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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How Would Jesus Vote?

Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate (Amos 5:15a).

A Christian Perspective on the Issues

Waterbrook Press released a book recently that is co-authored by D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe.[1] While the book itself raises very interesting political matters for the reader’s consideration and often makes very good points with each of the issues raised, the title is abysmal. It is as tawdry and ill-advised at the What Would Jesus Do? bracelets. All the title of this book does is to give the left and far-left more ammunition about the so-called Religious Right and its identification of Republican politics and Christianity.

The authors state a number of caveats, but the repetition of the phrase “How would Jesus vote?” detracts greatly from the good that can be found on the pages of this work. In the first place, Jesus lived in a Jewish nation that was occupied by the Romans. He and his fellow-Jews did not have a vote, so this is probably not the right question to ask.

Second, it is presumptuous, to some degree, to relate to the reader precisely how Jesus would have voted in the 2008 election. I say “to some degree” because there is good reason to pause and reflect the many and complex issues that face Americans these days. It is also presumptuous because it smacks of modern liberal theology and its quest for the “ethics” of Jesus. The public would have been much better served by a more general, yet equally applicable, title. I’m not a book editor or the son of an editor, but surely someone could have come up with something a great deal better than How Would Jesus Vote?

A simple title along the lines of Biblical Issues Facing Us in the 2008 Election is, to my way of thinking, substantially better, but probably not cuter. The advantage of the bland title is that it provides Christians the opportunity to examine what the entirety of Scripture says about some of the burning issues facing us in 2008. But by choosing such an inflammatory title, the publisher and co-authors will be vilified by the left. Perhaps they really don’t care what the left (both within and outside of Christianity) thinks, but this title is merely grist for the mill. When all the left wing pundits like Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, David Gushee, and their ilk see a title like this. For example, David Gushee writes this about what he finds disagreeable about the “Evangelical Right,” “…there is also much not to like, not from a secular perspective, but precisely from within the evangelical Christian worldview.”[2] What does Gushee not like? “partisanship, agenda, mood, and ecclesiology (understanding of the church).”[3]

Of course, it is an undeniable truth that the Left engages in rank partisanship, just like the Right. Does the Right have an agenda? Without a doubt it does. Does the Left? Yes, it has one also. Does the Right have an attitude? Mood? Yes, but so does the Left. It is perhaps the last item—ecclesiology—that makes the most sense. The Right has been engaged in political matters in a more conservative fashion than has the Left. The Left—including those who call themselves Christians—has strong advocates for abortion, while the Right does not, even though not everyone on the political Right is pro-life—unfortunately. The Left within the Christian faith has ostensibly been for the poor, although what they have actually done is negligible, with the exception of throwing large sums of money or joining the government in throwing large sums of money are difficult and intractable problems. Gushee overlooks an inconvenient truth in his discussion when it comes to matters concerning the poor. What is that? It is simply “that the ‘poverty rate’ stays about the same year to year no matter who’s running the country, yet the Democrats only notice it when the GOP is in office.”[4]

Having made these preliminary remarks, let me restate that I intensely dislike the title of Kennedy’s and Newcombe’s book, but I would quickly add that it raises a number of interesting and provocative points to which the authors give far more biblical responses than do McLaren and Wallis. The work is divided into the parts: Jesus and Politics, The Issues, and Final Thoughts. There is also an Epilogue (Something More Basic Than Politics) and an appendix (Defending Religious Liberty).

The Issues

What is at stake in this election according to Kennedy and Newcombe? They list the following: matters of life and death (abortion, stem cell research, suicide, and euthanasia), crime and punishment (the death penalty), war (is there such a thing as a “justified” war and are we in one now?), education, economics, health care issues, the environment and climate change, immigration and racial prejudice, marriage, and judicial activism. These are all worthy of our reflection and certainly are at play—to one degree or another—in the upcoming election. In fact, they have been issues in almost every election, which makes them all the worthy of our considered reflection.

Once again, however, without being unduly critical, I believe that the book would have been enhanced greatly by a chapter dealing with the U.S. Constitution and its place in every election. After all, doesn’t every President swear (or affirm) that he will uphold the Constitution? It would have been an interesting undertaking to have compared each of the “issues” raised to our founding documents. Which of the candidates have you ever heard mention anything about the Constitution? Our government—at the federal, state, and local levels buries us with legislation and taxes that are nowhere to be found in the founding documents and like a nation of sheep, we submit to it. It would be refreshing to hear a candidate actually have something sentient to say about the Constitution. It would also have been helpful for Kennedy and Newcombe to have commented on the relationship of the Bible and the Constitution to the issues facing us today.

For your reading pleasure, I want to want through these chapters, but I’m going to take the matter of capital punishment first for a number of reasons, known only to me and the Lord.

