Should Christians Vote in General Election 2016?

election-2016As has been well said, “If we don’t legislate morality, someone else will legislate immorality.” Thus, as Christians, we ought not to abdicate our responsibility to vote. It is so important for us to seize every opportunity that our voice might be heard, offering a clarion call to a culture that is devolving before our very eyes.

Western civilization was built on the DNA of the Bible. But we now stand in the shadow of the Bible. Indeed, we stand on the cusp of a civilization that is either poised for ruin or ready for revival. And you, not pagans, are the deciding factor.

Pagans adequately exercise their job description—that of being pagan. The question is, are you exercising your job description—that of being an ambassador for Christ? “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,” said Paul, “as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Truth is, most of us have failed in our ambassadorial commission. We remain secret agents who have never blown our cover within a lost and dying empire.

Our challenge is to build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering darkness; to be change agents in the culture rather than a microcosm of the culture; to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) rather than conformed to the culture.

Make no mistake: we will either drift into the spiritual malaise of a biblically bankrupt Europe, or we will experience revival like that of the persecuted church in China. You will ultimately be the difference-maker—not as an individual but as a member of the body of Christ.

And tomorrow, in General Election 2016, because the reality is that someone’s morality will be legislated, we have the opportunity to help ensure it is legitimate morality, grounded in the Christian worldview.

For further study, see the articles at equip.org, “The Christian Citizen” and “Is Legislating Morality Biblical?

Christian Research Institute


Are There Limits to Religious Free Exercise?

Beckwith, Francis-Religious Free Exercise

This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 28, number 5 (2005). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to:  http://www.equip.org. The full text of this article in PDF format can be obtained by clicking here.

Religious freedom is one of the fundamental liberties in American constitutional jurisprudence. It was placed first in the text of the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights (1790): “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This indicates that the religion clauses were solely intended to limit the law‐making power of Congress and not any other branch of the state or federal governments. Beginning in the early‐twentieth century, however, the Supreme Court began applying the First Amendment in a piecemeal fashion to all governments in the United States through the Fourteenth Amendment (1868). They did so by means of an interpretative technique called incorporation: because the Fourteenth Amendment refers to “liberty” that a state government should not abridge without due process of law, and because a state citizen is also a U.S. citizen, the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the liberties found in the Bill of Rights, including religious liberty.

Current Jurisprudence and the Limits of Religious Liberty. Are there limits to this liberty? Should fundamentalist Mormons receive the state’s official approval for their polygamous unions? Ought the government allow Muslim citizens to operate under Sharia law, or Christian theonomists under “biblical law”? Should these groups be allowed to operate contrary to, or independent of, the law of the land?

It is important to recognize that some laws in fact include exemptions. For example, soon after the Supreme Court denied the right of Native American religionists in Oregon to be exempted from the state’s narcotics laws that prohibited the smoking of peyote (Employment Division v. Smith [1990]), the state legislature changed its drug laws to include a religious exemption. In addition, the Supreme Court has allowed religious exemptions to generally applicable laws. For example, in the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Court, employing the free exercise clause, carved out an exemption to the state’s mandatory school attendance law and allowed Amish students to opt out after eighth grade. The Court reasoned that since the Amish community has a stellar record of rearing its children, the state had to prove that it had a compelling interest in abridging the free exercise rights of Amish parents. The Court concluded that Wisconsin failed to meet this burden.

In Yoder, the burden was on the state to provide really good reasons for not allowing the Amish to educate their children consistent with their own religious tradition. In Smith, the Court shifted the burden from the state to the person who was suing the state. So, all the state had to show in Smith was that its law is generally applicable (i.e., it applies to all citizens similarly situated) and neutral (i.e., it does not single out or target a specific religious practice). The fact that the law impeded a group’s religious liberty was an incidental result of the law, and thus the law could not be declared unconstitutional simply for that reason.

So, under the Court’s current understanding of religious free exercise, as long as a law is generally applicable and neutral, all the state needs is a rational basis (i.e., any remotely plausible reason) for a law that forbids or limits the practices of religious polygamists, theonomists, Muslims committed to Sharia, and others.

