Kerry v. Bush: A Christian Perspective

In discussing my political views with firends, many are interested in how my Christian faith informs my opinions about the candidates. Here I collect my thoughts on these issues.

I have decided on five categories, Charity, Honesty, Abortion, Stewardship and Evangelism as the five primary topics of interest to Christians in the coming election, and award the candidates 5 points for each category.

Charity ( 5 points)

At its roots, charity means a redistribution of power — wealth, opportunity, rights — from those who have more to those who have less, and embracing our responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Charity ought not be measured just in terms of the amount of food or money or basic necessities given to the needy, although such gestures certainly enter into our calculations. We count many other social programs as charity — providing educational opportunities for the poor as way out of poverty, providing for entitlements such as Social Security for elders, providing basic health care for all Americans, use of our armed forces abroad to promote peace and stability, foreign aid to help the suffering in other countries

And we should weight equally our charity for the needy who live in this country, as well as the needy abroad. And we measure our successes by our results — not by our efforts. That is, massive spending on foreign aid counts little if it does not actually reduce the suffering in afflicted areas, and reduction in poverty by decreasing unemployment counts equal if not more than reducing poverty by simple handouts.

Our scorecard: Kerry 3, Bush 2

Both candidates will likely pursue policies which will generally help the American economy. Both candidates are committed to Social Security and some form of basic health care availability. Both candidates are committed to foreign aid and military intervention, although they may differ over particulars.

President Bush loses the tie breaker to Senator Kerry because his administration has brazenly given a tax cut to the richest Americans. Instead of calling on the wealthiest of us continue paying its larger share of the tax burden on America, President Bush has shifted that burden to the poor and middle class, and he has presided over four years of a widening gap between rich and poor in America. Senator Kerry has made reversing this shift one of his stated platform goals

Honesty ( 5 points)

It is always tempting to expect the worst from politicians in the honesty department. We have come to expect that dishonesty is simply part of the political process. Nevertheless, having a potential of 5 points to award for honesty is valuable: if we do not award all the points, it is at least a measure of how low our expectations are.

Our scorecard: Kerry 2, Bush 0

Sadly, we cannot award President Bush any points in this category. His administration has made a practice of encouraging and awarding dishonesty. Contrarily, when members of the administration have tried to express the truth which may be at odds with the Administrations viewpoint, they are suppressed. Some examples:

A) In the runup to the passing of the Medicare prescription drug bill, the administration knew that the true cost of the bill would be more than 100 billion dollars than their publically stated figures, and they released this information only the day after the bill passed.

B) In planning the occupation of Iraq, most military professionals ( including General Shinseki, then the US Army Chief of Staff ) estimated that the number of troops required to maintain peace during an occupation of Iraq was much higher than the administration figured was politically convenient. Rather than acknowledge the concerns of professionals, the Bush Administration suppressed opposing viewpoints, at great peril to the success of the mission

C) In the aftermath of 9/11 and the runup to the War in Iraq, there was much controversy over alleged links between Al Qaeda and Iraq. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the Bush Administration continues to insist that close ties existed between the two as part of its justification for the war. This behavior can only be described as complete contempt for the concept of honesty.

D) Rod Paige, the Secretary of Education, has been under fire for cooking the books during his tenure as Texas Superintendant of Schools. While in this position, Texas schools apparently showed a dramatic improvement, with rising test scores and falling dropout rates. In fact, it was because Paige rigged the system and encouraged School Principals to report phony numbers. As the self-styled “Education President”, Bush has pressed for more school accountability and increased testing. Continuing to Support Rod paige as his Secretary of Education can only be interpreted as a colossal disregard for honest accounting.

While we have little basis to think that honesty would be a top priority in a Kerry Administration, there is plenty of evidence that there would be improvement. In contrasting the advertisements of the Bush and Kerry campaigns, Kerry’s ads may stretch the truth, but Bush’s ads contain outright distortions. Kerry’s record in the Senate has shown a willingness to confront complex problems with balance. Lastly, Kerry’s record as part of Vietnam Veterans Against the War shows a willingness to confront reality, even when it is the ugly truth of the atrocities committed by Americans in Vietnam.

Abortion

Of the moral dilemmas facing the country, none is as complex as abortion. Both candidates are on record as being personally opposed to abortion, and as acknowledging that the numbers of abortions performed in the country are embarassingly high. President Bush is in favor of stricter laws to restrict abortion, and has indicated that any candidates he would nominate for the Supreme Court would be in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. Senator Kerry is in favor of maintaining abortion as “safe, legal and rare”. He advocates education rather than legislation as the better tactic towards reducing this evil.

Our scorecard: Kerry 3, Bush 2

Both candidates get two points for opposing abortion and having a plan for addressing the issue. Senator Kerry gets the third point for having the more realistic plan.

