4-candidates.jpg In the church newsletter I get from our former church in NH, a fiercely right-wing, conservative evangelical parish, there was tucked into the middle of the thing a little “scorecard” (Democrat Side; Republican Side) for the major presidential candidates. With the NH primaries a couple days away, some comments are in order.

The scorecard begins with a reminder to the church membership that they have a civic obligation to vote in the NH Primary on Jan. 8. Check.

It then quotes Proverbs 29.2: When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people mourn. Here we go. As true as that statement may be, I want to know who, in our day, are the “righteous in authority?” Has the US ever had such an authority? The first potential “righteous authority” that comes to my mind in American History is Abraham Lincoln, who wasn’t even a regular church-goer and who was killed for his efforts. I suppose if “righteous” means “Christian,” we widen the field a bit… probably to the entire line of Presidents. So that’s not helpful. If we limit our choices, then, to evangelical Christians, we’re limited to Presidents from the post-WWII era; and if we go even further, we could limit to candidates endorsed (ordained?!) by the Moral Majority and Religious Right, yielding us Reagan, Bush Sr, and Bush Jr, none of whom can justifiably be termed more “righteous” than anyone else, and who strike me personally as being less on the side of justice than on the side of unbridled capitalism and militarism.

Anyhow, the scorecard then quotes the IRS’ description of churchs’ rights to distribute these types of things (here): “Certain voter education activities (including the presentation of public forums and the publication of voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity” (7). Check; I think that churches have a bit of an obligation to do this kind of thing, but it has to be done in a non-partisan manner, which means listing ALL issues, and not cherry-pick certain ones that the church, or the writer of the newsletter or compiler of the scorecard, believe are the only important issues that a “righteous” leader seeking authority need to be concerned with. The particular scorecard I have in front of me fails this critical test; while it does tell the church who it should vote for (that would be too obviously partisan!), it lists only six issues, and further restricts those issues to particular topics rather than all relevant ones. For example:

Life (the Unborn) and judge appointments.
Liberty – 2nd amendment, gun control
Happiness – Marriage and low taxes (!)
Illegal immigration
US Military vs. Terrorists – Al-Queda (sic) in Iraq

Next to this “issues” column are the Democratic candidates Clinton, Edwards, and Obama with their positions on these issues on one side of the sheet, and the Republican candidates Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney, and Thompson on the other.abc_obama_clinton_070406_ms.jpg

Now, let me ask this: these are the only issues that concern the church and that determine whether or not a candidate is “righteous” or not? Is the only “Life” concern just abortion? What about the life of our seniors? How about life issues for capital punishment? Stem cell research? If the church is going to take a stand on the sanctity of life, it had better be the sanctity of all life. But it is not, in this case. And the only issue that concerns “liberty” is the right to bear arms and infringements on that right through regulations on gun ownership and purchase? For the life of me I can’t see why the church would really mark this as an issue that deserves its intervention except for the fact that uncontrolled gun ownership threatens the issue of sanctity of all life. If gun regulations are the only potential threat to “liberty” as an issue, I think we should thank our Maker and do what we can to prevent unbridled weapons proliferation from helping us meet Him. “Liberty” has a lot bigger fish to fry (see: Patriot Act[s]).

Happiness: As an issue, this borders on the absurd. To even suggest that our happiness as citizens depends on our definition of marriage and civil unions on the one hand and low taxes on the other, and to suggest that our happiness should be determined by government, is more insulting to the voters than anything else.

The Immigration category is an interesting one in that this is, I think, the only “serious” issue that doesn’t deal exclusively in stereotypes. It’s still short, one-word “scores,” and they are still kind of hot-buttonish, but at least there’s room here for discussion. The Republican side of the sheet reduces the issue to no driver licenses, strong law enforcement, and the border fence; the Democrat side reduces the issue to Amnesty, welfare and other possible government benefits. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that the church needs to wrestle with this one more than it has and certainly needs to do more than support a border fence (or not) and whether or not illegal immigrants can drive. What would be the prophetic response to this from Jesus or the Hebrew prophets? What would Amos say? The very thought of that gives me the chills.

Finally, the military vs. Terrorists issue, conveniently reduced to “Al-Queda (sic) in Iraq.” Yikes. I quote the scorecard’s representation of this from the Democrats: Clinton would “require warrant to tap comm/,” favors “US Gradual Withdrawal” (bold in original) and is “For openly gays in military.” Edwards would “Move Git’mo detainees to US/” and is for “US Immediate Withdrawal.” Obama: “Require warrant to tap comm/” and favors “US Immediate Withdrawal“. Now, on the other side, the Republican side, the whole thing is reduced for each candidate to “Fights Worldwide” for each and every candidate. (And yes, “fights” is in bold in the original.) This is a caricature that belongs more to political cartoons than a serious voter’s aid. The implications here are that the Democrats don’t care about terrorism, which is patently untrue. It also buys into the Bush rhetoric that Iraq is all about terrorism, when we’ve known for years now that it’s not, and in fact the whole Iraq thing hasn’t reduced terrorism but has put us more at risk for additional acts than we’ve ever been, not just at home, but internationally. This is stating the obvious to most people, but apparently it’s not for others. The church needs to ask the candidates – ALL of them – how its “solution” to the Iraq quagmire reflects justice and not simply law and vengeance (and not simply how their policy tries to fix stupidity, ineptitude, and mass deception, as important as those are right now).

Lastly, a comment on what is NOT here in the scorecard. How can the church, ANY church, honestly feel that gun control is a bigger issue than environmental stewardship? That happiness promoted by lower taxes is more righteous than improving the life of the poor in this country and throughout the world? That definitions of marriage are more important than a just system protecting those who think, feel, and love differently than others? That keeping others out, others who are trying to escape oppressive regimes and systems of gross injustice, and placing sanctions on those who have escaped rather than trying to guide them to citizenship, is a bigger issue than the plight of millions of seniors who are outliving their retirement and social security benefits, and of even more millions of lower-class families abused by an absolutely unjust healthcare system, who have to choose between paying the bills and receiving medical treatment every single day? Where are these issues?

I know the people at this church, and I love each and every one of them, and in the off-chance that the compiler of this scorecard is reading this, I apologize for the presentation and perhaps the tone of this blog entry. I know that he, and the church, mean well, and getting people out to vote, even if it means adopting a partisan line here, is better than telling people not to vote (which does happen). But if we’re going to produce scorecards, let’s make one that reflects the church’s commitment to upholding biblical, prophetic justice and not the old-hat standards of one individual party.