Free Exercise as a Dead Letter. The problem with this understanding is that it seems to make the free exercise clause a dead letter. That is, with the exception of a blatant case of the government targeting a religion, a jurist can never effectively employ the free exercise clause to overturn generally applicable laws that are neutral but nevertheless limit or totally inhibit a citizen’s religious free exercise. Many citizens think that the government ought not permit polygamists, theonomists, or Muslims to have their own legal system that is parallel to, and not under the authority of, U.S. or state law; but they also think that the government should have a greater burden in justifying its laws if those laws encumber one’s religious free exercise.

Take, for example, Catholic Charities v. State of California Department of Managed Health Care (2004). Under California’s Women’s Contraception Equity Act, all employers in the state who offer their employees coverage for prescription drugs must also provide coverage for contraceptives. Catholic Charities (CC) did not want to provide contraceptive coverage as part of its prescription drug coverage because Catholic moral theology forbids the use of artificial contraception. Even though the law allowed for “religious exemptions,” the exemptions were defined in such a way that they did not protect organizations like CC. These groups are religious in their origin, affiliation, and mission, but fall outside the scope of these exemptions because they employ and provide care for many outside their faith and do not engage in evangelism or preaching. When before the California Supreme Court, CC argued, among other things, that these exemptions were written in such a way that CC’s free exercise rights were violated because it defined for CC and similar groups what counted as state‐defined religious practice. Appealing to Smith, the Court rejected CC’s case and ruled that the organization had to provide its employees with “benefits” that are used for purposes that CC’s moral theology teaches are sinful.

The sole dissenter was Justice Janice Rogers Brown, who offered this blistering analysis:

Here we are dealing with an intentional, purposeful intrusion into a religious organization’s expression of its religious tenets and sense of mission. The government is not accidentally or incidentally interfering with religious practice; it is doing so willfully by making a judgment about what is or is not religious. This is precisely the sort of behavior that has been condemned in every other context. The conduct is hardly less offensive because it is codified….This is such a crabbed and constricted view of religion that it would define the ministry of Jesus Christ as a secular activity.

Here’s the problem: how do we protect the religious liberty of groups like Catholic Charities while allowing the government to pass apparently good laws that do restrict the religious practices of others? I believe that the answer lies in the American Founders’ understanding of religious free exercise.

The Founders, Free Exercise, and Its Limits. America’s founders were wise enough to understand that religious freedom could not be limitless. They also understood that this precious liberty should not be restricted unless the state could provide good reasons why these restrictions are justified. This is why the wording of free exercise provisions in state constitutions at the time of the founding of America typically allowed for the limitation of religious liberty if the prohibited actions would interfere with some aspect of the community’s good. New York State’s Constitution (1777) is typical in this regard: “The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed, with this State, to all mankind: Provided, That the liberty of conscience, hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.”

The reasoning is similar to what the Supreme Court employed in 1878 when it rejected the argument of Mormons that the free exercise clause protected their religious practice of plural marriage. In 1862, the U.S. Congress had passed the first of several antipolygamy statutes for the purpose of stopping the growing population of practicing Mormon polygamists in Utah. Because Utah was a U.S. territory at the time, the federal government had jurisdiction over Utah, and thus the First Amendment of the federal constitution could be applied to the antipolygamy statutes. (Today, because of incorporation, it would not matter whether it was a state or federal statute.)

In Reynolds v. United States (1878) the Court rejected the Mormons’ free exercise argument on the grounds that even though “Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion,…[it] was left free to reach actions [such as polygamy] which were in violation of social duties or subversive to the public good.” What the Court meant by this is that certain institutions and ways of life, such as marriage and the family, are essential to the preservation of civil society. The government may craft its laws in such a way that certain practices receive a privileged position in our social fabric, and actions contrary to them should be prohibited or at least discouraged, even if they have religious sanction. Such practices as polygamy, same‐sex marriage, adult incest, and child sacrifice, therefore, may be forbidden even if they arise from a religious understanding of the world; for they are actions that are deleterious to the public good.

