Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Treebeard approach to politics

Election Year rhetoric was already annoying, but last week’s Supreme Court decision on health care has finally raised it to the histrionic fever pitch we expect a few months before election day. These next few months promise to be more of the same in American politics: both sides will call the other evil and foolish and stupid, and it is the one thing that both sides are right about.

I love to think of myself as trendily apolitical, that all I care about is Christ and Him crucified, and God is in control, and I will pray for whoever is president, and my kingdom is heaven, not America, etc, etc. Of course that is just so much self-righteous piety there. In reality I do get interested in politics. I have written about politics about half a dozen times before now, and I will probably write about it again. But as I have said before, I have no allusions that my vote actually matters, or that God’s purpose for our world can be derailed by a filibuster, or that our high court is truly the Supreme court. Above all, I try to remember that America’s life is like a gnat’s life compared to the eternity that we all will share together. I also try to remember that, no matter who gets voted into power, God is in control. Conservatives, that means God was in control when He allowed Obama to be President. Liberals, stop cheering: that means God was in control when George W Bush was in power also. God has a plan, and those two men were a part of the plan.

So yes, I probably get too political at times, but I hope I remember the truly Christian view of humanity. That view (of a divine image captured within a fallen body) helps keep me focused on the fact that our system is always going to be flawed and sinful, no matter which party is in power. Our democratic republic is one in which fallen voters, under mob mentality, elect fallen men and women to share powers which are greatly limited by a Constitution (which was itself written and amended by fallen men). I am certain that our Deist founding fathers, with their heavy Enlightenment views, saw this as a system which would lead to the highest possible morality; we Christians do not. Our political system is probably the greatest political system ever designed by man. But it is still based upon fallen men making decisions, both in the voting booth and after their elections. And fallen men are, well, fallen. Just because it is the best system ever created does not necessarily mean it is a good system.

So as we enter this political season, it is probably fair to wonder what side I am on. I think my favorite character from the Lord of the Rings saga sums up my political position nicely:

I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me. …And there are some things, of course, whose side I’m altogether not on. I am against them altogether.” –Treebeard, JRR Tolkein’s, The Lord of the Rings

I think this fairly well sums up my approach to politics. I am not on anybody’s side (Democrat, Republican, Tea Party, Libertarian, Populist) because I do not see anyone as being completely on my side, that is, the side of Christians. You see, the things that are truly important to the political debate in modern America are the size and power of the government, the tax code, health care, and interpretation of the Constitution. These are not issues that the Bible cares to address. They simply are not important, in comparison to the kinds of things we talk about in the Bible. Jesus walked around under an oppressive Roman government for thirty-some-odd years and never said one negative word about them; He was focused on the Kingdom of Heaven, not the kingdoms of man. They just were not that important to Him.

Because of this, like Treebeard, I find myself not on anyone’s side on these issues. Sure, I have opinions of what is most effective, and those opinions tend toward one end of the political spectrum. But I try to hold these things as a “lower tier” of importance. Because these are not issues of Biblical morality; they are not the kind of things that I can imagine the Jesus of the Gospels getting all that worked up about.

However, also like Treebeard, there are some things that I am against altogether. There are some things which, as a Christian, I cannot support in elected officials.

So let’s be clear on the issues whose side we are definitely not on.

I Am Against Them Altogether…

1. Anti-Life Policies

In my 2009 series here, we talked about what it really meant to be “pro-life” as an evangelical. Please read it for more detail. Basically, only God can grant life and only in the rarest of circumstances does He allow us to take it from others.

By opposing anti-life policies, I oppose:

Abortion. Even in the cases of rape or incest, abortion is the murder of a living human being and cannot be permitted. The only possible case where abortion is allowable is if the mother’s life is in imminent danger, and the doctor cannot possibly save them both. In this case either life is equally valuable and one must be chosen. This is so extremely rare, however, that to use this as pro-abortion propaganda is absurd. I oppose abortion in any case except this very rare one.

