Eric Redmond: "Living Soli Deo Gloria Under Obama"
Eric C. Redmond is the author of Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men’s Questions About the Church (Crossway, 2008). He most recently served as the 2007-2008 Second Vice-President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He has previously posted other thoughts on the election at his blog, A Man from Issachar. He and his wife, Pamela, are adoptive parents who have five children in their home and two children in heaven.
Let us then continue to honor the good appointment of God, which may be easily done, provided we impute to ourselves whatever evil may accompany it. Hence he teaches us here the end for which magistrates are instituted by the Lord; the happy effects of which would always appear, were not so noble and salutary an institution marred through our fault. At the same time, princes do never so far abuse their power, by harassing the good and innocent, that they do not retain in their tyranny some kind of just government: there can then be no tyranny which does not in some respects assist in consolidating the society of men.
John Calvin, commentary on Romans 13:3.
A Note of Thanks
First, allow me to express my thanks to Justin for inviting me to contribute to his blog on the day after what might go down in history as the most significant Presidential election in the United States in our lifetime. I have found Justin to be a kind and discerning brother, for whom I give many thanks. I also am grateful for his passion for demonstrating the mercy of Christ to the unborn and the orphan—a passion we share in experience.
My Post-Obama-Election Dilemma
I am not and never have been a fan of John McCain, his proposed policies, his inconsistent record on many issues, his poor choice for a running mate, his thoughtless economic plan, or of his very negative campaigning against Barak Obama. It was hard for me to bear the thought of voting for him. It was equally hard for me to bear the thought of siding with a campaign for “change” that would passively allow each state to choose whether it would change the definition and legal institution of marriage, and that would not actively seek to change (read “work for the overturning of”) Roe. v. Wade. For me, neither candidate represented change or progress for the country, except on the issue of the country’s readiness to be led by a candidate of color.
How I wish that the first time there was a probable opportunity for an African American candidate to reach the White House I could have cast my vote for such a candidate without any reservation. However, I am pro-life, and President-Elect Obama is the most anti-life senator to come to power in my lifetime. I also am pro-conservative justices (who limit legislating from the bench). I am pro-marriage— that is, pro-heterosexual marriage. In the end, I could not overlook these issues as I approached Election Day. But the temptation to justify voting for Obama was strong, for I did not want to be against the side of history—of an African American finally making it to the Oval Office.
However, if I have not learned anything else from the recent happenings at my (soon to be former) church, it is these two things: First, it is not virtuous to side with the majority because one does not wish to stand out among friends, or because one is unwilling to examine all information on an issue, or because one wants to dispense dislikes toward current leadership, in spite of righteous reasons to vote against the majority—in fact, under some circumstances, it can be a horrendous evil. Second, even if one is seeking to be consistent in humility and holiness individually, to abstain from voting on any matter is to allow the majority to speak for you. That same majority, with a victory, might make trouble for the greater populous by means of the evil(s) of which you sought to distance yourself by abstaining from voting.
So I made two very difficult choices: First, I chose to vote rather than stay home. Second, I voted for lives of the unborn rather than for approval from the vast majority of my own ethnic community. The latter choice took the risk of being reproached for the name of Christ, for I only voted for life because of the fear of my Lord (cf. Ex. 1:15-2:12). I know such a choice risks invoking the ire or dismissal of the overwhelming majority of the African American community. Yet, on a most historic Election Day, I could not allow my personal pro-life stance to crumble under the weight of being perceived as a traitor to the African American cause for victory, for that goes against all godly wisdom:
your strength is small.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?
Prov. 24:10-12, ESV
I cast my vote in the hopes of rescuing those being taken to the slaughter. I could not vote in such a way that I would have ignored the blood flowing from fertility clinics, for I know that the Almighty would repay my cowardice. My hope in his word is that he will remember me and graciously and provide for my life, repaying me with mercy.
