8.11.08

The Purpose-Driven Centrist: God Will Do the Right Thing On Election Day

Governor Sarah Palin made the title comments in an interview given by Dr. James Dobson on the Focus on the Family Daily Program on October 22, 2008. And for the first issue of this column, I couldn't have asked for a better setup. But after listening to the full interview, Dr. Dobson made an even clearer statement when he said to Gov. Palin, "Shirley and I are praying ... that God's perfect will will be done on November the 4th." I wanted to write this article last week, but since this column won't come out until Saturday November 8, I decided to wait until November 4 to see the results. As a centrist, I like to look at the big picture at hot issues. By taking a step back from a situation or event in politics, in faith, in conflicts, there is a great opportunity to find answers and solutions that can work, not just more points to continue a debate or argument. This has not always been my modus operandi, but something I have been learning to do over the last couple of years.

As I starting typing this at 11:00pm eastern standard time, Barack Obama has been declared the President-Elect by the sheer closing of polls in California. For many, this is an answer in and of itself. But I think this begs us to ask a lot more questions, namely, what is God's perfect will in regards to American politics? To start answering that question, let's start with breaking down the conversation of God's will on this election by Dr. Dobson and Gov. Palin. Take some of these quotes from the interview:
Dobson: "Shirley and I are praying for you, for your safety and for your health, and that God's perfect will will be done or November the 4th."

Dobson: Shirley was leading a prayer even of 430 people asking for God's intervention [on this election].

Palin: "Hearing about people interceding for us [in prayer] energizes us and inspires; [it is a] great reminder to put this in God's hand and seek His perfect will for this nation."

Palin: "I am not discouraged at all hearing those poll numbers... to me it motivates us, makes us work that much harder, and it also strengthens my faith because I am going to know at the end of the day putting this in God's hands that the right thing for America will be done at the end of the day on November 4th."

Dobson: (Describing a nationwide radio hookup that consisted of a prayer for the election, for the country, and that a 5-minute prayer for each of the following people: Chuck Swindoll, James Dobson, Shirley Dobson, Henry Blackaby, and Ravi Zacharias.) "It was an incredible thing and the spirit of the Lord was on that call and we were just asking for, rather boldly asking, for a miracle with regards to the election this year."

Dobson: (Ending the program) "Let's continue to be in prayer about this election, not in a political sense, that God's will will be done - we really don't know, only God knows what He wants. We do know that there are principles here that we find in God's word, but we're asking for His involvement, His intervention."
What can be taken from these comments about God's will in this election? At face value, it certainly appears that Dobson and Palin believe God's will is for McCain/Palin to be elected. So what does that mean now that Barack Obama has been elected? Let's look at some possibilities.

First off, can we really say God chooses or cares who wins the presidential election in the United States? Every February we hear football players saying "God gave us this victory." As a follower of Jesus, I can't stand this. God doesn't care who wins the Super Bowl (unless it's the Pittsburgh Steelers, of course) so why would he care who wins the election? Maybe you think this is a flippant comment, but is it the job of President of the United States to live out the gospel of Jesus and expand the Kingdom of God? No, not at all. So maybe God doesn't really care who wins.

But let's say Dobson's interpretation of God's will is correct, that God's perfect will was for McCain to win. Does that mean we, the people, have the ability to, and in fact did, thwart God's will? If this is the case, then does this limit the power of God or our view of God's power and will in other areas of life and politics? This is a slippery theological slope, but not one that hasn't already been expressed by humanists and liberal Christians. But could this be why Dobson and others called for intervention or a miracle in the election because they felt we, the people, were about to thwart God's perfect will?

And then we have the possibility that God's will was for Barack Obama to win the election, because after all, he did win the election. What would that mean? Would it mean Dobson has lost credibility in his ability to interpret God's will for our country? Or would it mean Dobson, Palin, and others who said "God will do the right thing on November 4" will recognize Obama's victory as divine will and support President Obama as part of God's plan for America? Will they seek to serve if called by President Obama, and work with Obama and his plans for the next four years? Maybe I'm being skeptical, but I highly doubt it. Although, I have to say Senator McCain said as much in his eloquent-yet-humble concession speech last night. I was encouraged that he pledged to work with President Obama to unite our country, and I wish I could have felt the same inspiration from the crowd, which booed their own presidential choice for saying those heartfelt words.

The final option is that this is simply about the will and work of a people. Is this why we have a framework of separation between church and state? Does this framework of separation enable discussion and government work within the context of being a citizen of an American kingdom without the overarching influence of a godly kingdom? After all, there are mainly flavors of godly influences in our religiously diverse country. Is it possible the elections and government are simply left by God for people to do on their own - an extension of the free will given to us?

Out of the these possibilities, what makes the most sense, not logically, but faithfully? As followers of Jesus, what should our response be? As supporters of McCain or Obama, what is our appropriate faithful response? When discussing this topic with a new friend over email, he wondered what the difference is between saying "God will do the right thing" and "all things work together for good to those who love God." My guess is one's response to that difference might line up with the two respective voting groups. But I think it might be dangerous to interject interpreting God's will or actions into our human elections. And I think the context of Roman 8:28 ("all things work together for good...") backs up just how much we misuse God's will in our own purposes and desires (like deciding who to vote for).

