Tuesday, November 08, 2016

My Election Day 2016 thoughts - What I feel has been missing from the conversation among evangelicals.

I worked for a few weeks on an actual blog post (since I don't do those anymore) about the dialogue among evangelicals about the 2016 election and my overall disappointment with the irrationality of some of it. I was unable to strike the right tone with my writing, but I have basically summed up below what I think has been missing in the debate, with particular attention to the Al Mohler / Jack Richardson IV spat. (Now that it's 10:30 on a long election night, I'm going to finally roll this out.)

1. We live in a representative democracy with a system of checks and balances. The President is not some all-powerful person who decides everything or controls the economy.  Every President talks about the humbling experience of realizing how little he can actually do once he gets into the office, we just choose not to listen to them. Congress is pretty powerful by design. All the focus on the Presidency is an unfortunate myth created by the politicians running for office making promises that only Congress can fulfill. Presidents don't "create jobs" or "provide services" any more than I created the glass of water I'm drinking.

1a. I've enjoyed listing to the Presidential podcast by the Washington Post, which gives a brief overview of the lives and politics of the Presidents. I'm only through Woodrow Wilson, but thus far America has had alcoholics, liars, philanderers, grossly corrupt, homosexual, proud slave-owning, and genocidal racist presidents. Yet the Republic survived. It strikes me that the spiritual condition of the people matters more.

2. America is not "one man, one vote" for President. Al Gore got more votes than Bush in 2000. If every single person in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana went to the polls to vote for Trump and only one person in California showed up and happened to vote for Clinton, guess who wins. Electoral. College. If you live in Kentucky, your vote is going for Trump whether you like it or not; the market gives Trump a 98% chance of winning here. A voter's decision in close-race Virginia today has more gravity than Kentucky.

2a. National or local, we'd be better off with a voting system that used a rank of preferences rather than a binary choice. Choice architecture matters, and our poor choice architecture is always going to lead to a sub-optimal outcome. Given this problem, it's much harder to say someone's vote is "right" or "wrong." We'd be better off having a local/national movement changing how we do our ballots.

2b. Christian churches do not widely train members in critical thinking or decision making. I think I've only heard of one church in America that offers classes in logic and critical thinking (taught by William Lane Craig). 

3. President is quite possibly the least-important office most Americans will vote for today. Kentucky, for example, is in danger of becoming in a fiscal mess similar to Illinois and quite possibly Puerto Rico with a$35 billion and growing unfunded pension obligation that is crowding out everything else. If the Republicans take the State House for the first time in 100 years, it will affect everything from who gets to vote in 2017 (felons or not), to what curriculum my son will have in school, to what tax rates I will pay next year. It also affects what Governor Bevin gets to take credit for when he is likely to run for President in 2020. (mark it down.) (as I update this draft on 11/8, GOP took the House by a landslide.) 

4. I watched an eloquent, gospel-driven African American pastor in North Carolina on BBC last week make the point that in the past 30 years, evangelicals have done a good job convincing other evangelicals that political activity was the most important way to follow Jesus, it has certainly gotten the most time and attention compared to, say, focused prayer and innovative new mercy ministries.

Al Mohler writes of the need to "show grace" to those voting for Trump out of concern for the Supreme Court. (In Kentucky, you can say anything you want about a person so long as you precede it with "Bless his heart..."). Perhaps that's because in 2005 he led Southern Baptist churches nationwide to take a break from preaching the Gospel to watch a televised forum from his church in Louisville in which he and other faith leaders joined with Republican congressmen to demand up-or-down votes by the Senate on Supreme Court nominees. Perhaps Justice Sunday would have been better spent in worshipful prayer and reminding believers that the church still thrives in countries where the government is adamantly opposed to it. Maybe then people like Tony Perkins wouldn't be so hung up on thinking the Supreme Court was more important than anything.

5. None of us has perfect information on the candidate, and all of us fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect. See 1a. above. I have read or listened to all of Hillary Clinton's books, and a few biographies of her. I have read The Art of the Deal and another biography of Trump. If you add up all the magazine articles and news clips and hours watching TV as a 36 year old, I probably have been exposed to these people more than anyone else I've never actually met. But I don't have perfect information. Much of what I have read or heard is false. Every wikileaks email dump reminds me to assign only a conditional probability to confidence of what I know about a candidate. I'm making my best, most-informed guess.

6. Proverbs 21:1 - "A king's heart is like streams of water in the LORD's hand: He directs it wherever He chooses." Even wicked, murderous Ahab was granted repentance and mercy (1 Kings 21). I think our time as Christians would be better spent living on mission and praying for our city/state/country rather than wringing our hands over the myth/cult of the presidency. Who we vote for matters much less than who we ultimately put our faith in. He can do whatever He wants with a President.

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