On the other hand, the public good is undermined when citizens are forced to choose between the law and their religious practices when those practices do not undermine, and may very well advance, the public good. For example, when the Supreme Court in Yoder gave a free exercise exemption to the Amish, the public good was advanced. When Catholic Charities was forced by the California Supreme Court to pay for its employees’ contraceptive use, however, CC was literally required to underwrite sexual practices that are overtly hostile to its own theological understanding, an understanding that is integral to a well‐established tradition in moral philosophy. This ruling runs counter to the public good.

The Courts should return to the reasoning of the founders. It is a reasoning that allows for the widest possible religious free exercise consistent with preserving and protecting the public good. This, of course, will not eliminate debates on controversial questions over which reasonable citizens disagree. What it will do is provide us with a conceptual framework that puts teeth back into the free exercise clause while reintroducing us to the language of natural law, one that places a premium on the government’s obligation to protect the intrinsic dignity of the person and advance the public good.

— Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is associate professor of Church-State Studies, and associate director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Baylor University.

In the News

Concerning My Recent Travel to Iran…because Truth matters

In an age in which internet fabrications travel half-way around the world before truth has had a chance to put its boots on, the apostle Paul’s words ring through the centuries with added urgency: “Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). As the waist is the center of your body, so truth is central to the full armor of God. Without the belt of truth, the covering that protects you from the devil’s schemes simply crumbles to the ground and leaves you naked and vulnerable. Truth, like all other pieces of the armor of God, is in actuality an aspect of the very nature of God himself. Thus, to put on the belt of truth is to put on Christ—for Christ is “truth” (John 14:6). And Christians are called to be bearers of truth.

As Os Guinness has so wonderfully explained, Christianity is not true because it works (pragmatism); it is not true because it feels right (subjectivism). It is not true because it’s ‘my truth’ (relativism). It is true because it is anchored in the person of Christ. Thus, “The Christian faith is not true because it works; it works because it is true. It is not true because we experience it; we experience it—deeply and gloriously—because it is true. It is not simply ‘true for us’; it is true for any who seek in order to find, because truth is true even if nobody believes it, and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it.”

Unfortunately, I’ve recently encountered further personal examples of how the internet can be used as a means of propagating falsehood.  

FALSE ACCUSATION: Hank Hanegraaff joins Occupy Wall Street and Muslims in anti-Israel conference in Tehran, Iran.

TRUTH: First, I have never joined or, for that matter, endorsed Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I have simply defined it as spontaneous activism fueled by social media.  Instead of blaming the government for social ills, OWS is bent on blaming the prosperous. Instead of awakening the political right, as the Tea Party did, OWS appeals to the political left who want equal distribution of wealth. I communicated my doubts that the OWS movement would have staying power. Although the Tea Party’s message is codified in two words, “smaller government,” which is comprehensible and can serve to galvanize a following, by contrast OWS’s message seems unclear: Are the banks to blame? Is it Wall Street? Is it Failed bureaucracies? Is it Capitalism?  As former President Bill Clinton said when interviewed by Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel, “They knew what they were against, but they didn’t quite know what they were for….They had a vision. They had no program and they had no organized political party. That’s the problem that the Occupy Wall Street people have.”

Furthermore, rather than joining Muslims at what is being characterized on the Internet as an anti-Israel conference, at both the University of Tehran and Allameh Tabatabai University I publicly opposed the radical socialist views of Imam Abdul Alim Musa of The Islamic Institute for Counter Zionist American Psychological Warfare.

Finally, I should also note that I engaged in spirited debate with Rabbi Weiss, whose calling card contains the moniker, “Pray for the speedy, peaceful dismantlement of the State of Israel.” From his perspective, the Jews were exiled for covenant unfaithfulness and therefore the notion of Zion prospering is reserved for the coming of a future messianic figure. While I strongly disagreed with the rabbi’s anti-Israel stance, I think he would readily agree that I engaged him with gentleness and with respect, in both public and private communications.

FALSE ACCUSATION: Hank Hanegraaff is a “Jew-hater.”

