Guest Post: Dr. Michael Farris

Dr. Michael Farris, the founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, posted in Facebook his exceptional explanation for how he came to a decision on how to vote in this current presidential election. Actually, what he outlines is a principled approach that I would recommend for all Christians and/or conservatives as we contemplate candidates. So often, we want perfection in our candidates, but that’s a rarity. I asked Dr. Farris if I could use his essay as my post today, and he graciously agreed.

As you read his explanation, you can see that he has a sharp legal mind—it comes to the forefront as he lays out the case step by step. I am deeply impressed by the logic of his writing and only wish I could be that clear as I try to persuade people to consider the things I write.

The essay is a little lengthy, but I predict that if you are honestly seeking answers, or if you are looking for a strong rationale for why you believe as you do, you will want to read it to the end.

Mike Farris: Principles for Christians as They Decide How to Vote

This has been the most unusual election season of my life. The chief reason for the difference is my very active participation in Facebookwhich has thrust me into a wide-ranging discussion (and sometimes heated debates) in a format that is very egalitarian in nature. I can only hope that I have contributed to others as much as I feel that my FB friends have contributed to me.

But because of my background, I have been asked countless times for my views about the various candidates. And during the primary process I was very open about my inability to support the front-runner Mitt Romney. In the context of a primary election, there is no doubt that I had to support someone who had views and a record much closer to my own views. I supported Rick Santorum.

But now it is general election time. And I have to say that I have been much slower to reach a decision regarding the General Election than any previous election in my lifetime. I have heard the arguments about the inappropriateness of choosing the lesser of two evils. I have taken these arguments very seriously.

I have spent as much time as I have had available thinking about the broader question: How should an American Christian make a decision in a general election? Asking the question this way helps to focus on both halves of the criteria that seem appropriate to me. There are factors which arise because I am a Christian and other factors that arise because I am an American. I look to both sets of factors.

First, and most importantly, I am a Christian. I need to do my very best to understand God’s standards from the Word of God. I reject the idea that God’s Word has nothing to say to us about voting. Proverbs 3:6 says: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” There is no exception to this rule for politics. All means all. God has something to say to the Christian about every aspect of his or her life.

In Hosea 8:1-4, God rebukes Israel for choosing Kings and Princes without His approval. And in Deuteronomy 7:14-et seq. God gives Israel the standards for choosing a King. God has something to say to us about our choices of political leaders.

But, even though I have been involved with the Christian-political world essentially on a full-time basis since 1980, and having read extensively in this area, I do not think that American Christian leadership has done a proper job of developing, justifying, and teaching a clear set of principles for this purpose from the Word. I have been tempted to develop my own set of principles. But, even though I think I could do a decent job on this point, I feel that it is arrogant for any individual Christian to attempt to speak in a normative way on this subject in an attempt to tell the whole Body of Believers what the correct standard is for making voting decisions. So I share with you my views but not with a claim that my views should control yours. Of all of the biblical conclusions I have reached about this election, I hold one view the strongest based on Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

I have to confess that I have lost patience with people who seek to batter other believers into accepting their views about this election. There are many who feel compelled by conscience to vote for Mitt Romney because the alternative is so frightful to consider. There are others, not as many (but very vociferous) who think that voting for the lesser of two evils is a grievous sin. And they have concluded as a matter of conscience that they cannot vote for him.

Here is my statement to both camps. Leave each other alone. If you want to tell people what you have chosen to do and why, that is perfectly acceptable. But, I view it as a sin for any of you to attempt to override the conscience of another believer by the sheer force of your will. That is what Romans 14:4 teaches. Accordingly, I am instituting an immediate policy of deleting any comment that appears to me to be a violation of this rule. (I will not come to your FB page and seek to enforce this rule. Your wall. Your rules. My wall. My rules. I will insist on civility.)

This election has caused me to understand that there is a difference between “endorsing” a candidate and voting for a candidate. Because of my leadership position, I have come to understand that there should be a very high standard that I should employ before I endorse a candidate. As you will see, I have come to look at candidates in one of four ways: 1. Those who are very supportive of my views. 2. Those who will listen to my views. 3. Those who are indifferent to my views. 4. Those who are openly hostile to my views.

