Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hey, Forget that Last Post.

Bob Jones III just endorsed Romney.

Here's perhaps the key comment:
Asked whether Romney’s religion was a stumbling block for him, Jones replied, "What is the alternative, Hillary’s lack of religion or an erroneous religion?"
I think I get Jones' point here, and I think it's true politically, in the sense that he intended it. Theologically? Not so much.


Bruce said...

Somebody help me understand. What's the point of a "high profile" Christian leader's endorsement like this one?

Some possible good reasons:
1. Christians need their leaders to help them in determining who they should vote for.
2. A key leader can rally many votes to a worthy cause.

Okay, except this means Christian voters are either incapable of making this decision on their own, or that their vote only matters if it can be brought into line with the "party" to secure a win.

Some possible bad reasons:
1. It is an ego trip for the endorser.
2. It buys some influence later on if your man gets elected.

These are lethal to the kingdom interests of the Church, both in the way that the wider public views the church and the way that Christians view themselves.

I agree with Martin Luther that it would be better to have a competent pagan as a government official than it would be to have an incompetent Christian, but this "we're talking about a president, not a pastor" does not fit Luther's point. Jones did not make the claim that Romney is the most competent candidate, or that Huckabee or any other candidate is incompetent, but simply that he believes Romney has a shot against Hillary Clinton and the others do not.

If Christian leaders so fear/loathe Sen. Clinton that they are willing to endorse a more electable candidate over another who more closely aligns with their perspective on the issues, then the endorsement tells the public that Christians are a constituency, a political interest group. It will tell Christians that we are not looking for another kingdom.

Of course, this is also about Rudy Guiliani. Apparently this is timed so that Christian voters in the Republican primaries are not spread out over several pro-life candidates, allowing Guiliani, the social "moderate," to stroll into the nomination. Okay, fine, but I still wish Christians would just stay out of the endorsement game.

I'm curious... since I've never been a part of BJU Nation, just how many votes does BJ3 supposedly deliver? How about when his choice is controversial to his own constituency?

Does the fact that this is being mentioned in major news outlets (WSJ, Fox News, etc.) reflect any respect for or actual political clout of BJ3 and BJU, or does it simply show the mainstream media's tendency to latch onto the the lightning rods of conservative Christianity (e.g., Robertson, Falwell, etc.)?

One more thing...
If Fundamentalists see the desire for respect, influence, pull, a-place-at-the-table as the sin of the Neo-Evangelicals, how is this different?

Don Johnson said...

You know, Bruce, your whole post is based on a faulty premise. There are many more possible reasons for an endorsement than the ones you cite.

It is obvious why Romney or anyone else might wish to court a BJIII endorsement. I think Dr Bob has also been fairly candid about his reasons for the endorsement as you noted later in your post.

I am curious what your alternative would be. Is Dr Bob wrong to endorse anyone at all? Is Dr Bob only wrong because you don't agree with this particular endorsement?

It seems to me that Americans, Christian or no, have a right to endorse or not endorse whoever they like and a right to try to influence others to vote the same way. What is wrong with that?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bruce said...

There may indeed be reasons beyond the ones I cited, and I'd be happy to have them included in the discussion. For the moment, I will consider the ones mentioned in the linked articles.

The reason(s) given by Jones and Taylor for their endorsement were to influence Christians to vote for a candidate who is, in their minds, sufficiently moral and sufficiently electable, so as not to lose Hillary Clinton. I did question their rationale, but even moreso the appropriateness of any recognized Christian leader publicly endorsing any particular candidate.

Questioning Rationale
I do believe that a Christian could vote for Romney, and I can see it being possible that he might be the best candidate. It’s not that I’m against Romney, or that I think Christians should only vote for Christians-- I’d just like to hear them make their case on the basis of some real issues that differentiate him from other candidates. From the current field of candidates, why would Romney make the best president? Because there are other candidates who are similarly conservative on social issues, it really comes down to the pragmatism of “beating Hillary,” which is a poor substitute for real principles and conviction.

Because we’re still approaching the primaries, we are not yet forced into a choice of the lesser of two evils. Jones and Taylor have gone there, I believe, too soon.