Capital punishment, except for murder. I oppose capital punishment for any crime except murder. The Noahic Covenant requires execution for murders, but otherwise the Christian ethic both in Scripture and in the classical Church was to avoid passing judgment on someone’s life. Lifelong imprisonment is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Only murderers should be executed; in no other cases should capital punishment be allowed.

Cloning of humans. All kinds of ethical concerns with this one.

Euthanasia (active). Passive euthanasia—the refusal of medical intervention to maintain life—is of course perfectly acceptable to the Christian (after all, this is simply letting nature take its course and letting God have control). But active euthanasia, where positive action is taken to end a life which otherwise would continue, is not morally acceptable.

Stem cell (embryonic) research. The raising, harvesting, and destruction of embryos is not allowable (unless they are unusable for implantation, of course, and would otherwise be discarded).

War (certain aspects). We support the Christian Just War Theory approach to wars. Thus we oppose pre-emptive strikes, wars begun prior to exhaustion of diplomatic options, actions with excessive collateral damage, weapons of mass destruction, etc.

So you might say that I generally side with moderates on war, liberals on capital punishment, and conservatives on stem cell research, euthanasia, cloning, and abortion.

2. Anti-Immigration Policies

Immigration is one of the few hot-button topics that actually is discussed in the Scriptures at length. God told the Jews in the Scriptures that immigrants should receive the same legal protection as residents (Exo 12:49, Lev 24:22); that they should not be mistreated (Exo 22:21); that they should not oppress foreigners because we have all been foreigners before (Exo 23:9); that immigrants are expected to follow our laws and observe our holidays as well, even those that are culturally strange to them (Lev 17:10, Num 9:14); that we should set aside a portion of our earnings to help the poor and the immigrants (Lev 19:10, 23:22); and that we are to love immigrants as though they were our own family (Lev 19:34). Solomon allowed any immigrants who desired to do so entry into Israel, taking a careful census of them (2 Chr 2:17) and assigning them public works. The prophets told that God would strongly judge those who oppressed immigrants (Mal 3:5), and Paul tells us that we all cease to be foreigners when we accept Christ, but are citizens in God’s kingdom-that-will-be (Eph 2:18-20).

Simply put, we have a Biblical responsibility to be courteous, hospitable, welcoming, and protecting of immigrants to our land. They are expected to be given equal protection under the law, and are expected to uphold our laws and respect our culture, as well.

Therefore my stance on immigration tends to be a mixed bag of sorts. I have no problem with stronger border security (so that we know who is coming into the country), nor do I have any problem with requiring immigrants to do so legally. These are fairly conservative positions.

On the other hand, I also vehemently oppose splitting up families whose children (being born here) are citizens while the parents are illegal immigrants. I also have no problem with offering amnesty to law-abiding and productive immigrants who simply wanted to make a better life for their family. I also support strong laws which ensure that immigrants receive equal protection under our laws—equal access to education, fair pay, and health coverage.

On the more moderate side, I do think that they should be strongly encouraged to learn English and participate in our culture, which both helps us share common ground and helps avoid the “immigrant ghettos” which have led to so much violence and pain and racism throughout history.

So where do I stand on immigration? Somewhere in the moderate category, I would say. I believe that we have a responsibility to be hospitable and protective of those who are less fortunate; however there is also nothing wrong with having a good census understanding of who is in the country, and trying to ensure that they do so legally. But policies which are focused upon limiting the rights of immigrants, or splitting up immigrant families, I strongly oppose.

3. Anti-Welfare Policies

I hate to use the word “welfare” there, because I am not necessarily supporting the way that Welfare (big-W) is run here in America. What I mean is that it seems to me that our government does have a requirement to provide support to those who cannot provide it. Scripture talks about providing for the poor with literally dozens of statements. We are told to ensure they get fair legal treatment (Exo 23:6); that they are provided for by individuals (Exo 23:11); that the “leftovers” of our work (which I would interpret as extra money) be provided for them (Lev 19:10); that our aim should be the complete elimination of the poor (Deut 15:4-7); that perfection is selling everything you own and giving it to those who have nothing (Matt 19:21); that our faith is shown by how we care for the poor and overlooked (Matt 25:35; James 2:2-6); that giving to the poor is like making an offering to God Himself (Acts 10:4); that we should provide for the poor even if they try to harm us (Rom 12:20); and that anyone who has the love of God in him will try and help the poor (1 Joh 3:17-18).

