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Voting your Christian conscience (Oct. 25, 2004)

Voting your Christian conscience (Oct. 25, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Voting your Christian conscience

Oct. 25, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0185}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

She was considered a living saint by most of us. She was more than 100 years old, and she still participated in the Sunday services every week. Her knowledge of the Bible was thorough. Her faith and holiness of life were inspiring.

One day I was visiting her in her home. It was a golden October afternoon. Since a national election was only a few weeks away, I casually asked her if she had made plans to vote. "No, I'm not going to vote," she said. "You're not going to vote?" I stammered. She explained that she had never voted during her entire life. I still considered her a saint, but I was flabbergasted how one could be a practicing Christian in America for more than a century and never cast a ballot in an American election.

Ever since the era of the apostles Christians have believed that we have a responsibility to be good citizens of the state in which we live. Christians in a democratic republic assume that exercising our right to vote is one of the responsibilities of Christian citizenship.

One of the most difficult tasks we as Christians have is to figure out how to express the meaning of our faith through our political actions, including participation in political parties, political organizations and voting. There is no one political party in America that can claim the allegiance of all Christians. All parties represent some positions that seem to be most consistent with the values of the Christian community, and all parties represent some positions that seem to be inconsistent with the values of the Christian community. One party's wisdom about personal responsibility is often negated by its negligence of social responsibility and vice versa.

As a community the church ought not engage in partisan politics. The church's witness to the public is to purposes of God that transcend any political ideology or party. If it is true to the story of Israel and Jesus as it has been understood over two millennia, the church will agree with most parties on some values, but disagree with them on other values.

In "The People of Truth" Robert Webber and Rodney Clapp stated the church practices "depth politics," which means the church stands for fundamental values that underlie public policy and are not identical with the program of any political party. The church's faithfulness to the "depth politics" of the kingdom of God includes, for instance, a vision of the sovereignty of God and the sacredness of life that includes a moral presumption against the violence of both abortion and war.

Christians are free as individuals to practice partisan politics. Given the failure of any party to offer an agenda that is consistent with the entire scope of Christian commitments, individuals in the same church will have different ideas about which parties or candidates to support.

Each of us will view the complex and often ambiguous agendas of American political parties and candidates differently. Yet, all of us ought to fulfill our responsibility as Christian citizens to vote in the elections of 2004 after discernment and prayer.

This commentary relates to Church and Society.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.