evangelicals and obama

Al Mohler recently posted on Rick Warren giving the invocation at Obama’s inauguration, and at the end of his fine essay he added a postscript saying that he himself would not accept such an honor because of Obama’s views on abortion.  Mohler wrote:

“President-elect Obama has pledged to sign legislation including the Freedom of Choice Act, which would affect a pro-abortion revolution in this nation. He has also pledged to sign executive orders within hours of taking office that will lead directly to a vast increase in the destruction of human life. In particular, he has promised to reverse the Bush administration’s policy limiting federal funding of human embryonic stem-cell research. Sources inside the transition office have advised activists to expect a flurry of executive orders in the new administration’s first hours and days.”

“Knowing the intentions of this President-elect, I could not in good conscience offer a formal prayer at his inauguration. Even in the short term, I could not live in good conscience with what will come within hours. I could not accept a public role in the event of his inauguration nor offer there a public prayer, but I will certainly be praying for this new President and for the nation under his leadership.”

This morning’s Grand Rapids Press had a story on Ed Dobson’s year of living like Jesus (eating kosher food, observing a Jewish Sabbath, and enjoying an occasional beer), and in the article Ed made the point that he had voted for Obama because , although he disagreed with Obama on abortion, he “felt, as an individual, he was closer to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings than anyone else. (Obama) was a community organizer, so he was into the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed, which Jesus is very much into.”

So here are two prominent evangelical leaders, one whose conscience led him to vote for Obama and the other whose conscience would prevent him from praying at his invocation.  Which one is closest to being right, in your view?

**UPDATE** Links Fixed

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  1. Being an issue of conscience, as you pointed out, I don’t necessarily think there is a “right” or “wrong” here. As Paul told the Romans over matters of conscience “Let everyone be convinced in their own minds.”

  2. My comment will be more about addressing Ed Dobson’s statement. I will let others deal with the abortion issue so that I don’t end up writing an essay on this topic.

    It’s hard for me to say that somehow the democrats such as Obama are closer to the teachings of Jesus because as I’ve said before, good intentions are not enough to help the poor and oppressed. Helping someone out of generational poverty is messy, taking a lot of time, energy, and resources (and not just financial). The ones most equipped are the faith-based organizations that are already in the trenches doing the work. There are a number of studies that show evidence of the effectiveness of faith-based social services verses bureaucratic government’s delivery of social services to the poor. One of my beefs with Obama is that he intends to reverse charitable choice, which allows faith-based organizations the right to hire those whose beliefs fit their mission and worldviews. By the way, this provision was one of former president Bill Clinton’s greatest accomplishments. So far, faith-based organizations have been rightly required to use their government funding for non-religious activities or for religious activities that allow participants to voluntarily opt out in order to guard against people being force-fed religion through government money. Apparently, this is not good enough for Obama. Obama has publicly stated from his web page that those who get money from the government cannot have what was signed into law through charitable choice, which is the freedom to hire whom they please. Because I encounter many poor people whose stories testify to a broken system which has crushed them, I have become pragmatic that if my taxes are going to help the poor, then it might as well go to organizations that are effective in helping people out of poverty. By the way, my experience has also been that Churches and non-profits without any significant training and experience often do far worse than the government in their delivery of services to the poor.

    Although I do have to say that with the Republicans, many poverty issues aren’t even on their radar screen and priority list. Often their views have more in common with social Darwinism than Christianity.

  3. Is this a question of principle or of approach?

    One (Dobson) believes in voting for Obama based upon God’s revealed will. Another (Mohler) believes he cannot pray at Obama’s invocation based upon God’s revealed will. Both are correct in their understanding of God’s will revealed in His Word. God desires that Christians advocate and stand up for the oppressed and marginalized…whether they are poverty-stricken or unborn people. On principle, both are right.

    The question of approach is far more difficult. Is voting for someone who advocates for the materially poor but enhances the ability for the destruction of human life honoring to God? Is this not a bit like straining out a gnat yet swallowing a camel? (Matthew 23:23-24) The Pharisees tithed on their spices, but neglected the poor, and are called hypocrites by Jesus. Have we not simply gone one step further when we desire to help the poor (who lets face it, in this country are far wealthier than most people in Jesus’ day) yet neglect the sanctity of human life and the fact that all people, born and unborn, are created by God in His image?

    But consider the other side: Is refusing to pray for someone, regardless of what they stand for, honoring to God? If Jesus (and Stephen) could publicly pray for those who were executing them, should Christians not be willing to pray publicly for those who are enabling the execution of unborn children? Would not praying for such a person capture the heart of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43ff. Does refusing to stand up and pray publicly for a man with whom Dr. Mohler has disagreements genuinely honor the way Christ would compel us to act in this ministry of reconciliation He has given us?

    I understand, and am even sympathetic with where both leaders are coming from. In principle, I agree with both. But both approaches need serious and careful consideration in my book.

  4. I whole heartedly agree with Mohler and others who stand in firm separation from Obama. I will pray for him but I could not in good conscience align myself with him of his position.

    Thanks for the information.

  5. I think it’s obvious that people will stop arguing about abortion once they accept the
    SCIENTIFIC FACT that humans are a polygynous species meant to live in harems.
    I suggest you read ” Humans Belong in Harems (The Truth is Finally Out)” and ” But Is Harem Life Natural for Humans? “to find out the truth about human sexuality and reproduction.

  6. Paul:

    I read your website. I wonder how your wife feels about your views? If you are not married, do you find that your views help or hinder your dating life?

    Bryan:

    I agree with you, but I wonder if we can’t go beyond the subjectivity of conscience and ask what is the most appropriate Christian position.

    Joel:

    Thanks for your insights–I always learn much from your expertise in this area. I suspected that the issue about how best to help the poor was more complex than it seemed. I wonder when the poor benefited more, during Clinton’s term or Bush’s?

    Justin:

    Good points, as usual. But note that Mohler explicitly said that he will continue to pray for Obama, just not in a public ceremony that would seem to at least partially endorse his agenda, especially when that death dealing agenda will be set in motion soon afterwards.

  7. Thanks for the observation. I do appreciate Dr. Mohler’s willingness to pray for Obama but unwillingness to be associated with the “death dealing agenda.” It was for this reason I did not cite such passages as 1 Timothy 2 but instead focus on public prayers, particularly those of Jesus and Stephen.

    Let me come at the question in a slightly different way? Does praying for Obama necessarily associate one with the agenda? Is anyone thinking that Rick Warren supports Obama’s position on abortion?

    If the answer is no (as I believe it is), then what does refusing to pray for Obama accomplish on the level of conscience?

  8. Justin:

    I think that is the question. Warren obviously believes that his prayer would not be an endorsement of Obama’s agenda, while Mohler thinks that his would. I can understand the perspective of both men.

    Personally, I would not offer the invocation because of the larger issue of separation of church and state. While part of me likes having an evangelical pastor participate in an inauguration, I think that in the long run this will likely contribute to the civil religion which is so popular in America. Wouldn’t it be better for a pastor to say that his calling as the shepherd of Christ’s church is too important to risk being confused with the world’s most powerful government?

  9. While I do not believe such a prayer serves as an endorsement of a position, I whole heartedly agree with your analysis, end position, and Kuyperian approach aiming to maintain the sovereignty of the church and government in their respective spheres. Thank you for posing such an insightful question, allowing us to think through this issue!

  10. “Wouldn’t it be better for a pastor to say that his calling as the shepherd of Christ’s church is too important to risk being confused with the world’s most powerful government?”

    I can see where you are coming from here. Aligning ourselves overtly with a specific nation, especially one as influential and complexity laden as the US is not in the Church’s best interest, or in accordance with her mission to be a voice to (and when necessary against) the powers, not a voice that is co-opted by the powers.

