Character v. Policy

Some friends of mine engaged in a political conversation on the Twitter a couple of months ago. Two things were said in the course of the conversation that have stuck with me. (But not with the Twitter apparently; the conversation was gone when I went looking for it this morning.)

  1. “Vote for the policies, not the person.”
  2. “But you have to respect the office, it says so in the Bible.” (emphasis mine)

There are many issues with the first statement. We’ll start with the implication that you can separate the two, that a person, their character, is totally separate from their policies. It doesn’t take much life observation to know that’s not just incorrect, it’s nonsense.

What did that scorpion tell the frog after he stung it halfway across the river? It’s my nature! It’s who I am. In short, “my policies are a direct result of my character.” Where do our decisions come from? They come from who we are, our character. If our character is corrupt, our decisions are going to be also. This is also why the “it doesn’t matter what the CEO does in his/her private life” is also a bunch of hooey (closely related to “nonsense”). If someone cheats and lies in their private life, guess what: they’ll cheat and lie in their professional life.

There are examples of this all over Scripture, but to keep this post a reasonable length, we’ll just call two Sauls. The Old Testament Saul was the same selfish, self-centered person after he was king as he was before he was king, and his policies while he was king showed it. He would have killed his own son just because he (Saul) made a stupid policy decision. He spent years trying to kill the person God anointed to succeed him. His (bad) character drove his (bad) policies.

The New Testament Saul, who we know better as Paul, was also the same driven, zealous, single-minded person after the road to Damascus as he was before. He believed in God, He followed God, He fought for God. Or so he thought; discovering he was fighting against God was a life-upending shock, but his life after God saved him reflected the same driven, zealous, single-minded focus he had before. What Paul did came from who Paul was.

Next, “vote for the policies, not the person” is what is said when defending the person’s character is no longer viable, usually (always) because it can’t be defended. As in, “this person’s character is awful, I better try to shift the discussion elsewhere.” History (and human nature) is unanimous, though: bad people don’t make good policies. And please, don’t bother trying to cherry-pick: it’s possible for a broken clock to be right twice a day, but the clock is still broken. You can’t trumpet how awesome the clock is those two minutes and completely ignore the other 1438.

For the second statement, it’s never a good idea to try to use the Bible to defend a political position. First, God’s word, and God, don’t really care about your political position. Second, it almost always backfires, because everyone has a tendency to only look at what agrees with their position.

I don’t necessarily know where in the Bible the person was referring,1 but my guess is it was where everyone goes when they want blind obedience to the state, which is Romans 13:1–7. We’ll ignore how many of the people quoting those verses cheat on their taxes (that would be called “irony”). We’ll also ignore the same people who quote those verses are usually the first to trumpet that we’re a “Christian nation,” but according to those verses our nation was started in rebellion against God, which would make it hard to be considered “Christian.”

As I said, it’s generally not a good idea to try to prop up your political position with the Bible. But to finish this one off, let’s look at an example from that self-same Bible, and from the self-same person who wrote Romans 13. In Acts 23, Paul is under Roman “protection” before the Sanhedrin. After being struck by one of the high priest’s goons, Paul calls him (the high priest) a “whitewashed wall.” I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s “respecting the office.” (And before you quote verse 5, you should go learn about a little something we call “sarcasm.”)

The discussion that led to this post was relatively mild-mannered, as political discussions go in 2020. But since we only have about week-and-a-half to the election, let’s try something radical. Let’s stop talking. And reading. And watching. And listening. All you’re doing at this point is trying to find things to agree with the position you’ve already decided on. (The “undecideds” are a myth, like good-tasting no-fat ice cream and “Jerry Jones is a great owner.”)

Let’s spend a week-and-a-half praying, asking God what He wants us to do come election day. Put aside everything else, our opinions, our biases, our opinions, and just ask Him what He wants. The problem today is that we have too many inputs. Let’s eliminate all but One. Are you (and I) willing to do whatever He says? Let’s find out.

Before we do, let’s remember another group who said they would do “whatever God told them to do, pleasant or unpleasant.” In Jeremiah 42–43, some of the remnant (Babylon had conquered Israel by this time) came to Jeremiah and asked him to pray for them, that God would tell them “the way we should walk and the thing that we should do.” They insisted they would do whatever it was, good or bad. Jeremiah came back after ten days (the number of days until the election) and told them they were to stay put and not to be afraid of the Babylonian king.

They fumed and sputtered and insisted Jeremiah was lying and they “did not obey the voice of the Lord.” It did not end well for them. (If this sounds familiar, I’m sure it’s because I’ve written about it before.)

God does not care about your political position, or mine. He cares about His glory, and He’s the only one who knows the future and how that is best accomplished. Let’s stop assuming, like the above group, that we know better. Let’s just do a very simple thing—pray and ask Him what to do. But we have to lay everything else aside when we do it, and we have to be willing to do whatever He says. Are you willing to do that?

We should be—this one actually is in the Bible. (Matt 7:21, Matt 12:50, Luke 11:28, John 8:31, John 15:14, and on and on.)

  1. If you’re going to try to use the Bible to reinforce your position, you should at least know where in the Bible you’re allegedly quoting.

One thought on “Character v. Policy

  1. Attaboy, Vince. You are the man.
    To quote Anne Lamott: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

    You might appreciate John Piper’s essay from Oct. 22 at, entitled, Policies, Persons and Paths to Ruin.”


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