Can You Be Pro-Life & Pro-Death Penalty?

The answer to the question posed above is: it depends on who you talk to. My answer is: yes, of course. The two are very different issues. One (abortion) involves the violent murder of a vulnerable life that has no way of protecting itself, while the other (the death penalty) involves the execution of a convicted murderer. The scriptures prohibit the former and require the latter. There is a major difference between the two and it both astonishes and never ceases to amaze me that people refuse to acknowledge that difference. Yet, some religious people still believe that capital punishment is wrong.

The authors cite C.S. Lewis to the fact that there must be a connection between punishment and justice.[5] Far too few have seriously pondered that connection. Lewis explains: “It is only as deserved or undeserved that a sentence can be [seen as] just or unjust.”[6] In the case of the convicted murderer in both the Old and New Testaments, God pronounced the lex talionis as a punishment fitting the crime. In other words, God himself required the death penalty for crimes he described as heinous in nature and as striking at him through his image in man.

But, it is often asked today, is capital punishment a true deterrent? That is to say, if our nation were to commence actually executing convicted murderers, would that prove to be a sufficient deterrent so that the citizens of the U.S. would see a (precipitous) drop in the murder rate? Such a question truly misses the point of the discussion, however. To ask is prison reforms a criminal or if the death penalty deters future murders by others fails precisely at the point of justice. For many today—both within the Christian faith and outside of it—there is rather mass confusion about the place of mercy in the civil government. According to both our Constitution and Scripture, the government is to be concerned with justice and the Church of Jesus Christ with mercy. Therefore, it is not the place of the state to be merciful, but to execute justice. The question with regard to the death penalty as a deterrent implicitly asks the question: Does it succeed? The clear answer does not refer to others or to possible future murders, but rather to the one being executed. Does the penalty deter him or her from committing such a heinous act again? Of course, the answer is that the death penalty is a permanent deterrent.

Our current system desires to treat criminals like patients. All the criminal needs, so it is argued, is to be lifted out of his victimhood and reprogrammed. After all, he or she was not really responsible for his actions. In my home state of California, inmates on death row die primarily from old age. The second highest cause of death of death row inmates is suicide; at a distant, distant, distant third is actual execution.

It is this chapter where Kennedy and Newcombe engage in a very brief discussion of the Constitution, so I wanted to discuss it in this context. The authors inquire if there is any application of the Eighth Amendment, which deals with “cruel and unusual punishment.” They right point out that a number of modern writers on the subject of capital punishment believe that the death penalty is a violation of the Eighth Amendment. They also point to the Fifth Amendment that presents us with a kind of “exception.” It reads, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless…” Historically, we should understand that the death penalty has been used from the time of our founding documents and before. Moreover, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that Americans even considered whether the death penalty was considered as cruel and unusual punishment.

The authors also cite an interesting article written for World Net Daily (December 12, 2006) by Dennis Prager (“Another argument for capital punishment”). Prager offers a number of reasons why capital punishment should be part of our ethos in America. Keep in mind, Prager is a Jew and carries no brief for the Christian faith. In quick, telegraphic fashion, Mr. Prager rejects the “innocents may be executed” argument against the death penalty. Here is his answer: “My answer has always been that this is so rare (I do not know of a proved case of mistaken execution in America in the last 50 years) that society must be prepared to pay that terrible price. Why? Among other reasons, because more innocents will be killed by murderers who are not executed (in prison, or once released or if they escape) than will be by the state in erroneous executions” (p. 2).

He acknowledges the possibility of a mistaken murder conviction, although with today’s technology it seems more than highly unlikely, but adds that we “often have the tragedy of innocents dying because of a social policy” (Ibid.). To drive home his point—and I am thankful that Prager did this—he cites an example of a murderer who was released from prison by some liberal judge. Rarely—rarely—does the general public ever consider the victim of the murder and the almost always exponentially violent manner in which their life was taken from them, or their family, or the innocents who might die if the murderer is released.

Here’s the story. Ponder it please. In 1982, James Ealy was convicted of the strangulation murders of a family—including a mother and her two children. It took the jury a mere four hours to reach a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The “Ambulance Chasers” who represented him appealed the case, arguing that the police had improperly obtained evidence. Of course, it’s always the police that ends up being on trial. Ealy was released from his life sentence.

