Sunday, November 02, 2008

John Piper on thr 2008 election

The issues that Piper raises have been discussed on Justin Taylor's blog in detail, here are my thoughts for what they're worth:

1) We should be excited, very excited that an African American is running for President. Very excited. i hadn't really grasped this until i moved to the USA, but having a black President might revolutionise particularly small town American race relations. Even here in small, middle class, prosperous water front home owning hundred thousand dollar boat building Washington, North Carolina there are some streets that white people just do not go. And it's awful. So to have an African American candidate, barely a generation on from Brown vs the Board of Education, is worth getting 'giddy' about.

2) But goodness me isn't it complicated? Obama is probably the most ardent protector of abortion in the Senate. He's voted three times against giving financial aid to the survivors of partial birth abortions. Whereas the McCain/Palin ticket gives us the best window of opportunity for overturning Roe vs Wade, possibly for a long time. If Obama wins, and the Democrats get 60 seats in the Senate, that will seem a long, long, long way away.

3) Palin is a woman. Is it Biblical that she should stay at home and look after her family? Yes...maybe. Is it Biblical that we shouldn't have a female Commander in Chief? Yes...maybe. But if Obama wins then Nancy Peloisi is only one step further away.

4) McCain is not a very good candidate. his ad campaign has stepped up in the last week, but he's not convincing. At all. His one massive advantage, aside from being pro-life, is that he won't seem like such an easy target to Russia, North Korea, Iran and Al-Queda. Oh, and he's actually lead and done things in the political sphere, which is more than can be said for Obama. 

5) I wish, wish Piper had said that for him Obama's stance on abortion is the tipping point. Because it has to be doesn't it? If i was voting on Tuesday, it would be for McCain/Palin, probably because of this single issue, but with prayers in my heart that Obama has opened the door for the first African American president of the United States. 


Anonymous said...

Single-issue voting...
now abortion is obviously a very serious issue that Christians are rightly concerned about, but I was wondering whether middle-class Americans in the real America are also concerned about the prevaililng pattern of unilateral, pre-emptive and pax-American foreign policies that would be perpetuated by the McCain/Palin ticket? Abortion is about upholding and respecting life; surely that should also be respected in the lives of women and children in the Middle East who's lives have been devasted by US foreign policy. Jesus calls us to be peace makers. Another wise but less saviour-like fogure said 'One cannot prevent war at the same time as preparing for war'. We should be focused not just on American unborn lives but also on others in the world who's lives are threatened by war and poverty. Its slightly worrying when Palin could not even explain what the Bush doctrine was, and remarked as regards the tense international relations with Russia 'I can see Russia from my house in Alaska'!

1 in 6 Americans live in poverty - Will the tax-cutting Republican McCain change this? Jesus calls us to bear with the poor - 'the poor you will always have with you' means 'you should always have the poor with you as opposed to being relegated to some 'faith-based initiative' and being taken to mean 'some poeple will always be poor so there's nothing we can do about it' as some middle-class churches believe, according to Jim Wallis (excellent book - 'Gods Politics' - give it a read).

There are many issues that for us as Christians are equally important - peace, wealth redistribution, HIV/AIDs, the secular humanist and postmodern vs Chirstian values balance in educational life, should not be trumped by the pro-life debate.

Bush cared deeply about abortion, having appointed two pro-life Supreme Court judges - but look what he let go in the process - the call to love peace rather than war, the call to challenge inequality and wealth being concentrated in too few hands. Were not the 1 in 6 Americans living in poverty just as important as the unborn? You see politicans, even ones as religious as 'W' often seek the votes of those who care about single-issues like abortion - and then of course the voters get some leverage over those issues. But many single-issue voters (the Jewish lobby) have also used similar leverage to lobby Bush and his neo-conservative ilk to continue to allow Israel's brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

I am not saying abortion is something we can gloss over, but lets not lose perspective. As Christians who will never and should never in this fallen world control government in a liberal democracy, we should pressure any would-be President to preside over Godly policies, voting as neither Left nor Right, Republican nor Liberal, black nor white, but future citizens of Heaven

Anonymous said...