TRUTH: This is a patently false and slanderous accusation. I am against racism in any form. Far from facilitating race-based discrimination on the basis of eschatological presuppositions, Christians must be equipped to communicate that Christianity knows nothing of dividing people on the basis of race. Just as evangelicalism now universally repudiates the once-common appeal to Genesis 9:27 in support of slavery of blacks, we must thoroughly and finally put to rest any thought that the Bible supports the horrors of racial discrimination wherever and in whatever form we encounter it, whether within the borders of the United States or in the hallowed regions of the Middle East. Indeed, during WWII, my family was devoted heart and soul to the Dutch Resistance Movement, refusing to give in to either racial discrimination against Jews or the Nazification of the populous.

Furthermore, as delineated in my book The Apocalypse Code, I am anything but anti-Israel and consistently oppose anti-Semitism: “There is no precedent for supposing that God favors Jews over Palestinians or vice versa. At the end of the day, our heavenly Father is not pro-Jew—he is pro-justice; He is not pro-Palestinian, he is pro-peace. In fact, the priceless material with which our feet are fitted for readiness in battle ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12) is nothing less than a gospel of peace that works inexorably toward justice and equity. Only a gospel of peace and justice through faith in Jesus Christ is potent enough to break the stranglehold of anti-Semitism and racism fueled in part by bad theology. This is made explicit through a vision to unclean food that Peter experienced in Joppa. Only after he encountered the gentile centurion Cornelius did Peter fully comprehend the import of the vision. ‘I now realize how true it is’ said Peter ‘that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:34–35).” 

Finally, I am not anti-Israel; I am anti-Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism supposes that the Jews are going to be herded back in the Holy Land where two-thirds will be killed. Christian Zionism is not only anti-Semitic with respect to the Palestinians, it is detrimental in that the Jews are going to suffer for the sins of their fore-fathers.

As I pointed out in The Apocalypse Code,

The Dispensationalists’ theory of two peoples of God has had chilling consequences not only for Jews, but for Palestinian Arabs as well. Unlike early dispensationalists, who believed that the Jews would be regathered in Palestine because of belief in their Redeemer, Many contemporary Dispensationalists hold to the theory that Jews must initially be regathered in unbelief solely on the basis of race. Such unbiblical notions put Christian Zionists in the untenable position of condoning the displacement of Palestinian Christians from their homeland in order to facilitate an occupation based on unbelief and racial affiliation.

The tragic consequence is that Palestinians today form the largest displaced people group in the world. As Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, explains, “Israeli historians now talk about the mass and planned expulsion of the Palestinians, an early form of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ The most troubling national confession has been the destruction of at least four hundred Palestinian villages, the ruin of dozens of Arab urban neighborhoods, and several massacres that would motivate the Arab population to flee.” If America required people of African descent to carry special ID cards or to leave the country to make way for people of European ancestry, we would be condemned as a nation that promoted racism and apartheid. Attempting to justify our actions on the basis of biblical proscriptions is even more unthinkable. Says Burge, “Any country that de facto excludes a segment of its society from its national benefits on the basis of race can hardly qualify as democratic.”

This is precisely why Zionism has been labeled a racist political philosophy. As Burge notes, “In 1998, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel accused the government of race-based discrimination and ‘creating a threatening atmosphere that makes violations of human rights more acceptable.’”

As a closing thought, may I simply say that while the lack of discernment and civility displayed on the internet is astonishing, it becomes all the more appalling when those who claim Christianity propagate that which is untrue in an unloving fashion.  

—Hank Hanegraaff

In the News

What Does the Mormonism of Mitt Romney Have to Do with the Ballot Box?

In a Los Angeles Times op-ed column entitled “A Religious ‘Test’ for Mitt Romney,” Tim Rutten ranted against objections raised against support for the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney run for the presidency on the basis of Mormon beliefs as a “dangerous turn in American politics.” Whether it be Warren Cole Smith’s warnings about how a person’s worldview beliefs would influence one’s values and behavior, or Sarah Palin and Catholic archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput’s criticisms against John F. Kennedy’s paradigm for looking at candidates and their religions, Rutten finds that such analysis threatens “the Constitution’s ban on religious test for office.”

