God's Voting Guide? (and an aside on Bernie's socialism)

What should we look for in a candidate for president? That seems to be a pressing question for Americans right now.

Rick has recently told us not to talk up or opt for socialism because "socialism is evil." It's worth noting, I think, that his reasons for why socialism is evil apply fully to crony-style capitalism. It's actually rather striking just how Bernie-like Rick sounds as he protests socialism's tendency to yield an anti-work(er) culture of corruption that concentrates power in the hands of a few who trade in government favor. That's exactly Bernie's complaint about "the establishment" and bailed-out Wall Street, and its precisely why he thinks we need a little socialist revolution to right the ship of state. Bernie's message resonates not just because people like handouts but because there is some morally potent truth to it (as even Ron Paul has pointed out)--the same truth, more or less, that Rick was tapping to explain why Bernie's proposals are not helpful.

It's not clear to me that the potential evils of Bernie's socialism, however unworkable, are so out of proportion to the sins of crony-capitalism, or that there is anything like gulag-Stalinism in his rather Scandinavian suggestions, or that we're doing well to single out his platform for special criticism while remaining silent on the abuses that have helped make socialism a viable political stance on the American scene in 2016.

Don't get me wrong: my morally-infused political and economic views carry me toward a robust free-market polity and I have no more interest in defending Bernie (or any other candidate) than Rick does. I don't have any reason to suppose Rick disagrees with my take on crony-capitalism, either, which brings me back to my opening question:

What should we look for in a candidate for president? I actually believe God gives us some very practical guidance on this in Scripture.

First, some perspective: all who are in Christ are citizens of heaven and exiles scattered among the nations on earth (Phil 3:20, 1 Pet 1:1). This is crucial to understanding ourselves as voters. Our eternal happiness is not riding on the outcome of any candidate's campaign or party's platform or nation's might. We vote not because salvation hangs in the balance but because it is good and right for us to seek the common good of the communities of our sojourn (cf. Jer 29:4-9). Our concern as voters is just what conduces to the peace and prosperity (morally and materially) of every neighbor. Partiality, special favors, political vendettas, public venting: there is no place for these things in God's voting guide.

Second, a little more perspective: the office of the president is an executive office of rule and oversight in the administration of justice. The president is to defend and promote the good and punish wrongdoers and is entrusted with the power of the sword to do so (Rom 13:1-7). It's a weighty charge. He or she must never interfere with the church's ministry and must therefore recognize the proper limits of civil authority in general and the office of president in particular. Likewise, the president ought to always act as one worthy of honor and even obedience.

I know all that is old hat, but here's the thing: God has given us a set of qualifications to guide us in the selection of candidates for an office of rule and oversight. True, God gave this to the church that we might apply it to candidates for the office of elder, not the presidency. But they are mostly general qualifications applicable to any office of rule and oversight. Consider this list based on 1 Tim 3:1-7:

1. above reproach (perhaps the summary qualification)
2. faithful
3. sober-minded
4. self-controlled
5. respectable
6. hospitable
7. able to teach
8. not a drunkard
9. gentle, not violent
10. not quarrelsome
11. not a lover of money
12. a good family manager
13. not a novice (recent convert)
14. well thought of by others

None of these are specific to the work of the ministry of the church and all of them are directly applicable to the office of president. Take "able to teach" as an perhaps the most unlikely example. Some argue this is specific to the pastoral ministry of an elder in the church, but this is exactly what all leaders need to be able to do. Any leader unable to bring people along by his words will likely try to do so by force, much like a frustrated toddler who slips into a tantrum when he can't find the words he needs to get the job done. Leaders in all fields of service must be effective teachers just as they must be humble, quick to serve others, honest, courageous, and tested.

If you've not already done so, take this rather a-political list and hold it up against the candidates competing for your vote. You will find it illuminating. It may not yield just one person to support but I suspect it will help you narrow the field considerably. It may even narrow the field to none, in which case you will have to decide whether your conscience permits you to vote for the best available candidate or for no candidate at all. But however that may be, God has furnished the church with a list of qualifications to adhere to tightly in the one place in those days where the people had a say in who would be entrusted with an office or rule and oversight in their life. It is not just a necessary guide for selecting elders in the church, however, but a helpful guide for us today as we are called upon to do something similar in the civil sphere for the common good.