On November 27, 2006, Ealy strangled to death Mary Hutchison, a 45-year-old manager of a Burger King in Lindenhurst, IL. Why did Mary Hutchison die? Prager opines, “The woman was killed (read: murdered) because many Americans believe that it is better to let a murderer go free than to convict one with evidence “improperly” obtained” (Ibid.). What does he conclude? “So those who still wish to argue for keeping all murderers alive will need to argue something other than ‘an innocent may be killed.’ They already support a policy that ensures innocents will be killed” (p. 3)

How would Jesus “vote” on the issue of capital punishment? It’s a silly question. We do know, however, that Christ came to do the will of his heavenly Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). That revealed will involved the killing of those convicted of murder (cf. Gen. 9:6; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Rom. 13:1-4). That’s what Jesus would do and that’s how Jesus would think, because God revealed it so.



[1] D. James Kennedy & Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote? A Christian Perspective on the Issues, (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2008).

[2] David Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), p. 47.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth, Can America Survive? (Carlsbad, CA: New Beginnings Press, 2004), p. 9.

[5] Kennedy & Newcombe, HWJV, 62.

[6] Ibid., Citing C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” Essays on the Death Penalty, (Houston: St. Thomas Press, n.d.), p. 3.

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22 Comments:

Blogger jazzact13 said...

I guess this is one time when I do have a slight disagreement with you. I've nothing really against the title of Kennedy and Newcombe's book, and frankly, with such obviously leading titles like "God's Politics" and "Jesus for President" coming from the religious left's side, they really have no grounds on which to raise a fuss (though that probably won't keep them from doing it).

I like your answer to the "pro-life and pro-death penalty" thing, because there is no contradictiong there, no matter what Campolo says (and btw, why does no one say that being pro-choice and anti-death penalty is contradictory?). They are two different thing, which some are trying to blend together to confuse the issues.

9:24 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

sleep,
I am not advocating a theocracy. The point is that Scripture allows for the death penalty for murder. The subject is the death penalty, not rape, kidnapping, adultery, etc.

If you understand anything about the Constitution then you'll realize that all the hoopla about "cruel and unusual punishment" is of very recent vintage and was not in the minds of the framers and ratifiers from the outset.

6:41 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
It's not poor wording, just poor theology on your part. You do not seem to understand the concepts of continuity and discontinuity between the testaments.
Yes, a litany of offenses in the OT theocracy required the death penalty. Apparently, you didn't pick up on what I said about not wanting to form a theocracy.
With the advent of the NT, church and state were no longer one. Whereas there was a theocracy in the OT that is no longer the case in the New.
Nevertheless, Rom. 13:1-4 prescribes capital punishment for certain crimes. In Gen. 9:6, the Lord makes it plain that those who murder (not kill) their fellow-man must be put to death. What is unclear to you?

2:56 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Explain why you do not think Romans 13 addresses the death penalty when Paul uses a particular word for "sword" that is used for execution. Maybe it's not poor theology, but rather poor exegesis. Please explain.

I do not oppose the state just the lack of proper use of the U.S. Constitution by the state.

Your points are poorly taken and made. Give me some specifics please.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Jazz,
The title of the book is what it is. I just found it a little too tendentious as well as being fodder for the so-called Christian Left. I'm not certain what that is. Maybe they approve of abortion just not partial-birth abortion. I don't intend to die on the hill of the title of the book.

10:18 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
You are as inept as you are foolish. Every worthwhile commentator has agreed on the Rom. 13 text--without even adding that law enforcement officers should shoot speeders. How inane.
So far all you've done is the typical Internet bravado and you sound very much like a pomo who just wants to air journey-like opinions. I have explained before about the hermeneutic between the Old and New Testaments. You have offered nothing to gainsay it. You are becoming very tedious. Offer something positive explaining--in detail--why the state should execute adulterers or just leave. It really doesn't matter to me.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Last time: there is no theocracy now as there was in the OT. Therefore, according to the NT the church no longer has the power of the sword. That is left to the state. The power of the sword in the NT text of Rom. 13 speaks to power of the state to execute. The NT says nothing about the state executing adulterers. It does say, however, that the church should excommunicate them. Got it?

11:46 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Thanks for dropping by. I've given you the texts. Start with Gen. 9:6

12:32 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Gen. 9:6.

10:41 PM  
Blogger IceDawg said...

I hate to wade into such a civil conversation, especially since I don't really claim to have given this topic much thought. However, the question I would like to ask Sleep is "Do you think God made a mistake in writing these laws into his Torah?"

God does have standards of justice and we ought to take very seriously what He prescribes for us in His Word. If you are going to reject God's standards of justice for rape, sodomy etc., what alternative standard are you going to refer to in order to enforce morality? What are you going to use for the basis of your laws?

10:25 AM  
Blogger IceDawg said...

Hi Sleep,

I'm just trying to clarify here...Are you reacting to the lack of application of Capital Punishment in these other areas, or to CP itself?

I understand the fulfillment of the OT ceremonial laws in Christ, but I personally would like to hear the reasoning why some of the consequences to OT law violations are no longer practiced, while others are.

