by David Fowler
I don’t watch much television for fear it will rot my mind, but I’ve sure heard complaints about all the “negative” television ads and mail pieces paid for by some Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. Whether perceived by voters as negative or not, ads and literature that truthfully point out another candidate’s record provide helpful information. But what I’ve heard from many is that they don’t know what to believe or what to make of the information they’ve been given, so here are some thoughts about some of what I’ve seen and read.
The Bottom Line
First, this thought keeps running through my head: There is none righteous, no not one. Though, as a Christian, I believe that God, by grace alone and by no merit of my own, has imputed to me the righteousness of Christ, I am not righteous in myself and fall short of the mark every day. I fall short of God’s standards individually, as a state senator, and as a lobbyist. The same is true of all the candidates of both parties.
I can give you reasons why you might not want to vote for any one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, though for some that list might be longer than for others. Saying that might make all the candidates mad at me, except, perhaps, for the candidate who may really fit the following criteria.
Given that no candidate (or person) is perfect, I think we need to be asking ourselves which candidate we think is most likely to:
- understand that power and authority come from God (Daniel 4:30, 34–37) and not take lightly the fact that they will give an account to God for their political activities and policy decisions (Amos 4:12; Hebrews 12:28–29),
- fear God more than any person or organization and know that his or her victory (and all future “policy victories”) comes from the Lord, not campaign strategies (1 Samuel 12:24; Proverbs 8:15),
- keep away the wicked from among his or her circle of advisors (Proverbs 20:8, 25:5),
- be guided by wise counselors (Proverbs 15:22, 24:6; Exodus 18:21) who know how to help him or her “search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2) that God may have hidden for only the wise and humble of heart to find (Proverbs 2:4; Matthew 11:25),
- see and respect, as David did, the hand of the sovereign God in those who oppose him or her (2 Samuel 16:11-12) and look to God for his or her defense, as Moses did with Miriam and Korah (Numbers 12:1–3, 16:1–33), and perhaps most importantly,
- have a broken and contrite heart and reverse course when confronted by wise counselors about errors in attitudes, actions, and policy judgments (2 Samuel 12:7–13; Psalm 51).
I’d encourage you to read the verses, but those things, I think, reflect a ruler whose heart is one after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14), and if it was good enough for God, it should be good enough for us.
Why We Get Negative Ads
Another preliminary thought is this: Judging candidates on the above considerations is hard because very little of what candidates say addresses them. Probably no candidate would perfectly qualify anyway. But as much as we think negative campaigning reflects on a candidate, we need to understand that it also reflects on us, the electorate, because candidates tell us what they think we want or need to know. We get negative campaigns for a reason.
So, as voters going forward, let’s raise the standard by which we judge candidates. If we do, then perhaps candidates will tell us more about themselves and a little less about the other candidates in order to meet our standard.
Given the foregoing, here, then, are some of my thoughts about some of the negative ads (too many to address them all), and they pertain to ads you may be seeing even in state legislative races.
What to Make of the Attack Ads Relative to Trump
There have been many statements by multiple candidates about who really supports President Trump. To be honest, what I’ve seen doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.
First, I don’t think President Trump or his views on anything are the barometer by which any Christian should judge the righteousness or justice of any political policies.
Second, President Trump is dealing with federal issues and not state issues. For example, one can think “building a wall” across the entire U.S.-Mexican border is or is not practical or feasible, and it has little to do, in my opinion, with state banishment of already-banished sanctuary cities or the state providing greater college tuition subsidies for children of illegal immigrants. DACA may be relevant to the latter state issue, but just don’t assume federal issues and state issues make for an apples-to-apples comparison to state issues and draw conclusions that require a leap in logic.
Third, what does “support” for Trump even mean, given that in the Tennessee Republican presidential primary, 392,000 Republicans voted either for Rubio or Cruz and 333,000 voted for Trump?
Since no Republican gubernatorial candidate has been tagged with voting for Clinton over Trump, “support” can only mean trivial, irrelevant things like whether a candidate gave to Trump’s general election or attended his inaugural ball.
Giving Money to Democrats and Trump
What I’ve seen in this regard has been about money given or not given to Democratic candidates and to Trump’s election.
I “get” the response that candidates sometimes give political contributions for business reasons. I know plenty of Christian business owners I respect who give money to candidates based on business considerations. Political contributions by candidates are relevant to me, but perhaps not for the reason you think.
What Contributions Mean to Me
At one time, I might have seen relatively small amounts given to a Democratic candidate from time to time as a sure sign that the donor’s policy views are moderate. However, I am realizing that a stronger indicator of political moderation is refusing to answer the kinds of controversial social questions we ask, as Beth Harwell, endorsed by two government employee unions, did.[i] Now I ask harder questions about contributions, such as whether they are a sign of either naivety in the ways of politics or a sign of pragmatism.
As to the latter, it may come as a shock to many Christians, but pragmatism in the true sense of the word is a worldview. It denies our ability to judge/evaluate things on the basis of absolute truths; instead, it’s just a matter of “what works.” So, the bigger worldview issue for me is this: What might a candidate’s contributions tell me about his or her understanding of stewardship and his or her view of how comprehensive the claims of God are to our lives?
I can make the argument that political contributions for business reasons reflect the degree to which the candidate making them looks to God for economic blessing and favor or to the influence of the politician asking for the contribution or the favor of the business client asking for the contribution. Saying “no” is hard in these situations, but it can reflect the political donor’s willingness to be content with whatever comes from losing human favor if the contribution is not made. These decisions will only get harder after one is elected.
Judging the Contribution Worldview
This is an admittedly hard-line “test” for any candidate (or Christian business owner) at any political level. And it can be difficult to judge or reach a conclusion in this regard for this reason: Such worldview thinking may be new to many Christians and candidates, given the extent to which so many evangelical churches now emphasize a pietism that compartmentalizes public and private values and make doctrine about God less important than feeling and emotion.
Many ministers don’t talk about biblical considerations in connection with voting, let alone how to think through making political contributions, and many of them don’t for fear those topics will result in lost contributions. It’s not surprising that the sheep would go astray if the shepherd doesn’t lead.
Consequently, each person will have to decide how to weigh this factor in view of a candidate’s whole record, but the standard and weight applied to contributions made or not made must be applied to all.
[i] Conversely, providing an answer to our questions doesn’t make one a conservative; the answer is the key.
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David Fowler is a former 3-term state Senator, attorney and President of the Family Action Council of TN.