In the past, I have tried more or less to only endorse candidates who are in the first category: those who are supportive of my views. I intend to follow this standard very rigorously from this point forward. Accordingly, I will make no endorsement for President in 2012. This does not mean that I intend not to vote. I will vote for a candidate for reasons I describe below.

There is no candidate in this race who is supportive of my views on my five most important issues. This includes third party candidates and the possibility of write-in votes. Part of the reason that I say this is that I view experience and leadership as biblical standards that are an important part of the calculus for a voting decision. Concerning elders the Bible says, “Lay hands on no man suddenly.” 1 Tim. 5:22. And concerning the selection of deacons, “They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve.”  I believe that it is appropriate to apply these standards by extension to candidates for political office. I want candidates who have been tested and who have the experience to perform the task at hand.

Other than the two major candidates, I have seen no one who claims to be running for president who meets the test of life preparation and experience to hold this weighty office.

This conclusion, however, does not necessarily mean that I will automatically vote for the “lesser evil” of the two remaining candidates. The idea of not voting for anyone is something that I have seriously considered.

This test is akin to the test of personal character that is applicable to church leaders and I believe is essential for the evaluation of political leaders as well. I realize that on the issue of personal character we have limited information for both Obama and Romney. There could be skeletons hiding in the closet for either or both of them. And in terms of their political lives, both men are subject to criticism for saying one thing and doing another. That matters. But, the area of character that is most visible to all of us is the marriage and family life of both men. In our society, marital faithfulness is passé for many. And giving some priority to your children is unfortunately rare.

In these areas, I would say that both men seem to be very good to their wives and their children. Whatever their other faults may be–and they are many–I have to say that I admire each of these men as it pertains to their family life.

Now we turn to the issue of the public policy positions of the candidates as measured by both their speeches and their records.

If perfection is our standard for the evaluation of policy issues, we will never find a candidate to fulfill our wishes. (Even I would not be perfect in the eyes of many since I hate chocolate and really don’t care for the Lord of the Rings movies.)

I have decided to evaluate the candidates based on the issues that are the most important to me using the four-standards I mentioned earlier. Take the issue of abortion, for example:

1. Does the candidate enthusiastically agree with my pro-life position?

2. Is the candidate willing to listen to my pro-life position and work with people like me to move in the right direction?

3. Is the candidate indifferent to my pro-life position?

4. Is the candidate openly hostile to my pro-life position?

If a candidate is in the 1st or 2nd group for all–or nearly all–of the issues that are most important to me, then I am willing to vote for such a candidate. If a candidate is in the 4th group (open hostility) for any of the positions that I hold to be most important, I would not be able to vote for such a candidate.

I admit that this is a pragmatic method of decision-making. But, I think that God tells us to use pragmatism in our long-range decisions. In Luke 14:28-30, the person building a tower was admonished to count the costs of the building project and to make sure that he had the money and materials to complete the project. The builder could have just trusted God to supply his needs. But, God does not praise that kind of presumption. He tells us to plan and to make sure that we have the materials to do the job. That is pragmatism.

This is not to say that pragmatism is the trump card for all matters–not at all. Rather, I read this passage (and others) to say that practical thinking has a role in these kinds of decisions.

Here are some of the components of my pragmatic assessment of the situation.

  • People who hold my worldview are not in the political majority.
  • Many who share my basic religious beliefs, have significant gaps in their worldview because of lack of training.
  • Many others have significant differences in their worldview because they have listened to voices that are not based on biblical presuppositions.
  • A great number of people who are likely to hold to the worldview that I believe are not registered to vote or, if registered, are indifferent to actually voting.
  • Christians, especially pastors, are responsible for these factors that have significantly diminished our potential influence in an election. If Christians were reaching our own with proper training and if our own actively participated, we would be a much more powerful force in politics.

We need to face the pragmatic fact that we are a minority. Thus, if we cannot make alliances with people who are open to working with us, then we are doomed to lose everything that is important to us.

As a dedicated minority group, we can accomplish our highest public policy goals if we are properly engaged in the rough and tumble world of coalition politics. Homosexuals are a tiny minority, yet they have had extraordinary political success by becoming an integral part of the liberal coalition. Homeschoolers are also a tiny minority and we also have had extraordinary political success by becoming an integral part of the conservative coalition.

