1 commentaries]
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool…”
How the faithful city has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers. Your silver has become dross, Your drink diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels And companions of thieves; Everyone loves a bribe And chases after rewards. They do not defend the orphan, Nor does the widow’s plea come before them.
True religion and the greatest commandment go hand and hand. I think the word “religion” has taken on a bad reputation. So I appreciate James clarifying and reminding us what true and undefiled religion is in the sight of God: namely, taking care of the most vulnerable. Taking care of and watching over the helpless. Those who cannot pay you back. This requires indifferent love. Love that does not go seeking for praise or reward. It is purely selfless, desiring nothing in return. This is the love of the greatest commandment because this is how God loves us. He asks us only to receive and to come back to Him. In my pursuit of loving in this way, I always have a foundation and path to come back to when I stray. I have the best Teacher, ever patient and willing to show me, how to love my neighbor. This fills me with abundant hope. Not just hope that I might draw near to Him but also that He can transform my feeble attempts to love into glimpses of His real, indifferent love. Transforming orphans into sons and daughters. Widows into brides.
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I think, then, I have to choose hope, even in the sphere of politics and in governmental authorities, who sometimes give us every reason not to have hope. I think, with my vote, I have to choose someone to protect it. To protect the most vulnerable. Orphans and widows. My broken opinion is abortion costs humanity hope. It costs the most vulnerable, and it costs humans in general.
“Even in the most dire circumstances, hope exists because the reality that things can turn out better than what we expect exists… When faced with dire circumstances, let the crazy hope remain that things will turn out better than imagined.
Accepting that abortion can be morally right and legally acceptable and necessary, chisels at the unique sense of hope that exists in humanity. For the woman raped and pregnant at an age where she has few people around her to support her and fewer resources to even think about raising a child, there is hope. For the woman happily married with a loving husband who gets pregnant at the peak of her career, there is hope. It is by no means easy to choose hope in either of these situations or in the many that face women considering abortion, so why allow for the possibility of so much pain and burden for the sake of hope? Because it is not so much about the outcome as the outlook. Outcomes often have a time frame, whereas an outlook is enduring and contagious. Having an outlook of hope is worth protecting and fostering because it will reap benefits long after hardships and harsh realities pass.”
[“Position on the Morality and Legality of Abortion,” Lauren Sajewich]
I think resisting abortion is the good outweighing the others. Not because the others are less important or less significant to following the law to love or true religion but rather because I believe the other goods follow from the resistance of abortion. This is solely a comparison and by no means the same but almost like when Jesus says the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor after saying the first is to love God with all your heart and mind. The second follows the first. Loving God compels you to love your neighbor. Thus, I think resisting abortion protects hope, protects the vulnerable, and follows most closely to true religion and the law of love. The other goods, as Dr. Mason mentions, of resisting the redefinition of the family and resisting racial injustice, educational inequality, redlining, etc., follow because the hope and indifferent love found in the most vulnerable compel the heart and mind to treat all people as beloved. Of course, this is the ideal. But hope chases the ideal in perseverance and encouragement because the possibility of something better exists. Hope is worth protecting.
So if Trump will protect hope by restricting abortion, my vote goes to him.
And, ultimately, I pray for whichever candidate the Lord ordains. I ask Him to soften my heart and to remove any scales from my eyes preventing me from seeing Him or understanding the love and hope He offers.
I love you dad,
PS- I confess I will not turn in an actual ballot this election. I did not take seriously the responsibility and proper preparations of being able to vote from abroad. I sincerely apologize for this possible hypocrisy, but my position stands as is and my exhortation to all of us is to treat the opportunity to vote with more weight. The ability to vote once defined a person’s humanity, specifically the ancestors of our black brothers and sisters, so go vote!
Also, the excerpt on the relationship between abortion and hope comes from a paper I wrote in grad school. I will also post the whole paper on my website if anyone is curious or interested in reading more into my position and thoughts.