Earlier in Romans 8, Paul is motivating the Roman Christians of what lies ahead - the glorious unveiling of God's Kingdom. In the middle, Paul recognizes just how bad life can be, how easily we can be distracted from God's kingdom by this life - so much so that we are tired of waiting on God's Kingdom. But it is in that moment...when all we can do is sigh and moan, when we don't know how to pray any longer...Paul encourages us. The Spirit is right here with us and knows how to pray on our behalf. He continues by saying the Spirit "knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (Romans 8:27-28, The Message) But Paul continues, "God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son." (Romans 8:29, The Message)

So God working everything together for good has nothing to do with the general situations at hand, the situations we throw that phrase at day after day just to make sense of things. Rather it has everything to do with us being followers of Jesus within the Kingdom of God regardless of who we vote for in the kingdom of the United States. It has to do with how we are shaped as people, how we live in the presence of God, and, most importantly, how we live our lives as followers of Jesus.

So I conclude God's will for Americans on Election Day is the same He's had for the world: that His followers be present in the Kingdom of God. Therefore we should not filter our actions within the kingdom of the United States through the lens of what God wills for our country, rather work for the Kingdom of God through the opportunities granted us through America's freedoms. Our hope does not lie in a rotation of leaders every 4 or 8 years, but a steadfast God who loves a Kingdom expanding with every life touched by a Christ-follower. No matter whom you voted for, we can all contribute to God's Kingdom by interpreting what God's will is for us in our lives, families, communities, and through the gifts that define each of us as children of God.

God will do the right thing each day, and we can be a part of that no matter what party we register with or what ballot we cast. In fact, until we separate God's will from the will of "we the people", it may not be possible to see what God is already doing. It matters not who is president, but it matters completely who we serve.

9 comments:

  1. Hey, remember in January when Dobson released an offical statement saying he wouldn't "under any circumstances" support John McCain for President?

    My feeling is more that God's Will being God's Will is contingent upon whether or not Dobson's idea of God's Will is realized. And as such, if someone has an idea of what God's Will should be, is it really God's Will?

    Based on his principled stance against John McCain (which held out for 7 months) , I'd say Dobson seems more interested in being catered to by politicians and the promise of political influence than any "perfect will."

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  2. ...I love the last sentence of this post...and I hope you don't mind that I share this post with some people...

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  3. Joshua, I wrote a commentary on an op-ed that Dobson wrote last fall during the primaries. I don't know if he is interested in being catered to as much as he feels entitled that he is seen, heard, and influential amongst the politicians.

    Rob and Bryan, thanks for your appreciation, and Aubrey, you are more than welcome to share this post with whomever you desire. :)

    Cheers!

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  4. I'm excited about this column as a series. I find myself alone much of the time debating ideas on which many of my friends stand squarely on one side or the other. I'm not one for heated debate, just intelligent discussion, but it's been hard to find. I'm glad to find a venue for it here.

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  5. I think you are reading into Dobson and Palin's remarks about them thinking that McCain/Palin is God's will. Neither of them said that they believed God's will was McCain/Palin. In fact both of them in my opinion are pretty open in their remark saying that at the end of the day God will do the right thing for America ... whether it be McCain or Obama. Palin's comment that she is leaving it in God's hand says to me that she trusts that God will do the right thing no matter whom is elected. I'm sure if you were to ask either of them that they would not say that McCain/Palin is God's will.

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  6. Davin, I appreciate your perspective, but I think that throughout the entire interview, the context is clear that neither believes Obama winning is how they interpret God's will. Whether that be talking about intervening in prayer based on the poll numbers, or Dobson clearly stating that there are principles in the McCain campaign consistent with his biblical interpretation.

    But I left open the possibility that they were really open-minded about what God's will might be, and if that is the case and if they believe God's will was done by electing Obama then they should vocally and actively support Obama, right, because they want God's will to be done? My guess is that neither will be in the front, middle, or even back of the support line. And I think Dobson proved that the Focus on the Family's "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America" that was detailed in another post here.

    Regardless of what Dobson really believes, what do you believe God's will is for America? At least that's the question I wanted to pose in the column.

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  7. I, too, did not get at all from the interview that either one believed it was God's will that M/P win the election. They both desired it, but placed the end result in God's hands. I've heard enough from Dobson to know that he believes fully in the God revealed throughout the entire Bible who causes leaders of all kinds to rise and to fall for different reasons.

    If a believer votes for someone who didn't win ... it doesn't mean they weren't privy to God's will and incorrectly interpreted what God wanted - neither does their vote mean they believe God's ultimate will is to cause that leader to rise. One cane follow the leading of God, and vote for the loser ... God's a bit bigger than that. A bit more beyond our comprehension.

    I find it sadly interesting that this interview was interpreted as those two believing it was God's will for M/P to win the election. The interview was clearly them praying for it, asking for it, voting for it ... but leaving it to God who is all-wise.

    The very fact that Obama won does not mean that God smiles upon him or not. It means that God wanted him in power.

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