In contrast, I do not think a recession can be said to be taking people to death unjustly, especially when many in Maryland voted to throw their lots in with bringing slots to my state; (the correlation of the recession to the slots-vote should be obvious to the righteous). I think our soldiers voluntarily sign up to defend our freedom at the risk of their own lives. Lack of health insurance coverage for all makes life very hard for many, but it does not lead to a denial of all medical care for any one class of people. (N.B. I have two members in my home with medical pre-conditions, and I am about to begin paying health insurance out of pocket because we cannot afford a break in coverage when my current job ends. I understand the value of health insurance and the stress of keeping up with the rising costs of such coverage.) So the economy, the war in Iraq, and universal health insurance became secondary issues for me—albeit very important ones —because righteousness was not at stake. Even so, the righteous should not now overlook these issues while loving their fellow man.
My Duty to Christ and the King
The question for me at this time is this: Can I continue to live Soli Deo Gloria under a President whose moral judgment already is questionable before he takes the oath of office? Yes I can, for I can be obedient to Scripture, praying for the one in authority (I Tim. 2:1-8), honoring the one in authority (1 Pet. 2:13-18), submitting to the one in authority (Rom. 13:1-7; Tit. 3:1), and seeking righteousness for the entire citizenry (Prov. 14:34). These I will seek to do by grace. I will “honor the good appointment of God.”
Moreover, I can follow the admonition and example of Calvin, who, in the quote above, preached that believers should impute to themselves the ills of government and recognize the common grace given to mankind through human governing authorities. For example, in our day, it is not the governmental regulation that slaughters the innocent; it is the people who chose to end the lives of their children, and the willing executioners who kill for the sake of the monetary gain afforded by the abortion industry. The government only allows this sin to receive legal permission and protection. Nevertheless, that same government provides many laws that allow me to worship in freedom, preach the Gospel freely, vote in an election, and write blog posts like this one without fear of censorship or death. I readily can recognize the retention of “some kind of just government” under President Obama’s rule.
My Dilemma Resolved
My humble proposal of an attempt to be Christocentric rather than Afrocentric will not be received with approval by many African Americans that I know. I hope to live long enough to witness another African American become a candidate for President of the United States of America—a candidate who is pro-life and pro-righteousness. Yet my hope may ring hollow to many other African Americans who are celebrating a Democratic victory that happens to seem pro-African American. To the celebrants, I might be labeled as sore loser seeking to justify his reasons for siding with conservative white America rather than with Black America.
In writing elsewhere about “how I have wrestled through the Christian version of the Uncle Tom epithet” (with respect to my embracing of Reformed Theology), I have penned this thought:
If a person would allow himself to be pigeonholed into becoming a person of a nationalistic or ethno-centric thought out of the fear of being viewed as an Oreo or Uncle Tom, then Reformed Theology is not for that person. But neither is the Gospel, for the Gospel calls each of us to stand against an ethnic-centered philosophy of one’s own race, for such a philosophy is naturally conformed to this present world and is in need of redemption. If you cannot stand against your own culture where it does not square with the Scriptures, you are the one who is ashamed of Christ, and such shame has nothing to with philosophical or ontological Blackness; it only has to do with your view of the majesty of the God who calls you to deny yourself in order to follow Christ. (“Sovereign in a Sweet Home, Schooling, and Solace,” in Glory Road: Our Journey Into Reformed Christianity, ed. Anthony Carter [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, Wheaton, forthcoming])
I am fairly certain that if J. C. Watts had been the Republican nominee for President, and if he had been running against Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, the great majority of African Americans would have found reason to vote for the wife of the “first Black President” and her liberal ideals rather than for Watts and his conservative ideals. In doing so, such a vote would indicate that the great majority of African Americans have feelings about the type of African American who would be deemed worthy their votes for the seat at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue—who would be worthy of African Americans’ approval as their choice for their representative in the White House. Seemingly, for the Black Nationalist and the liberal, not every African American would qualify to wear an honor for which our ancestors were stolen, enslaved, whipped, lynched, dehumanized, and killed. Likewise, it is my opinion that my ancestors experienced such suffering and injustices so that it would be possible for any African American to reach the Oval Office, but not so that every African American, regardless of qualifications, could reach the Oval Office. Those who fought for civil rights for African Americans were doing so out of a moral impetus to see African Americans treated humanely—as human beings rather than like chattel or as 3/5ths-human. I think the best way to honor their work and lives when the office of Commander in Chief is within reach would be to continue that moral quest. That quest is continued by finding a candidate who seeks to see African Americans, even those in the womb, treated humanely—as people rather than as cattle for our labor and experimentation or as a 3/5th-human fetus.