Friday, September 16, 2016

Vote Your Conscience: A (hopefully) Helpful Guide For The 2016 Election

The Old Testament records that, when Israel wanted to have a ruler that looked like their neighbors, they had one demand of God: “Give us a king” (1 Samuel 8:6).  In God’s fulfillment of their request we are reminded of the caution that we ought to be careful what we wish for lest we get it. We are not Israel, but our plaintive “Give us a President!” resounds during this election with an unsettling biblical echo.

We the people – or at least the political machinery that claims to offer us all a constitutional republic that reflects our wills – have chosen two historically unpopular candidates. This looked like a banner year for third party candidates - but they have also taken quite a bit of criticism.

My friends, family and colleagues are more divided this election than perhaps any other since I began voting.  Many are reluctant supporters of Clinton or Trump; some are excited to some degree. More than usual are going third party this year if for no other reason than to send a loud message that is time for the independents to rise.

So what’s a Christian to do? We are citizens of Heaven first, be we are also American citizens who have been given the opportunity and perhaps even the mandate to be involved. The Bible uses imagery of salt and light to describe a Christian’s spiritual influence; it’s easy to see how this has a pragmatic call as well. It's just not easy to see what to do when when voting appears to be inevitably morally compromising.

I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all approach. This is the kind of election where the oft repeated mandate to ‘vote your conscience’ carries more truth – and weight – than perhaps ever before. In the interest of providing a way to think through this choice, I have written a series of posts that cover various ethical theories that can be applied as one prepares for this year's election. I am convinced that no one ethical theory does justice to the complexity of our world; nonetheless, I hope the process of viewing life through different ethical lenses will bring increasing clarity.


Candidates of Virtue or Vice? (Virtue ethics). Which candidate do you believe will be most likely to perform the right action, with the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, and in the right way?

Commands, Contracts, And The Veil of Ignorance (Deontological, or duty-based ethics). Which candidate most values the social contract (the laws of our society)? Which candidate do you believe is most inclined to view the world as if they are behind a 'veil of ignorance,' genuinely attempting to protect the weak, disadvantaged, and marginalized in our midst? If you are a Christian, which candidate is most committed to promoting God's design for human flourishing (love, justice, mercy, truth, etc.)?

The Greatest President For The Greatest Number (Consequentialist or Utilitarian ethics). Which candidate do you believe has a better understanding of what constitutes the 'good'? Which candidate is most likely to enact policies that will bring the greatest pleasure or happiness for the greatest number without trampling on the rights of the few? Which candidate is most likely to defend those who are viewed as lacking utility?

The Imperatives Of The President (Kantian Ethics). Which candidate are you most confident will not try to universalize a principle that is destructive? Which candidate values people for their humanity and not their utility, treating them as ends rather than the means to accomplishing an end? Which candidate is most consistent in establishing rules for others that they themselves follow. Which candidate will treat individuals as if they are autonomous and rational, holding them responsible for their lives?

The Overlap Of Natural And Societal Law (Natural Law ethics). Do the candidates believe there are morally demanding Natural Laws at work in the world?  If so, do they believe it comes from Nature's God (objective, authoritative Law Giver) or from a social contract (common experience and rational consensus of the people)? What difference would this make in how they would lead? Which candidate is most likely to promote legislation in which the Natural Law referenced in our founding documents overlaps with our ongoing implementation of human law?

Who Best Understands Your Rights? (Rights-based ethics). Do the candidates differ in their perspective on negative vs. positive rights? Which one is more likely to impose duties of assistance? Which is more likely to limit their agenda to duties of non-interference? Which candidate supports the idea that rights are natural, universal, equal and inalienable?

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