    Outside of that issue though, I find myself sympathizing with Ed Dobson because first of all, praying with and for someone is something Christians always ought to be willing and eager to do. Praying with someone is not an endorsement of everything that person believes, and people should stop addressing Warren like that is what he is doing. It simply is not.
    I think abortion is abhorrent and tragic but this election was more complex than going “I’m pro-life so I’m voting Republican”, if we are truly pro-life in a larger sense than we should be concerned with the plight of the poor in our nation and around the world, with how our misuse of the planet affects the people who can least afford it, with AIDS and other diseases, with the civilians and others who die in wars, with global social justice issues, AND with abortion.
    Yes Obama is not where I would want him to be on abortion, but he was at least far closer to where I think our priorities should be on each of the other issues than the Republican ticket has become.

  11. During my 11 years in the government sector, however, it did give me warm, fuzzy feelings when I paid my taxes. But the government has taken on too many programs that are the responsibility of the Church and individual.

    I feel sorry for Ed Dobson. It appears that he is rebelling his days at Bob Jones University, Thomas Road Baptist Church – Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority… Who is he and what does he believe?

    What exactly are the duties of the Senior Vice President for Spiritual Formation at Cornerstone?

  12. We’re the salt of the earth. Just how will we be so in this instance- it could go either way, as I see it biblically. I would have trouble praying at an inauguration of a Republican president, such as President Bush’s because I see his agenda as troublesome in my understanding of how America will be judged in light of the kingdom of God come in Jesus. In some regards I’m much more comfortable with Obama than Bush at this time. But Jesus would bring discomfort all the way around.

    What is America basically if not a kind of quasi empire? Alot of my vote and conscience goes into addressing that, though along with the poor here and abortion. I have to say we should not be “at home” with either party, but I’m particularly an outcast and just can’t identify well with the Republican party. And I’m hoping that the Democratic 95/10 Initiative on abortion will end up reducing abortions as the “pro-life” on abortion Democrats have proposed.

  13. Let me add that this is my interpretation of, or the interpretation of what is happening which I buy. I know America does a lot of good in the world as well. But to do what we did in Iraq, killing so many tens of thousands of people and the way we did it, etc, etc, just doesn’t add up well to me at all.

  14. Let me ask a question to Ted. Would you have felt comfortable praying at any of the Clinton’s public functions when Bill was in office? 500,000 Iraqi children (according to the estimates from UNICEF) died as a result of the U.S. sanctions we put upon the Iraqi people when Clinton was trying to deal with Sadaam in the 1990’s (even more than the Iraqi war under George W. Bush). And of course we have Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stating on 60 minutes: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it. I find it troubling that certain Christians on the left protest any form of war, but virtually ignores policy decisions that also have a hand in the deaths of people. Please understand that I am not condoning the Iraqi war ( I personally did not find it measuring up to all of the Just War standards), but often many political decisions result in having to pick the lesser of the two evils. Was the Iraqi war a lesser of the two evils since U.S. sanctions earlier starved a half a million Iraqi children? What will Obama do when faced with foreign policy decisions such as this? Time will only tell……

  15. Joel,
    Have you read Ruby Payne’s book, “A Framework for Poverty”?
    I’d be curious as to your thoughts on the book. Feel free to email me if you want, or call me and we can get coffee.

  16. My question is which leader appears to be applying the principles found in Ephesians 5:15-17?

  17. It really is sad that on Christmas Day – the day that we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the front page headline was that of Dobson and his living the Jesus culture (works based) and voting for Obama – with voting record readily available online and a strong position on abortion.

    The media is eating this up and Dobson has become its stool pigeon, with the most recent interview on Good Morning America. Cornerstone has a link to the interview at its website (Is this to be taken as an endorsement?):

    http://www.cornerstone.edu/news/inside_cu/?news_ID=4426

    The drinks at the bar and who Dobson voted for are conveniently left out of the description. Coming from a family with a history of alcoholism, and a geographic area that struggled with drunkenness – this offends me greatly.

    Dobson has the look of a prophet – albeit a false one. I’ll side with Al Mohler.

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