Questioning Endorsement
I have no problem with someone choosing a candidate and telling others one’s preference, even with a desire to influence their vote toward the same conclusion. If I tell my friends and associates that I am supporting Candidate X, along with my reasons for doing so, that is one thing. But if I go to the media to announce “my candidate,” then I communicate that I believe there are people who want to know my choice or should hear my choice because I am an authoritative voice. Otherwise, why listen to me instead of somebody else making the same arguments? This is problematic when one’s authority and standing has come through Christian ministry. This is why, as a pastor, I should limit my public, and perhaps even private, political talk to issues and candidates, short of endorsement. I’m not sure one can influence a person to vote for Romney by talking about issues alone.

When someone like James Dobson or Bob Jones endorses a candidate, particularly when they take pains to announce it to the press, they are not merely informing others of their preference, they are using their social capital that they have earned by virtue of being some sort of “Christian authority,” and that’s where it gets messy. It ends up not simply as, “I like Romney the best,” but more of a blessing, at least, or a moral imperative, at worst. Even more frighteningly, in fundamentalist circles, where there is much more respect and submission to high profile leaders, this is a dangerous thing. Making a public endorsement can come off as, “I have a significant following, and those who are with me should join me in backing this candidate, because he is the right candidate” not simply the best one of those available, which as I’ve said above, is debatable.

Don Johnson said...

Well, whatever...

I don't have a problem with the BJ folks making an endorsement, you apparently do. So that's fine.

For a bit more on Dr. Taylor's viewpoint, you can read a transcript of an interview with him by Hugh Hewitt yesterday here.

I hope that link works, otherwise go to hughhewitt.townhall.com and scroll down a few items to find it.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


I think you've articulated much better than I would have my reservations with these kinds of mixtures of faith and politics. My interest in these posts has had more to do with what many people will consider a surprise that BJU folks would endorse a Mormon. It actually shouldn't be a surprise, as I tried to point out in my first post.

I wouldn't want to assume that Jones has not thought more deeply about Romney vs. other candidates than this article suggests. Sometimes nuanced arguments in conversations with news media are even worse than over-simplified sound bites.

Your most interesting question is how this sort of influence-peddling is different from the NE strategy. My answer is that the difference is, at most, the same strategy applied to a more narrow sphere. Both NEs and many BJU-type fundamentalists have sought political influence for decades, but fundamentalists have not applied the strategy to theological controversies, as NEs did.

The book review I linked to today addresses the philosophical underpinnings in its chapters on NE apologetics and the Van Til-Clark controversies. As the reviewer points out, both NEs and fundamentalists are represented in both the Van Til and Clark camps. That's just one reason why I think we're headed towards a realignment, or at least a refracturing, of the two camps.

On the other point, however, I don't necessarily have a problem with a pragmatic calculus in choosing a candidate. So imagine some kind of scoring system in which a candidate shares 94% of your values and has a 40% chance of winning. Another candidate shares 97% of your values but has only a 5% chance of winning. Who are you going to vote for? My guess is you vote for the 94% guy just about every time. Once we reach that conclusion, then it's just a matter of prudence to determine how much disagreement you can tolerate, and how you way varying levels of disagreement against varying likelihoods of victory.

Would you disagree?

Greg said...

Who does Taylor endorse for mayor of Columbus Grove?

Who do the CG mayoral candidates endorse for President?

These are questions that need to be answered.

Ben said...

Tell ya' what, Greg. You track down Taylor on this one, and I'll check in with all three Columbus Grove mayoral candidates.

Bruce said...

I can easily imagine Bob Jones III words being manipulated somewhat by the reporter. Who knows how far in the conversation he brought up the part about it being "all about beating Hillary," but the account has it as the first thing out of his mouth. Of course, if I were the writer, I'd probably do the same, because it has punch.

I'm not sure if I might not in fact be open to some pragmatic voting, but as I said in my second post, I think I'd prefer Christian leaders who supposedly carry some moral weight and think they should go public with their endorsement to lead with their principles, not their pragmatism.

I think could live with a Romney-Huckabee ticket, but do they have a chance versus Clinton-Obama? Who knows?

Don Johnson said...

I realize this thread has kinda died down, but I thought I would give you a heads up on a short post over at Real Clear Politics on the subject of the BJIII endorsement.

I also have a bit more to say at my own site, if you are interested.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3