Further Thoughts on Why Christians Cannot Be “Values Voters”

Last week, I talked about why Christians cannot be “values voters.” In the wake of a few conversations and some comments on that post, I wanted to add further thoughts beyond those contained in the first post.

You hear the term values voters used to group those people who use a fixed set of specific issues as a basis for their voting patterns. This term is often applied by conservative Christians to describe the (usually limited) number of ideas they use to clarify for whom they should vote in elections or to note which political issues are most important to them.

Five further reasons why I believe values voting is a grave mistake:

Values alone say nothing about their source and their reason for existing.

Why does a value exist? And what is its source?

Christians must be concerned for sources. Our source is God. A.W. Tozer has said that because we are created by God, all of our answers are found in Him. The wisdom of that understanding of God as our Source cannot be lost when Christians consider their belief and praxis.

Where voting values becomes problematic is that trumpeting a particular value doesn’t necessarily say anything about the source for that value or why that value is important.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees who opposed Him were extremely concerned that Jesus’ activities would eventually bring further oppression from the Romans. In the end, to their eyes, Jesus represented a threat to all that was good, historic, and essential to the Hebrew faith, nationality, and practice. Preserving that heritage, on the surface, appeared to be a noble value, but we know where it ultimately led. Because the Pharisees did not understand the Kingdom of God, did not grasp what God the Source was doing, in fact, did not know God properly, their values were off, no matter how righteous they seemed. In the end, their values voting led to the crucifixion of Jesus.

The decisions we make in life cannot start at an ends and work backwards. They must start at the source. If we do not understand the source for what we believe, then our values will always drift. What is often the case is that the values then become entities in and of themselves, with little reference back to the source. More often than not, this leads to catastrophes (which we will examine later). We end up with values divorced from sources, and the sources always suffer for this split.

Voting values tends to focus too narrowly on a small set of values, while ignoring the wider set of all values and their essential interplay.

When values tend to exist in and of themselves apart from full knowledge of sources, some values end up ignored. Sadly, that ignoring is often purposeful and inexplicable, given our Source

Again, this is a problem of working backward from a values idea to its supposed source. In doing this, a person selects a line of progression and traces it back to its source. But this is the problem of the blind men and the elephant. Each of the blind men focused on one characteristic of the elephant (its thick legs, its long trunk, etc.) and believed that the value told him all he needed to know about the source. We know the result. That each blind man failed to take the values of others into account when trying to comprehend the whole only furthered the confusion.

In the case of the blind men, knowing what an elephant looked like first would have allowed them an almost infinite set of values that could have been traced from the source. By working from the source in its entirety, only then could the men appreciate the values that proceeded from that source, values that they may never have explored if they worked back to the source from one or two values alone. Seeing the source would have greatly expanded their entire set of possible values.

This is critical for Christians. Because we know God, the set of values from which we operate is vastly larger than the small set from which values voters operate. This wider set that proceeds from who God is necessarily requires that any end values not only mirror their source but interplay with each other. And this interplay is not something that a few values here ans there account for. It’s why values voting tends to create massive blindspots—and that leads into the next issue.

Voting values without understanding who God is (or by ignoring  the full revelation of who He is) leads to catastrophic errors.

A values voting statement from Protestant Christian leaders :

“A state that once again rules in God’s name can count not only on our applause but also on enthusiastic and active cooperation from the church.

“With joy and thanks we see how this new state rejects blasphemy, attacks immorality, promotes discipline and order with a firm hand, demands awe before God, works to keep marriage sacred and our youth spiritually instructed, brings honor back to fathers of families, ensures that love of people and nation is no longer mocked, but burns in a thousand hearts. …

“We can only plead with our fellow worshipers to do what they can to help these new productive forces in our land reach a complete and unimpeded victory.”

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

I changed one telling word in that quote from the Lutheran bishopric: nation. The original was fatherland. The quote is part of a 1933 Easter statement in support of the values of the new ruling party within Germany.