Sorry, just one more thing. Jesus says that sin is conceived in the human heart rather than through externalities - so even if Obama allows abortion, he does make women have abortions - women choose to, whether thats right or wrong (and of course its not God's intended plan for things, other than in cases of meical emergency double-effect). If abortion is made illegal, it will just go on in back-alleys and dodgy clinics.

Anonymous said...

* he does not (!)

Anonymous said...

(make women have abortions)

Pete said...

There's a difference between single-issue voting and 'most-important-issue voting'. That's what some americans think they are doing with regard to abortion, and I for one am not going to fault them. After all, here in the UK we've been generally so anaemic, compromised, faint-hearted, and ineffective on that particular issue.

I'd never want to even begin to justify the war-mongering etc. that has gone on during Bush's watch, and I'm no fan of the republican party at all. If I were a US citizen, I really don't know how I'd've voted that last few elections. But I sympathise quite deeply with those american brothers and sisters who see abortion as a big enough issue to be the tipping point for this election at least. Something about a society that murders its most vulnerable citizens needs addressing as a matter of the gravest urgency.

As for the poor - wealth redistribution by charity is God's preferred means for dealing with that, not coercive wealth redistribution by means of the state tax system. The state has been given authority by God, but has been given a pretty limited remit with regard to what it can legitimately use its authority for imho.

One of the things it definitely does have the God-given responsibility to do though is punish murderers, which is why the 'free-choice'/ 'backstreet abortion' argument is a non-starter surely?

Anonymous said...

I think the authority of the state with regard to wealth distribution depends obviously whether one is more Left or Right inclined. I remember someone saying to me that God would hsve us all be socialists, and that in Heaven it will be like a socialist system! Now I don't think that Jesus would be a Socialist, nor a capitalist. Politics and economics is a means of organizing this fallen world, Jesus is Jesus! But I'd be interested to know which Bible verses say that wealth redistribution lies purely in charity. If there are then by all means I stand corrected.

I still can't see why abortion is 'the most important issue' voting though. It is a grave violation of our duty to respect life, but surely so is war and poverty! Can we prioritise our attempts to deal with sin I suppose is an underlying question here

Anonymous said...

Should the state ban pornography (soft aswell as extreme) as well? Or legislate against such a sex-saturared culture?

In essence I'm asking how about dealing with perhaps some of the causes of lust that lead to promiscuity that lead to unwanted pregnancies (though of course not all abortions take place because of this) - is it the remit of Godly authorities to punish all this? Maybe...

Where are the limits of the state for the Christisn and what is the remit of individual freedom? Interesting questions...not enough blogspace!

Anonymous said...

' society that murders its most vulnerable citizens needs addressing as a matter of the gravest urgency '


Yes and there is also something about a society that murders vulnerable non-combatant civilians in times of illegitimate war that is just as deserving as a matter of gravest urgency. Is abortion 'the' gravest urgency? Is Roe vs Wade more monumental than the flagrant violations of the Geneva Conventions? I don't see how that can be qualified

Pete said...

Like any issue of culpability with regard to the heinousness of sin, we'd have to look at a whole range of factors that modify and either lower or raise people's culpability. Not all sins are equally heinous. Though all sin is damnable of course.

I have great sympathy with those who think that abortion is pretty high up there amongst the sins a nation can commit. Ther are factors about the nature of abortion as a sin that raise the culpability stakes imho. E.g. the level of responsibility is raised when the children in question are our own. God gives us far more responsibilities with regard to the care of our own children then he does the care of other people's children. This is not at all to say war-mongering isn't a grave sin.

Not enough blog-time or space for addressing the government issue. But, that said...

1. Yes, economic systems are ways of organising a world that is fallen, but since God doesn't force us to sin, there must be (a) sinful and a non-sinful way(s) of doing things, at least hypothetically speaking. We might never attain to the ideal (we aren't sinless etc.) but the ideal must still exist. Otherwise God has 'forced' us to sin by not even giving us a non-sinful option.

