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. 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.” What does Gushee not like? “partisanship, agenda, mood, and ecclesiology (understanding of the church).”
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.”
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).
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. 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.” 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.
 D. James Kennedy & Jerry Newcombe, How Would Jesus Vote? A Christian Perspective on the Issues, (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2008).
 David Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), p. 47.
 Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth, Can America Survive? (Carlsbad, CA: New Beginnings Press, 2004), p. 9.
 Kennedy & Newcombe, HWJV, 62.
 Ibid., Citing C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” Essays on the Death Penalty, (Houston: St. Thomas Press, n.d.), p. 3.
Labels: Social Justice