Yes, it’s a cheap shot. But it’s also a telling one. When Christians get too caught up in pick-and-choose values preservation and restoration, while at the same time losing touch with the wider set of values found in God the Source, catastrophes happen. When we let values grow greater than sources, disaster is near. When we let a small set of values overrule other values, especially if those overruled are in truth the most important values of all, then we open the door for unimaginable error.

It seems clear to us today that the Christians of 1930s Germany should have seen all the warnings signs. However, they choose to ignore them because those values that should have signaled a warning were ignored in favor of other values. Many in the German Church did not go back to God the Source, which should have led them to reject the politics and ideals of a party that looked good on the surface but which was evil underneath. We simply cannot forget how easy it is to follow in those same mistaken footsteps.

Values voting leads to strange—and usually undesirable—bedfellows.

Too many Christians in 1930s Germany espoused values that led to their support of  the Nazi Party. Today, limiting our values to a choice set throws Christians into an equally distressing company of bedfellows that are then used to define who we are. When we pick and choose our primary values, when we forget about sources and limit ourselves to values-based ends, we get lumped into all manner of fringe and hate groups. This only furthers the media bias against Christians and fuels opposition. And that opposition is not because of who Jesus is but because we have focused on too small a set of values that allowed us to be labeled by them.

What fellowship has Christ with Belial? Yet persisting in keeping values at the forefront will often lead us into bed with devils if we are not careful, and the wider world will notice without fail.

Values voting closes lost people to the Gospel.

Because we tend to define ourselves by a  limited set of values that do not reflect the wideness of God the Source, the media can more easily label Christians and use those labels to undermine our ability to reach others for Christ. The entirety of the Culture War is nothing but an extension of values voting, and it is a war that we not only lost, but which continues to define us negatively and hurt our ability to reach others for Jesus.

There is a difference between suffering for the sake of a source and losing out because of a limiting value. We confuse the two, though, and perceived losses in values cause those focused on values to bunker deeper in values, which inevitably leads away from resting in the Source. As a result, what truly matters to the Source gets demoted in our belief and practice.  Because we trust values more than the source, we no longer trust the source for outcomes.The journey down the spiral gains further momentum.

It bothers me when Christians sell out some values for the sake of others. By not going back to the two big question of Who is God? and How can He be known?, we force ourselves to compromise some values to promote others. That confused response only further confuses lost people who look to us to maintain truth amid all the lies swirling around us today.

Values voting is an error we cannot commit. It is an ends without a source—or the result of a source easily forgotten or ignored when a limited set of values is made an idol. That the Christian’s source is God alone should ever be before us, and the breadth of Him as Source never forgotten.

by Dan Edelen

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7 Comments

  1. Posted September 24, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Dire Dan: “Yes, it’s a cheap shot.

    Yes, very much so, and I am a little surprise at you. If I disagree with you, does that make me somehow morally equivalent to being Pro-Nazi?

    Dire Dan: “Values voting is an error we cannot commit”

    Okay. Let’s go with that. I really don’t see anything to vote for. Honestly, I don’t like anything out there, not really. I don’t like the GOP, and I certainly don’t like the Demoncrats. None of parties in this country reflect what I would call gospel or “kingdom values.” They are all rotten in one degree or another. So who is there to vote for? Nobody really.

    I’ll think I’ll wait it out until something definitive comes along. But I am not going to hold my breath. I already feel like the United States of Sodom and Gomorrah is going to be destroyed anyhow. No matter what I do.

    But just as a purely hypothetical gedakenexperiment, let us turn this on its head, let us suppose I lived in Germany back in the Weimar Republic (you invoked this “argumentum ad Hitlerum” and not me). All the parties I see are disgusting, all reflect secularist values in one degree or another, and not a one of them is in any way godly, not by a long shot. There are simply no good choices. Do I sit back? Do I do nothing? There is one party that looks especially bad to me (the NSDAP), should I vote at least to try to do something to stop them from advancing because as far as I can see their values look especially dreadful? I have read their leader’s book, and I am appalled at what he might do. Am I being a pharisical “values voter” for at least casting my vote against them in this situation? Or should I abstain as part of my conviction that in the end God is sovereign and whoever wins wins?