We have looked at historical data for the number of abortions performed in the United States since 1980. Abortion numbers stayed fairly constant during the 1980’s. In the 90’s, under the Clinton administration, the numbers of abortions ( and the ratio of abortions to live births) steadily declined. Since 2000, however, the numbers of abortions seem to be increasing once again ( sources: Centers for Disease Control. See also the article “Pro-life? Look at the fruits” by Glen Stassen of the Fuller Theological Seminary — http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.display&issue=041013#5) .

This seems very counter-intuitive — why would abortion rates decline while a pro-choice President is in office, and rise again with a pro-life president in office? The explanation seems to be that legislation is unlikely to have an effect on abortion rates. Rather, abortion rates are linked to poverty levels. Women choose to have abortions for various reasons, the leading one being that they feel like they can’t afford to care for a baby, a decision affected by the cost of health care as well as their personal economic situation. Under the Clinton Administration, the number of women living in poverty decreased, and the cost of health care for poor women and their children rose only a small amount. Under the Bush Administration, the number of women in poverty has increased and the cost their health care has skyrocketed.

The result is that even though President Bush advocates stricter abortion legislation, his economic and health care policies are actually encouraging more women to choose abortion. As Christians, we certainly value pragmatism over piety: if the more liberal policies of the Democrats actually result in fewer abortions than the pious policies of the Republicans, Christians ought to support the Democrats.

Stewardship

Stewardship is about preservation of resources, both natural and abstract. The measure of success in stewardship is in what we will have to entrust to our children and grandchildren. A clean environment, a functioning and corruption free civil service, the respect of foreign nations, a debt-free national treasury, a strong and sustainable economy and a world free of crime and terrorism are the goals of the good steward.

Our scorecard Kerry 4, Bush 1

Both candidates get a point for their positions on crime, terrorism and building a strong economy. John Kerry gets the balance of points for his stance on the environment, his ability to win back respect abroad, and President Bush’s poor record of deficit spending.

On the environment, Bush’s record is embarassing. The former Director of the EPA, Chistine Whitman, said that she was ridiculed for wanting to consider scientific evidence when formulating environmental policy. Instead, it is acknowledged that the EPA has changed from an agency whose mission is to protect the environment into an agency which is committed to helping big business profit from our wealth on natural resources.

On the matter of respect from abroad, President Bush has managed to squander worldwide sympathy for the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, and the US is now reviled more than ever in the international community. On the contrary, John Kerry has at least shown that he is able to navigate foreign affairs with skill, and appears to be committed to doing so in the future.

Lastly, President Bush has also squandered the reputation of the Republican Party as the party of fiscal discipline. While accusing the Democrats of being the ‘tax-and-spend’ party, he has turned his administration into a four-year-long ‘spend-and-spend’ party. With a House and Senate both controlled by Republican majorities, the President cannot use Congress as an excuse for his spending, especially as he has never once used his veto power to block a spending bill ( although ironically he threatened to veto the $87 billion military spending bill that he ridicules Senator Kerry for switching his vote on ). While the Kerry Administration will likely not be a model of fiscal discipline, it is difficult to imagine a performance worse than that of President Bush.

Evangelism

Evangelism is about being a role model, about proclaiming the truth, about spreading the Christian principles of freedom and liberty throughout the world. And indeed, even though Christianity can succeed without American-style liberties, Christianity is strengthened by the spread of freedom and democracy. This is especially true because most of the world considers the United States to be a “Christian” nation, despite the fact that religious diversity florishes here more than in any other country. For better or for worse, America is the world’s missionary as much as it is the world’s policeman.

Our scorecard Kerry 3, Bush 2

Both candidates are committed Christians, and lead model lives of faith. Both candidates are committed to the spread of Amercan ideals overseas, and both have a profound respect for American liberties such as Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religious Expression and Democratic Government.

The extra point goes to Senator Kerry because of President Bush’s arrogance in dealing with foreign relations, resulting in a worldwide loss of respect for the United States, and for the Presidents having turned this country into such a sharply divided nation.

Christian evangelism has been dealt a serious setback by the Bush Administration’s foreign policies: Because of the perception that America is a Christian nation, increased hatred of the United States abroad directly translates into hatred of Christianity. We can only hope for better from a Kerry Administration.

Lastly, a divided America does not make for a good role model for the world. President Bush, who in 2000 campaigned under the slogan “I’m a uniter, noit a divider” has managed to turn a nation brought together by the national tragedy of 9/11 into a nation torn apart by war, mistrust and deception. This is not the vision of modern Christianity that Americans want to display to the rest of the world.

Totals: Kerry 15, Bush 7

Some may express surprise that I have avoided the hot-button topic of Gay Marriage I have avoided it because it has already been talked about too much this election season, and because it is a discussion which is ultimately unproductive. It is an unproductive discussion because the victor of the election won’t impact the issue at all – it is an issue which will be fought in state courts for the next decade. It is also an unproductive discussion because there are much more important things that Christians should be concerned about.

Or in other words, if you think that Gay Marriage is more important than charity, honesty, abortion, stewardship or evangelism, then this is probably an indication that you think too much about sex.

Your vote on November 2 matters to Christianity as much as it matters to America.

Use it wisely.

Advertisements