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Public Theology: Why Lutherans Should Vote for Democrats This Year
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Why Lutherans Should Vote for Democrats This Year
A Lutheran pastor explains why even Lutherans who are Republican should vote for John Kerry this year.

By Ed Knudson

Since I am a Lutheran pastor and know something of the history and theology of Lutherans and since I engage with politics based on my faith understandings, I thought I would share my thoughts with other Lutherans (and any others who care to listen in) about how to vote in the elections this November, 2004. We Lutherans are a pretty conservative bunch, but the meanings of the terms conservative and liberal are terribly confused these days in our political culture.

Here are fifteen reasons to vote for Democrats this year.

1) Bush doesn't care about us. George Bush cares about the religious right, made up of fundamentalists like the Southern Baptist Convention and pentecostals like the Assemblies of God. Lutherans are not fundamentalists nor pentecostals. Lutherans are a mainline church, and Bush doesn't like those denominations, at least in terms of his political views. And the religious right doesn't like Lutherans. Here is what Pat Robertson of the 700 Club has said about mainline churches: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." Robertson is the key leader of the religious right and George Bush listens to him. When Bush met recently with religion editors and writers it turns out the only ones there were from the religious right. Because the Republican party has allowed itself to be taken over by an extremist religious group Lutherans should vote Democratic this year.

2) Bush doesn't listen to us. Conservatives respect authority. For Lutherans in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) the one person with most authority is our presiding bishop, Mark Hanson. Our bishop has requested to meet with George Bush along with other church leaders of the National Council of Churches and Bush has refused. Bush listens to the so-called Christian Coalition but not the moderate and historically ecumenical churches. If Bush were truly a conservative he would listen to the voices representing the historic tradition of the church.

3) Bush doesn't respect his own bishop. Though he belongs to the United Methodist Church George Bush has refused to meet with and receive counsel from his own bishop because the Methodist church took a position against the Iraq war. Various Republican leaders have encouraged Catholic bishops to deny communion to Catholic politicians who do not take an absolute position on abortion, like John Kerry, but Bush himself doesn't listen to his own bishop when it comes to moral issues.

4) Lutherans love the whole bible. The Lutheran view of the scriptures is completely different from the magical view of the religious right which likes to pick out verses that agree with their pre-established position and then claim they know absolutely the mind of God. Lutherans believe it is through the bible that we come to know the grace and mercy of God as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ; we read the whole bible through the eyes of this faith in Christ. Because the Republican Party is associated with a group which uses the bible in a false way we should not vote for that party this year.

5) Lutherans distinquish between law and gospel. The bible is not a law book. The bible cannot be used to find exactly the perfect law for human relations or civil life. Salvation occurs not by following law but by hearing the gospel of God's grace. The Republican Party has allied itself with religious groups which have a very false view of the bible and a false view of salvation. Because the Republican Party has done this Lutherans must reject it in this election. Lutherans who are Republican should work for change within their party.

6) Lutherans are open to science. For Lutherans the bible is not a science text book. The religious right, however, gains its primary identity from the debate between religion and science in the late 19th and early 20th century; they are still fighting this fight after all these years and most of the major issues they raise have to do with their rejection of the results of modern scientific study. Lutherans have solved these problems through solid biblical interpretation and theological reflection. Although there should be continuing discussion about the intersection of faith and science, especially on many ethical issues, Lutherans are open to see the benefits of science. We do not take an absolutist view toward abortion. We do not deny the relevence of professional judgments in new understandings of homosexuality. We do not advocate creationism. And we especially oppose the idea that any such views are necessary for faith or salvation. Rather than base his policies on science, George Bush has explicitly rejected science concerning global warming, for example, and bases his policies on beliefs of these religious groups, such as abortion, stem-cell research, and opposition to same-sex marriage. Whatever our personal views on these matters, the government of the United States should not be beholden to a set of particular religious beliefs. That is wrong and Republican candidates should be rejected to the degree they do so.

7) All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The religious right places great focus on the necessity of each person to make an individual decision to accept Christ. It's called believer's baptism, or being born anew. It's been a debate in the church since the Reformation. But today the issue has become of major political significance. When a decision is made by the individual then they become "saved" and come to know in a kind of absolute way what is good and bad, right and wrong, and political positions are based on this. They place themselves in a position of judgment over others; ethical issues become black and white. Hostile language is justified against "baby-killers" and so forth. Some of the groups teach perfectionism, that after one is saved then he or she becomes "perfect" in word and deed. Lutherans reject all this kind of talk. Lutherans believe that all have sinned and that we never stop sinning, we are justified by God's grace, not by our own actions. We don't have a single moment when we accepted Christ, faith is a struggle we live every day. Faith is finally a gift of the Holy Spirit working in us through the Word of God. So there are no grounds for us to boast, or to judge others, or to view ourselves as better than others. The Republican Party has taken on the triumphalistic style of religous fundamentalism, claiming for itself the only right view on so many matters. This is wrong and dangerous for our democratic nation and is a major reason to vote Democratic this election.

8) Use of reason in politics. Lutherans do not believe they know better than others how the world should be governed. Martin Luther liked to say that he would rather be ruled by a wise Turk than a foolish Christian. Luther believed that God has given the gift of reason, and a basic sense of fairness and justice, to everyone. So we Lutherans can engage in political debate using our heads, using our judgments about what is fair and just for others as well as ourselves. We cannot claim that "the Lord told me what to do," as pentecostal believers say. But we can expect of our political leaders that they themselves use their best reason as they approach complex issues and that they tell the truth to the people. George Bush has not been telling the people the truth about so many of his policies, especially concerning the war in Iraq, his proposals for more tax cuts and Social Security. For Americans to use their reason to help determine public policy it is imperative that government be open, that politicians tell the truth. Bush has carried on a very secretive administration, much more so than we have seen in the recent past.