    I think at this point, I should consider packing my bags and getting out.

    • Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      See, Oengus, here’s the problem with how ingrained our thinking is in the USA…

      I don’t believe that we are EVER out of options. I don’t believe God spins the world that way. I think good options exist almost always, options that reflect who He is.

      Our problem is that we try to out-think those options. We don’t live by the Spirit. We let fear captivate us. We’re both afraid of what’s coming and afraid to do what is godly. We look only at outcomes. We are pragmatists to the core.

      But we don’t have to be. And we don’t have to be conventional. If enough of us did the unconventional, perhaps something would truly change.

      I truly am not a pessimist. I think we can fix things if enough people break the lockstep.

      For your example, I don’t believe there was no one in Weimar Germany who was worthy of a vote. And today, for this election, even if it means you scribble down the name of the person you admire most, you are not throwing your vote away if you are doing what is right by who God is. You are doing everything He asks of you, which is all you can do. Someone is worthy of your vote. Someone reflects who God is.

      We have to trust God for the outcomes. The problem is, too few of us do. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear…” doesn’t seem to mean much to enough of us anymore, but isn’t that one of the bedrocks of faith? Are we that small that we can’t embrace trusting God by doing the right thing and leaving the outcome to Him? Doesn’t believing in Jesus “embiggen” even the smallest and weakest of us?

      I think it does, which is why I am not giving up.

    • Posted September 24, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

      Oengus,

      One other thing.

      The Nazi mention is cheap because of the Internet rule that all arguments cease once someone mentions Hitler. My point is not to stifle the conversation but to point out what Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted: The Church in Germany capitulated because it thought that a political party could offer what God Himself alone offers. And if that’s not where we are in America today, I don’t know where else to look for a better example.

      We have relatively sane people making political arguments that violate everything they believe outside of the political sphere, and they seem to have no problems with that split. I have a problem with it though, and I just can’t go that way.

      • Posted September 26, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

        Dire Dan: “it thought that a political party could offer what God Himself alone offers.”

        For the life of me, I cannot imagine anyone being so stupid as to think a political party is capable of offering anything close to “what God alone offers”.

        Dan, really, all I had was just one simple question: “okay, who do I vote for?”

        Do I vote for the dweebish Mormon or do I vote for the sauve Marxist? Man, what a choice!

        Honestly, I don’t like any party. They are all rotten. I am nearly on the verge of turning into a “xtian anarchist” along the lines of Tolstoy, because if I vote for this or that, I inevitably get entangled in kinds of evil and I am somehow condoning it. If I vote for the demorepublicanicrats, the abortion holocaust continues on unabated, and if vote for the republicratdemocans, I practically ensure that we’ll soon be prosecuting another idiotic war somewhere. And both parties are basically in the pockets of the plutocrats that run the show anyhow.

        I think I’ll just stay home. I am too disgusted.

  2. R.T.
    Posted September 25, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Oengus,
    Have you considered the Constitution Party?
    If not read their platform.

    • Posted September 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      I have a brother who very emphatically supports the Constitutionalist Party in his state. So I do know about them. What good they’re doing where he is, I don’t know.

      I have voted for them in my state, but as far as I know, they haven’t won a single office, anywhere, not on the state level, nor to congress. And they, to “five nines” of certainty, will never win any office because the “two party system” has an absolute death-grip on things.

      As far as I am concerned, voting for “Constitutionalists” is like voting for Don Quixote by coloring in ovals on the ballot. Doing that is like “rendering unto Caesar his ovals” at best.

      That is, a Dadaist exercise in futility.

  3. Posted September 28, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I want to dedicate my life to eradicating the myth/lie/presupposition that not voting = doing nothing.

    sigh

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  1. [...] Dan Edelen’s well-reasoned posts on why “Values Voting” doesn’t work: Click here and here [...]

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