Christians are to understand that there is a great divide between Christianity and the Mormonism of Mitt Romney. Mormon beliefs are clearly antithetical to a biblical worldview. Hank Hanegraaff, in the Complete Bible Answer Book, offers a helpful synopsis under the section entitled “Is Mormonism Christian?” Also recommended is Hank’s resource The Mormon Mirage: Seeing Through the Illusion of Mainstream Mormonism.

It is true that beliefs determine values and behavior (please see “What We Think, What We Believe, How We Act” by Gretchen Passantino), so the political candidate’s faith (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, atheism, etc.) does indeed contribute to his or her polices; however, a political candidate’s religious belief is not necessarily the game changer at the ballot box, and there are many other factors to take into consideration in a biblically sound and robust voting strategy (please see “Wise as Serpents: Christians, Politics, and Strategic Voting” and “Is it Permissible for a Christian to Vote for a Mormon?” by Francis J. Beckwith). Ultimately, the Christian must consider whether or not it is possible for churches to support non-Christian political candidates to bring about positive changes in legislation for the common good.

—Warren Nozaki, Research

Journal Topics

The Christian Citizen

Although the Bible says little about how Christians should be involved with politics, it seems to me that there are principles found in Scripture that can help us to think more clearly about the question. For example, we are told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Does that refer only to their eternal souls? Apparently not, since even a casual reading of the Gospels shows our Savior tying Christian virtue to practical action on behalf of one’s neighbor. The parable of the Good Samaritan is perhaps the most forceful illustration offered by Christ. But today, of course, the issues that drive many Christians to political action are contentious moral issues such as on abortion and the nature of marriage. What does it mean to love our neighbor when it comes to those issues? Does it mean that we do not employ the resources of law to make sure our neighbor is not harmed? For instance, in abortion, a tiny neighbor, the unborn child, is killed. Ought we to protect him? He is, after all, our neighbor too. And in the case of marriage, if the government were to allow same-sex marriage everywhere, and if opposing it is equivalent to visceral bigotry (as the opponents of prop 8 claim), would this not put Christians and their churches in the crosshairs of marginalization and persecution, simply because they believe that the basic good of conjugal love may only be actualized in the marriage of a man and a woman? But isn’t it essential to a liberal society such as ours to allow citizens to disagree on matters of sexual morality without condemning one faction as mere bigots? Thus, does that mean that liberals who condemn opponents of same-sex marriage as bigots are, ironically, illiberal?

Francis J. Beckwith Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, and Resident Scholar in the Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University. He is the author of many books including Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (InterVarsity Press, 2010). His feature article, “The Christian Citizen” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 3 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). To read the full article, please subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription

Francis Beckwith will be joining Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast on May 31, 2011! Tune in at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org!

Journal Topics

Christians and Politics

As the 2012 election cycle starts to ramp up, the Christian Research Journal is a vital tool that will equip you to practice your faith in the public square. Back in 2007 Christians wondered if it was permissible for them to vote for a Mormon candidate. CRI does not address political issues but we do provide reasons for Christian faith and ethics. This includes encouraging Christians to take their faith to the public square. In a Viewpoint Op-Ed published in the Christian Research Journal, Francis J. Beckwith gave his opinion on If It Is Permissible for a Christian to Vote for a Mormon Candidate. In 2008 we published an article that gave Christians tips on: How to Engage in Politics without Losing Your Soul. And that same year we also challenged believers how to consider Christian ethics at the ballot box and published an op-ed by Doug Groothuis on why the pro-life issue still maters. You won’t want to miss out on the upcoming feature article (Volume 34 #3) by Francis J. Beckwith about what it means to be a “Christian Citizen” in our May/June issue of our journal. Please subscribe to the Christian Research Journal to read Beckwith’s in-depth reasons why: “Although the Bible does not say much about the role of a Christian citizen and his relationship to the state, Scripture does communicate to us certain principles that provide us with insight on the scope of a Christian’s responsibility in a liberal democracy.”

Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor, Christian Research Journal

For Further Study:

Booklet for a Donation The Mormon Mirage: Seeing Through the Illusion of Mainstream Mormonism

Book Mormonism 101

DVD Bible vs. the Book of Mormon

Mormonism Tool Kit

Book Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons