“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” — Psalm 15:1-5 (ESV)
A pastor says he is going to vote for the most righteous party….
I struggle with that statement for several reasons, but two in particular:
- There is no righteous political party. Politics, by definition, is the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. There can be nothing righteous about that.
- What does he actually mean when he says righteous? Decent, ethical, principled, moral, high-minded, are all synonyms, but those words don’t get at the Biblical definition.
To my mind there are two definitions of righteousness– human and Biblical. The human definition is the quality of being morally right or justifiable, followed by a listing of the synonyms above. I think we can reasonably expect our leaders to exhibit some of these characteristics–not all, of course, because no human is perfect. The trouble comes when we try to define what is morally right.
I’m old enough to remember this bumper sticker. (I might even confess to having it on one of my cars, but I’m also old enough to forget whether I actually did…) Anyway, the point is, I get it when people start arguing about the human definition of righteousness and what it is. We can get on swampy ground. Is it more righteous to ban abortions or tear apart immigrant families? Is obedience to the law more righteous than standing up against an unfair law? Is it more moral to call people names or actually listen to what they have to say? Okay, that last one was a trick question… Sorry.
So I went to my Holman Bible Dictionary for the biblical definition of righteousness: “…For Biblical authors, righteousness is the fulfillment of the terms of a covenant between God and humanity…Human righteousness in the New Testament is absolute faith in and commitment to God.”
To be honest, we cannot expect our political leaders to fulfill that biblical definition of righteousness. No one can — no human, no political party can have a claim on righteousness. Christ came to be righteousness for us because we cannot, as humans, manage even a bit of holy righteousness (see Romans 3:21-23). As Christians, we have to choose the best imperfect person for the job, and it isn’t always easy. You might want to read this article by Tim Keller on How Do Christians Fit into the Two-Party-System? They Don’t.
Yet we can expect human leaders to fulfill some of the human expectations of good leadership traits, even if we don’t/can’t/shouldn’t call it righteousness. In Ten Unique Perspectives on What Makes a Great Leader from Forbes magazine, these are some of the traits mentioned: Communication skills, Honesty, Humility, Courage, Self-sacrifice, Empathy, Respect for others, and Surrounding yourself with great people…
If you remember this photo op, you’ll remember that in a controversial move, the National Park police used tear gas to disperse the crowd of peaceful protesters in front of the White House, so he could walk across the street to a church and hold up a Bible. I’m not sure what he was trying to get across. That he believes in freedom of religion? That he believes in the Bible? That he thinks the Bible supports his ‘law and order’ ticket? That he likes his Christian supporters and wanted to pander to them? That he wasn’t hiding in the basement bunker of the White House, he was upstairs reading the Bible? Even when I try not to be cynical about this, I don’t get it. It offended many believers, including Rev. Robert Hendrickson whose words are below:
“…the moral vacuum that is now pretending to lead.” Whew!
We are all sinners. I am not suggesting otherwise. And if Donald Trump would repent from his sins, I might reconsider him. But no matter what viewpoint he tries to address, the weight of his sins, lack of righteousness, and dearth of simple leadership skills suck him into the swamp.
The former governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, (a Republican who was also the first Director of Homeland Security) just wrote an opinion article for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is voting for Joe Biden. I would highly recommend reading it in its entirety, but this sums it up:
Donald Trump has proven over these last four years he is incapable of such leadership. It is not within him. He lacks the empathy, integrity, intellect, and maturity to lead. He sows division along political, racial, and religious lines. And he routinely dismisses the opinions of experts who know far more about the subject at hand than he does — intelligence, military, and public health. Our country has paid dearly in lives lost, social unrest, economic hardship, and our standing in the world….
…Vice President Biden and I both know that supporting his candidacy now certainly won’t dissuade me from speaking out later when I disagree with him. But we surely will do so with civility and respect, not with childish name-calling and Twitter tirades. Joe Biden has the experience and empathy necessary to help us navigate not only the pandemic but also other issues that have fractured our nation, including social injustice, income inequality, and immigration reform.
Please do not give this man your vote. Our democracy depends on it.