Consider the relative success of these various components of the conservative movement:

  • The pro-life movement
  • The traditional marriage movement
  • The anti-pornography movement
  • The anti-tax movement
  • The anti-Federal Reserve movement
  • The anti-government debt movement
  • The homeschooling movement

The fact is that none of these causes, except one, have gained much ground. Homeschooling freedom has come a long, long way in the last 30 years. Accordingly, I think we need to look at this movement’s tactics to see what works.

It is pretty clear we have been successful because homeschoolers have been willing to work with two kinds of politicians: those who fully embrace the idea of homeschooling (i.e. homeschooling parents and graduates) along with those who will listen to homeschoolers and are open to working with us to advance our goals.

If we had demanded that every candidate become one of us in order for us to work with them, homeschooling would still be illegal in 47 states (according to the government officials) rather than being recognized as legal in all 50 states.

Political success comes when we work with: 1. Our kind of people and 2. Those who will listen to us and work with us. That is the only way that a minority group can ever succeed. And, again, we are a minority group on the broader range of issues that are important.

I wish we were the majority. But, we will have to tackle that problem on another day. For now, I will just say that it is going to take a revolution among pastors to turn our minority into the majority that we could become. (This revolution will require rethinking many things, the way we share the Gospel, the way we train our children, and the way we think about politics.) But for today, we are a minority and we have to act like a smart minority aiming for success rather than a misguided minority aiming for an all or nothing strategy. Before I turn to my analysis of the issues I have to face my own rather strident comments toward Mitt Romney during the primary process. Some may ask: What changed? Three things.

  • First, the Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare was a real surprise to me. I was convinced that it would go down to defeat and there was no chance that a new Congress would re-enact it. If this law is not reversed before it is fully implemented we will never rid ourselves of socialism.
  • Second, the Obama administration made a very strong attempt to pass the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, demonstrating an intention to fully enact the entire UN agenda. This is coupled with Mitt Romney’s strong position in opposition to this kind of use of international law. I cannot stress too strongly how important this is, at least to me.
  • Finally, I actually paid attention to the comments of my friends here on FB and elsewhere. I would have to say that the tenor of the comments meant as much to me as the substance. I became open to rethinking my views in light of these comments. And that rethinking has led me to address the two candidates on an issue by issue basis.

So, what are the issues that are the most important to me? I am going to share my list. I do not claim that your list should be exactly the same as mine.

1. Does the candidate support or oppose American self-government?

The reason that our Founders declared independence from England in 1776 was not because of religious liberty or tax policy; it was because they believed that the principle of American self-government was worth the risk of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Barack Obama is openly hostile to the principle of American self-government. He wants to seek ratification of every currently unratified UN treaty including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. These treaties would use international law to override American self-government on parental rights, abortion rights, homosexual rights, gun rights, and a host of other issues while fully mandating a robust socialist state. These policies are bad substantively. But, they are far worse when they are forced down our unwilling throats as a consequence of the primacy of international treaties.

Barack Obama’s hostility to American self-government makes all of his other bad policy positions seem like child’s play in my view. This is the biggest issue to me, and Obama is hostile to this central premise of American political life. He is strongly desirous of making America subject to the rule of international law under the UN.

Mitt Romney has told me in a one-on-one conversation that he fully agrees with my view that such UN treaties have no legitimate place in our legal system. He has sent me a personal, signed letter saying the same thing. This letter has been made public. There is nothing in his past to cause me to doubt his sincerity on this issue. So on this issue, I rate Mitt Romney as one of us, fully agreeing with our position. (This is the only issue where he gets this rating from me.)

2. The Right to Life.

Barack Obama is openly hostile to the right to life. He is absolutely committed to Roe v. Wade and the full support of Planned Parenthood. He will fight us every step of the way on this issue.

Mitt Romney has a checkered past on this issue. He claims that he has been converted to the pro-life position. I don’t feel convinced that he has fully converted. However, it is clear that he is talking pro-life talk and taking pro-life positions. I think he does this, at least in part, because he realizes that being perceived as pro-life is necessary for his political success. And I don’t think he thinks that it is just necessary to be pro-life until November of 2012. He wants to be re-elected. So, at a minimum, I think we can count on him to keep up this pragmatic approach until November of 2016.