11:44 AM  
Blogger IceDawg said...

Well...anyone willing to educate the simple? (I speak of myself, not sleep)

1:01 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
This is truly tedious. Both Gen. 9:6 and the 6th commandment forbid murder.
I have said repeatedly and you seem to be slow to pick up on it that in terms of an OT/NT hermeneutic that in some cases there is abolishment, in other cases modification, and in still other cases the OT law is still in full effect.
I have explained that to you a number of times. Either you are not listening or you are just thick.
To this point, you have not offered anything that vaguely resembles a rebuttal of Romans 13. Do that or be gone. You're boring. Man or woman up or find some other blog to be tedious at.

8:50 AM  
Blogger IceDawg said...

Rattle,

How do we discern which are abolished, modified or still in full effect? In a nutshell (if you have time)...

9:41 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Basically, your hermeneutic is skewed. You place a false boilerplate on Scripture and expect it to comply. If you cannot find exact words, then any admonition or command must not be there. It's an old ploy.
My own tradition, which follow the great minds of church history both within and outside the Protestant camp says the following in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1.6): "The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence maybe be deduced from Scripture..."
Given the great weight of history, it is incumbent upon you effectively to rebut the overwhelming evidence.
Since I know nothing about you, at this point I must surmise that you are either a theological liberal or a secular liberal. Which is it?

7:57 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Also, everyone on here has their profile open to the others. Either open yours or you're history. All the Internet bravado that comes from anonymity is for children.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Icedawg & Sleep,
I have previously explained about the OT/NT hermeneutic. That must then be applied to various sovereign nations. Some of those nations do or did adhere to natural law at one time; the U.S. being one such nation. There were--and in some cases still are--laws on the books requiring the death penalty for kidnapping. For example, CA just last month struck down the death penalty for kidnapping, which had been on the books since the 19th century.
Much of the extirpation of such laws came under the influence of secular humanism. CA has over 600 inmates on death row facing the death penalty, but will in actuality execute none of them. The greatest cause of death for such people in CA is old age. The distant second reason is suicide.
Now, Sleep, I'm certain none of this makes any sense to you and you'll have more questions with nothing to offer in its place. Since you have refused to identify who you are, good-bye. If you ever change your mind, you are welcome back, but until then I don't want you on here.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Stop changing the subject. You're offered nothing substantial. The explanations you & Icedawg have been offered are reasonable and, if you're a Christian, have been accepted by the Christian community down through the ages. Perhaps that is not sufficient for you, but wisdom dictates that Christians look to Scripture first and then to the history of the Church. If that's inadequate for you, then so be it.

3:17 PM  
Blogger Sleep said...

I asked for the scriptures. That's all I wanted. If you had said "scriptures and church tradition require capital punishment in the case of murder" I would have said nothing. I only say something when people lie about the Bible like you did. You proved nothing, deleted my scripturally based arguments, and called names.

As for my anonymity, were it not for your propensity to ad hominem there would be no issue in revealing my identity.

7:07 PM  
Blogger IceDawg said...

Hey, go easy on me... I also accept the same traditions you do. I just was hoping you could shed a bit more light on how we know which laws are binding, changed or not applicable. I have not given this topic too much thought (I know... it's obvious) and don't know how we've arrived at these conclusions. If you've written on it, just point me to the link. I can read for myself. No need to repeat.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Rattlesnake6 said...

Sleep,
Cheap, cheap shot. You were anonymous from the outset. Even though you might think I lie about the Bible, those who have granted me my credentials at every level never held that view once. You're entitled to it. It's a free country.
In the entire exchange you offered nothing substantive and I believe you never will.
There's a big difference between "lie" and "I don't agree with it." Bye.

8:37 PM  
Blogger Sleep said...

> You are as inept as you are foolish.

>Either you are not listening or you are just thick.

>You're boring.

>Illicit Sister...

>Burper

>This is one of the dumbest statements I've read in a while.

>Stop with the pompous, pietistic nonsense.

>...you are one of the most childish, hypocritical, and uninformed people I've met in a long time.

>If you really are a female, you truly sound like you have permanent PMS.

>I simply think you lack a good vocabulary and that you're immature.

>Thanks for the enlightening lesson on excrement.

>As far as some of your other comments go, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and conclude that you were either drunk or on drugs when you made them.

>You are undoubtedly as thick as a brick.

>You're hopeless.

>You are truly the most clueless person on the planet.

>You could track your lucid thoughts with a calendar. But I'll bet you have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? You really are a waste of time.


-Ron Gleason (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List)


>Cheap, cheap shot.
Ron,
I apologize for taking a cheap shot. I would hate to lower the standards of this blog.

1:00 PM  

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