Why Most Evangelicals Will Vote for Bush
by Samuel J. Ross
With the 2004 presidential election just days away, and many voters still undecided, there is one group whose ballot has already been cast . . . evangelical Christians. Why does this group enjoy such certainty in their candidate of choice that seemingly eludes other segments of the voting population? Why do the vast majority (90% by one poll) of evangelicals see this year's election as if only one candidate were running? The answers lie in George W. Bush?s proclamation of Christian faith, his perceived strength, his perpetuation of single-issue politics, and his constituents' Christian heritage view of America. Interestingly, each of these points trumps the previous one.
Is a president who claims to be a Christian reason enough to vote for him? Does a Christian necessarily make a better president? Are there character qualities or personal traits that may be just as important for a president to possess as Christian faith? Are qualities such as diligence, willingness to dialogue, and the ability to demonstrate deference important attributes of a president? Certainly, these are considered important attributes of any leader according to King Solomon, the author of the Old Testament book Proverbs.
In America, we insist that our leaders be strong, or at least appear so. This might explain why so many evangelicals voted for Ronald Reagan over incumbent and Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter. Perhaps this demand for an outwardly strong leader is rooted in the conquering models of Old Testament warriors like Joshua and King David, or the sanguine, confident, self-assured personality of the New Testament Apostle Paul. Strangely, meekness (humility), a distinctive character quality of Jesus, is likely to be perceived as weakness, while contrasting attributes such as tough talk, a stern countenance, and inflexibility are qualities that most evangelicals desire in their leaders. A quick, decisive decision toward war is seen as strength, while an attitude of negotiation or exploring alternatives to conflict might be perceived as weakness. The popular bumper sticker that boasts "these colors don't run" (referring to the colors of the American flag) seems to perpetuate this preference for strength. It is indeed puzzling why so many evangelicals support the war in Iraq, especially in light of the anti-war views of the early church fathers (especially Origen, Tertullian, and Cyprian). Does their nationalism trump their faith? Sadly, the answer is yes.
Another reason most evangelicals will vote for Bush is their susceptibility to single-issue politics. It is not my intent to denigrate the intellectual integrity of evangelical Christians; I am one myself. Clearly, abortion is the sine qua non of moral issues among American evangelicals today. For some reason, its moral quotient exceeds all other issues that also threaten human life, including war, capital punishment, economic poverty, genocide, and environmental abuse. Even though these issues contain the same strong moral and justice threads that abortion does, including the potential for death and destruction, most evangelicals don't consider them as weighty as abortion. Despite the volume of scriptural evidence supporting the importance of the aforementioned issues, no other issue can overcome the moral dissonance that abortion creates for evangelicals. Is it a sin for a Christian to vote for a pro-choice candidate? Is the law not for both believers as well as unbelievers? The Apostle Paul suggested that Christians are citizens of heaven, not of any earthly nation. Are American evangelicals guilty of kingdom building on earth despite being citizens of another land? What stake do Christians have in a country where they are just occupiers?
Lastly, most evangelicals will cast a vote for George W. Bush because they believe America was founded as a Christian nation, and they wish to restore its Christian heritage. However, a careful study of American history reveals a different beginning. While there were God-fearing, morally upright men who helped craft the unique experiment that is America, ironically, most of them were far more influenced by enlightenment philosophy than the Bible. Most of the founding fathers were Deists, a far cry from American evangelical Christians. Why is it so important for evangelicals to defend a Christian view of America? Is it not enough to be faithful sojourners in Babylon? Evangelical Christians in America would do better seeking to be salt in an increasingly tasteless and spoiling society rather than demanding a seat at the head table of a feast given in their honor. As King Solomon so wisely stated, "When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are a man (woman) of great appetite" (Prov.23:2).
Samuel J. Ross is a freelance writer and doctoral student at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. An evangelical Christian, his doctoral thesis examines the relationship between nationalism and evangelicalism in America.