This does not make Mitt Romney my enemy. I think it is fair to say that he is listening to pro-life people and wants to work with pro-life people. I give him a 2 on this issue. He is not one of us. But he listens and is willing to have us in his coalition and knows the necessity of advancing some of our pro-life priorities.

3. Marriage and same-sex issues.

Barack Obama again in open-war against our values on this issue. He could not be worse.

Mitt Romney has a very troubling record on this issue–so troubling that I have a difficult time believing that he is a 2 on this issue. He now says that he is against same-sex marriage. But his rhetoric and record is so mixed on homosexual rights issues that it is hard to know what to expect. But, he is not openly hostile to our agenda. I conclude that he is someplace between a 2 (listening to us) and a 3 (indifferent to us).

4. Religious freedom.

Barack Obama is batting four-for-four. He is an enemy of religious liberty. Only those religious groups that do not challenge his worldview should be allowed to have freedom. Pro-life religions are not tolerated. The name of Jesus cannot be prayed in military ceremonies. He is worse than any American president in history on this issue. Bill Clinton actually supported religious liberty. I would give Clinton a 1 on religious liberty (back when he was president, not now.) I give Barack Obama a 4. I do not mean to suggest that President Obama is actively rounding up Christians to arrest us for our views. However, there is a systematic pattern of favoring government power whenever religious people bump up against the politically correct thinking of the left by refusing to fund insurance for abortion services or by insisting on praying to Jesus as a military chaplain.

Mitt Romney supports religious liberty in a robust fashion today. Some people claim that some components of his record in Massachusetts demonstrate an indifference to our view. From what I know, these examples are pretty few in number. But, today he is saying all of the right things on this issue. Has he fully changed? I don’t know. If he had fully changed, I would give him a 1–being one of us–but, because of my doubts on his changes, I give him a 2–he listens to us and is open to advancing our viewpoint on religious liberty.

It is highly relevant to note that the LDS Church has an exemplary record on the issue of religious liberty for a long, long time. I think that Mitt Romney will listen to voices of religious liberty.

5. The Scope of Government (taxes, spending, etc.)

Barack Obama advocates a socialist state. Anyone who doubts this has never read or digested the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Obama not only wants government services for their own sake, he actively believes that the redistribution of wealth is the morally appropriate policy. He is an enemy of those who believe in a government based on liberty, not socialism.

Mitt Romney will spend way too much money and will promote programs at the federal level that properly belong to the states. But, unlike Barack Obama he does not believe in the redistribution of wealth as a moral imperative.

Accordingly, I give Obama a 4 on this issue and Romney a 3. He is indifferent to small, government conservative views on spending, but he is not an enemy of private property that is inherent in those who believe in the redistribution of wealth.

Those are my five issues. Obama is openly hostile to my views on all the things that I believe are the most important. Romney is one of us on the issue of American self-government and listens to us on most of the others and is truly indifferent to our views on only one.

With this in mind, am I giving into an improper “lesser of two evils” argument?

I don’t think so. Every election is a contest between two sinners, so it is always a question of the lesser of two sinners.

I think the more relevant analysis boils down to the question of whether both candidates are our enemies. If both are our enemies, then neither should get our votes. But, if one is clearly an enemy of our deeply-cherished values, and the other is (on average) open to listening to us and working with us, this is not merely the lesser of two people in the same category.

While he is not one of us, Mitt Romney is not our enemy. He wants us in his coalition. Barack Obama strongly opposes our most important values.

Only an all-or-nothing approach views these two choices as equivalent. All or nothing is not the way homeschoolers have achieved victory. And I aim for victory on the issues I believe in.

It is the American self-government issue that is the most important to me. If we retain American self-government we live to fight again on all the other issues. Obama is going to eliminate self-government through the use of UN treaties. I view this moment as do or die for American self-government.

I am going to vote for Mitt Romney.

However, I would say that if Mitt Romney gets elected president, it will be the job of every loyal American to make sure that he lives up to the promises he is making to us now. I am hopeful he will do the things he promises. But, I will be watchful and ready to call the alarm.