For lack of a better term, I am using the word “welfare” to refer to the providing for those in our country who cannot provide for themselves. Any policy which discourages this or makes this harder, I oppose.

Thus, I oppose Democrats who seek to overturn the tax deductions for charitable giving; this deduction encourages giving and should be kept. Thus I also oppose all forms of lottery, which are (from a practical standpoint at least) an extra tax on the poor. In these ways, I would side with the conservatives.

But in other ways I side with the Democrats. Though our welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid systems might need overhaul in terms of effectiveness, these are exactly the things I want a moral government doing: taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves. Do not give me the argument that this should not be mandatory and taken from your wages directly; when we as individuals have eliminated the poor, then the government need not take money from our checks to fund welfare! If we were doing our job, we would put the entitlement systems out of work. But until that happens, our government must be providing some form of welfare.

In this regard I again suppose that I would fall in the “moderate” category—a bit conservative, a bit liberal. It really depends on the particular policy. Policies like lotteries, reduction of welfare, excessive adoption standards, and the like which (either by design or practical side-effect) negatively affect the poor are definitely against anything I can support.

4. Anti-Religion Policies

Need I actually say that I am against policies which eliminate our freedom to worship? Sadly, I probably must. The concept of a separation of church and state was made to protect both the church from the State and the State from the church. It did not want another Church of England wielding excessive power against the state, nor a state refusing to allow someone to worship freely.

Without a doubt, the “separation of church and state” is strongly erring on the anti-religious side at this point. Thus we have to be careful about saying the word “Christmas” on government property, or talking about our faith in the workplace, or what we preach from the pulpit. These are horrible limitations on our freedom to worship, and cannot be supported at all. And do not tell me this is what the Constitution intended; the same men who wrote the Constitution put a Bible in every classroom, so spare me the historical revisionism. I will freely admit that our governmental system is not based upon the Bible, but upon enlightenment Deist principles; but never in American history has the government been so restrictive on religion as it is today.

So color me decidedly and decisively conservative on this topic.

5. Anti-Family Policies

Just as with the term “welfare”, I hate to use the term “anti-family” here because this term is throw around far too broadly and used to address all manner of policies that have nothing whatsoever to do with families. When I say, “anti-family” policies, I mean those policies which seek to remove the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, or which seek to redefine marriage or the family unit itself in a way which is not historical.

And thus I oppose legislation which seeks to tell parents how to (or how not to) discipline their children, or which requires the teaching sex education against parental wishes, or which limits the freedom of choice for parents to determine school options for their children, which makes it more difficult to adopt, which redefines marriage, which makes divorce easier etc.


I cannot consider myself a ‘moderate’, because moderates simply think the compromise is always better. But neither do I believe that any part is “on my side”: that is, neither the Republicans nor the Tea nor the Democrats nor the Libertarians nor the Greens are on my side of what is Biblically important.

Therefore, as with Treebeard, I consider myself on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side. But I do know what I am firmly against: policies which are anti-life, anti-immigration, anti-welfare, anti-family, and anti-religion are the ones which determine who gets my vote. Since no one particular party ever agrees with me completely, I have come to the point where I always view an election as choosing the “lesser of two evils”: who is the candidate whose policies will be the least bad in terms of my five key voting criteria?

We shall see how that plays out in this political season.

1 comment:

  1. That quote from Treebeard speaks for me as well, and I agree with much of this, though I would add concerns about the earth and its creatures, and I believe that capitol punishment for murder, while just, is unnecessary in an affluent socety.

    Btw, I found this by googling "Treebeard politics." :)

    I also believe that many, many other people of goodwill have similar views, despite being "led" by strident idealogue on either side.