2. Similarly our view on the role of the state is not just a left/ right thing, as if either/or are equally valid options for Christians. Either Jesus has something to say about this issue (he is Lord of all) or he doesn't (and therefore he isn't). Since he does, we have the responsibility to yield our natural leftiness or rightiness to his word. (incidentally, I reckon his word would make pretty major changes to both left and right, and in that sense neither are 'christian')

3. Giving to the poor should be willing, therefore voluntary in that sense. It is commanded by God and not voluntary in another sense therefore.

4. One of the issues with regard to the state and wealth redistribution is whether or not the state has the right to use its negative sanctions ('the sword') or its tax-raising powers, both given by God (Rom 13), to pursue agendas like wealth redistribution. Romans 13 suggests a pretty narrow God-given remit for the state with regard to its powers- especially when juxtaposed with texts depicting giving as voluntary, inspired by the gospel etc.

5. We must therefore distinguish between a sin and a crime. Not all sins are crimes though (assuming the law of the land is godly) all crimes are sins. It should not be a crime to fail to give to the poor, yet it is a sin. The government only has the power to use its negative sanctions with regard to crimes.

There's so much more to be said. Have a quick look at this sermon by a friend of mine to get a little glimpse of the sort of place I'm coming from.

I'm enjoying the interaction btw, thanks! :)

Pete said...

Also, 'heaven' won't be a socialist system, surely. Aren't there levels of reward there after all?

The 'socialism' (so-called) of the early church was actually more like the voluntary giving of those who had private property. Voluntary, gospel-inspired sharing, rather than state-imposed sharing. Big difference. So even if the new creation were to have elements within it that resemble socialist ideals with regard to ownership of property and wealth, it would be a matter of God-wrought change via the consummation and completion of the gospel's transformative power in the lives of his people, rather than state-sanctioned. That's one of the problems with socialism, it tries to bring about the kingdom of God (or some elements of it vagiely speaking, e.g. a universal international brotherhood) without the gospel. That's bad news isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Like any issue of culpability with regard to the heinousness of sin, we'd have to look at a whole range of factors that modify and either lower or raise people's culpability. Not all sins are equally heinous. Though all sin is damnable of course.


I see your point, but the argument being stated is that abortion is murder of the vulnerable; the killing of NCI's in war is murder too is it not? Surely just as heinous as abortion? Perhaps when human arguments fail only God can judge that. That's no excuse for not dealing with it though I realise, but surely we ought to deal with the whole range of factors?

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you point 2, that was one of my original points. I was not saying that we should not attain to an ideal, but I'm saying we cannnot be selective about what ideals we want to attain to - Jesus is Lord of all quite right, so hadn't we better share in responsibility for God's children globally or only in our own backyard?

Point 3 - giving to the poor should be willing, but surely as Christians concerned about poverty we should pressure our leaders who are in a strong position to alleviate poverty, being our represenatatives but with fiscal redistributionary power etc, to be willing to change a system that impoverishes many while allowing few to be obscenely rich? I think this is what the Biblical prophets like Amos and Isaiah called for in their day.

As for Romans 13, in particular vs 5-7, do not seem to suggest a narrow remit for paying taxes as regards wealth redistribution, rather the onus is on obeying or 'submitting' to the authorities rather than rebelling against - vs 7: 'Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor them'

Of course, the juxtaposition as you call it of the voluntary communal living in the gospels and Acts sits nicely with Romans 13. Godly authorities should be natural extensions of the gospel and Acts ideal.

I like you distinction between sin and crime though I have to admit it is eluding me slightly, since you distinguish between them on one hand and use them interchangeable on the other. Which do I care more about, breaking the law or sinning? Assuming the law of the land is Godly, then perhaps both. But there's the rub - shouldn't there be some criminality in wholesale neglect of the poor, and I'm not talking about passive, inactive non-giving of money, but against positive actions in trade laws that disadvantage the poor?

As for your last point, that was exactly my point, Heaven won't be socialist system, it won't be a capitalist system! 'No eye has seen no ear has heard'. All we know is that justice will run through it like a river such that we've never known. Of course they'll be no state so the the socialism question is redundant anyway.

I don't want to obtusely mystify the new creation, thats rather annoying, but what we CAN know is that justice will be served by GOD. How that works out exactly we can conjecture on biblical principles as you indicate with the gospel and Acts model. But it will only be conjecture.