9) Lutherans support a secular society. The United States is not a Christian nation as the religious right believes. This idea comes from England; Puritans there first claimed England was to be God's chosen nation and they brought that idea with them when they came to America. The word God does not appear in the constitution; it was intentionally omitted by the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson's idea of God was deist, not Christian, so the God mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is not necessarily the God known by Christians. Lutherans have been willing to live within this secular society without trying to impose their religious views on the rest of the population. We do not support the idea of prayer in public schools, for example. We do not believe God's existence or power is dependent on anything human beings or human polities do. God's grace is as much available to a secular society as to any other kind of society. So Lutherans reject all efforts of those, including many Republicans who identify themselves with the religious right, who seek to use God as justification for their own narrow political views in the public sphere.

10) Lutherans believe in active role for government. For Lutherans, all governing authorities come from God. The purpose of government is to provide a basic order for society, to preserve God's wonderful creation, and Luther hoped that rulers would govern with wisdom and justice according to God's intention for all human beings. Even though he thought a wise ruler was a "rare bird" it is necessary to obey the authorities, and for this reason the state is given the sword, the power of violence to enforce the laws. This means government must be involved in the regulation of economic actors as well. George Bush and Republicans in general these days do not believe in government; they tend to attack government; they want government to be less involved in regulation of the economic actors even if that means greater economic injustice. There is always in our country a give and take between business and labor, between freedom and regulation of the economy, but Bush has become a radical market fundamentalist which gives large corporations inordinate power over workers and consumers in a complex world today. That is a very good reason to reject him in this election.

11) Lutherans support public schools. Martin Luther advocated public support for schools and Lutherans of the ELCA have generally supported public schools over-against the idea of creating their own private schools. The Republican Party has been taken over by people explicitly opposed to public schools, especially in the South. The idea of school vouchers is now promoted by Republicans and such a program would, indeed, destroy the whole notion of public education for all. Republicans are listening to the religious right on this issue and the quality of public schools is at stake. This has momentous consequences for the future of the nation; the attitudes of a religious minority should not be allowed to destroy what it has taken generations to build. It is one of the worst cases of political cynicism for a party to align itself with a religious minority to gain votes and fail to really invest in public education. The Republican Party should compete with the Democrats to gain the support of public school teachers rather than just throw them aside as political opponents.

12) Lutherans support racial justice. Lutherans in their public statements and practices strongly support civil rights for all minorities. One of the worst features of our current political culture, however, is the continuing significance of race. The Republican Party has aligned itself with the South since the civil rights acts of the 1960s. It has opposed affirmative action. It has opposed social services and health care especially needed among poor black folks. Southern states spend relatively little on education and social services. Right wing talk show hosts regularly talk about "personal responsibility" as a reason for denying help to others, the same kind of talk heard from George W. Bush. This is racial code language. If you listen carefully to these talk shows you will find a very real underlying hostility to the idea of racial justice. Republican politicians should be rejected for this very important reason.

13) Lutherans believe in separation of church and state. The church does not expect the state to do the work of the church. In fact, if the state begins to express particular religious views then Lutherans raise an eyebrow of suspicion, especially because of our experience in Hitler's Germany. It is only through the church that we come to know the true nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. Government-funded faith-based programs encouraged by George Bush are the wrong way to go. Lutherans have a large social service system that provides outstanding services provided with federal funds without need of special faith-based programs. The religious right expects the state to do its work, to implement its versions of morality, to witness to its understanding of who God is, but Lutherans reject all of these notions. To make sure the Republican Party gets the message that its cooperation with the religious right is not appropriate in a democracy, Lutherans should vote against Republican candidates this year.

14) Lutherans are not apocalyptic. One of the worst features of the religious right is its apocalyptic views, its teaching that the end of the world is coming soon and can be ascertained in what is happening in the middle east and Israel. Such views are actually having influence in the current administration reflected in Republican dislike for the United Nations, for example, which is viewed as another anti-Christ by the Left Behind series of novels so popular among members of the religious right. These views provide cover for politicians opposed to greater environmental protection since if the world won't last very long there is no reason to be concerned for the environment for future generations. Such irrationality is too much the basis for Republican politicies on the environment. And such views also help justify war and what the United States should do in Israel related to the Palestinians. When you have God on your side that is a great justification for war against others. Such views are really a blasphemy that must be completely rejected by Lutherans and everyone else. The fact that Republican politicians do not speak up against such views is indicative that they are listening to them. The politics of the United States of America cannot be based on such ridiculous teachings.

15) Lutherans are a global communion. We must today be open to a global future. The world has become small indeed due to tremendous changes in transportation and communication systems over the last decades. The economy is now a world-wide phenomenon. What happens in one place on the globe now affects everyone else in one way or another. Nation-states, such as the United States, are becoming less important than they once were; we are no longer isolated between two oceans, we are part of a global community and our politics has to be able to recognize this fact. But Republicans want to play on fear of the loss of the country rather than help us all open ourselves to what the future can bring in a world of perhaps greater peace and justice. Lutherans are a world communion through the Lutheran World Federation. We count as brothers and sisters in Christ people all across the globe. We should consider our commitment to them, our identity with them, as greater than our identity simply as citizens of the United States. We can be thankful for all our country means to us, but that should not deny our larger responsibility to the world that God made and loves. The debate between Republicans and Democrats should be about which party has the best ideas and answers for our common global future. Unfortunately, Republicans have been just fanning the flames of extremist nationalism. That's another great big reason to vote against them in this election.

So, there are the fifteen reasons. Let me know what you think by clicking on the item below.

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Date Added: 10/5/2004 Date Revised: 10/7/2004 10:03:01 AM

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