I couldn't decide whether it was blasphemous or righteous, the church marquee's admonition to "Vote the Bible, not your conscience." Maybe to do a righteous thing, in this age, in this place, is to do what borders on blasphemy to a good many. This is inevitable when faith is leavened with practicality, and ideology conflated with holiness.
Maybe it's evidence of blessing that the Bible is not a clear guide to our political decision-making. In other words, there is no U.S. candidate who wants to mandate Baal-worship, or who seeks to annihilate the Jews. Our debates are about how quickly to abandon Iraq, and whether the government should throw money at fuel-efficient cars, and exactly how federal bureaucrats will next meddle about in health care and education. Important issues, to be sure, but anyone who says the Bible can explain whether we ought to have nationalized health care has lost sight of the forest while searching for a unicorn.
How then might one vote the Bible in America in 2008? I am on record regarding one issue that seems frightfully clear, the modern passing through the fire of infants, sacrificed not to Moloch but to Utility. Anyone who aligns himself with the cause of abortion has ceased to grasp Christian dogma.
But what beyond the obvious? The Christian might also attempt to anticipate secondary consequences of policies that seem to draw no immediate guidance from the Bible. How will people be brutalized in the Middle East as a long-term consequence of continued U.S. presence in Iraq, for example, versus the brutalization to occur upon a prompt retreat? Though the Bible doesn't offer an obvious answer, the Christian voter is not excused from thinking it through.
Yet I don't think considering the Bible will get many of us to change our political predispositions. Christians who don't want to pay more taxes to care for Mexican babies will not find a rebuke of their immigration stance in the Bible. Christians with a heart for immigrants will likewise not find themselves contradicted. Tax opponents will not see a rebuttal in any verse. Tax advocates can likewise avoid Biblical contradiction.
So perhaps the admonition to "Vote the Bible" is, in the end, an invitation to do exactly what we would have done otherwise. After all, most of us are skilled at choosing according to conscience, and afterward backstopping it with Bible verses. Rarer is the decision to change a belief-or even more radical, a deeply ingrained behavior-because of a sudden conviction that this verse we have breezed past for years was uttered for us, that it might slap us in the face where we sit with a cup of coffee having our daily devotion, or teaching our Sunday school class, or simply browsing these Scriptures that have become so familiar that we forget sometimes they weren't just written for other people.
It must be embraced nonetheless, sinful though we are, prone as we are to reading the Bible so that it comports with our preconceived ideologies, our sectional predispositions, our quiet assurance of our own righteousness. Cast aside what you think you know is right, the church marquee urges, and consider the God-breathed Word. Give yourself over to it and these seemingly large things-tax rates, economic growth, wars, and rumors of wars-will diminish. Meanwhile, those seemingly small things-the anger in our hearts when we, say, confront someone whose ideology we dislike or the fact that we find it so much easier to spend time with those we like rather than those who need us-will become grievous to our spirits.
This is the Word that cuts through every heart, through the very heart of darkness, illuminating the world as it is and will be. Beside it every politician ever born is remarkably inconsequential. Our business on Election Day is brief, and regardless of who wins our work remains the same-seeking and serving the lost, losing our own lives in the doing, and clinging to the Cross that shatters nations, tribes, and creeds.