The problem with socialism is as you say, that it wants to bring about universal brotherhood. Similarly, the problem with capitalism is that self-interest will not bring about collective goods as we're seeing at the moment in the global economy, and that not everyone gets a fair shot because the playing field isn't level when its governed in environs underscored by unfair power-structures. Any system will be fatally flawed because of THE FALL and SIN! We wait for Jesus to come and act on His Word in its totality, knowing that Capitalist or Socialist, greed and corruption are always going to be endemic where people's hearts have not been won for Him.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I didn't make my first point about levels of sin etc clear. Your point was about culpability and responsibility making sins more heinous but equally damnable. I didn't read that properly. I would say that in fact the elctorate can often understate and even absolve themselves of responsibility for things that are more remote like their nation's foreign policy, but there is culpability in failing to be one of a number of moral and prophetic voices that militate against unjust wars that result in murder of NCIs and torturous Abu Graib incidents. Geographical proximity or lack thereof should not really, in God's global Kingdom, enter into the equation

Anonymous said...

I guess a lot boils down to the Fall really when it comes to Politics! After a few years of studying Politics and International Relations, we would have questions like 'Can war ever be eradicated?', the ideologies of the political parties, international trade etc. Of course there are political and economic frameworks for these issues ( and I guess that's the primary subject for debate) but never solutions, not when God is left out and the fundamental context of the Fall! After studying Politics you would think I'd have been converted to its virtues but I've only realised all the more that the transformative power of the Gospel is the only power on earth that can sort it out!

I appreciate your comments and will have a look at that sermon you've recommended.

Anonymous said...

I've just read the sermon: great points but some things that were less clear and tenable in terms of their interpretation from the verses. I found a comment to it by Michael Dormundy that summed up one of my criticisms perfectly so I hope he doesn't mind but I've taken it straight from the horses mouth:

'2 Cor 8 and 9 as an argument for personal charity rather than state taxes, because they stress that giving must be willing. I hadn't seen this argument before and found it compelling, but...

I think these verses are about the attitude of a church to private charity, not about how high a state is free to levy taxes. However high taxes are, Christians must give private charity in addition, since they must be doing some willing giving. This does not mean the government is wrong to attempt to relieve poverty by high taxes.
The interesting question that arises is: "is it therefore sinful for a government to adopt a strongly socialist economic policy which seek so to provide for the poor from taxes that the need for private charity evaporates?" If extreme socialists are to be consistent, they'd have to say that there won't be any private charity in the socialist state, because taxes will remove both need and opportunity. The simplest reading of 2 Cor says this is wrong because voluntary poverty relief is commanded for Christians. However, I don't think you can use 2 Cor 8-9 as a basis for low taxes, because it's about Christians giving poverty relief to other Christians for a specific need. From my memory of the passage, you'd struggle to prove that all poverty relief should be by private charity. The wealth of non-Christians will be needed to relieve poverty and they won't have the Gospel motivations of 2 Cor 8 and 9 to give. Therefore there is a case for the state to compell them'

Now obviously there are dangers of inept and even corrupt bureaucracy; government needs to have discernment, this is vital, and this is one of the points that I liked about this sermon. However just because these dangers are inherent, it does not mean that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Anonymous said...

When I made a point about 'Point 3 - giving to the poor should be willing, but surely as Christians concerned about poverty we should pressure our leaders who are in a strong position to alleviate poverty, being our represenatatives but with fiscal redistributionary power etc, to be willing to change a system that impoverishes many while allowing few to be obscenely rich? I think this is what the Biblical prophets like Amos and Isaiah called for in their day'

I meant the challenging leaders challenging economic injustice part, I wasn't inferring to the 'fiscal redistributionary power' bit specifically from the verses. But as I've said, I think a case can be made for this

Anonymous said...

amd one more thing (sorry!)about the sermon: we have to juxtapose the 1 Timothy 5:4-8 verses with the verses where Jesus says 'when you gave to the least of my brothers, you gave to me'. By all means lets not neglect family, but lets also not neglect all the myriad verses throughout the entire Bible (and there are hundreds) exhorting us to challenge injustice and poverty.