Friday, September 5, 2008

Some Thoughts about the 2008 Presidential Election

A friend sent me an email the other day in which he suggested, kindly and kiddingly (I think), that I write more about the presidential election and less about the Georgia Bulldogs. I responded to him that as far as I was concerned, I had my priorities in the proper order:

1. God
2. Family
3. Church
4. Georgia Bulldogs
5. Country

Upon reflection, I realize that those stated priorities were out of whack. I should have put the Bulldogs ahead of church. (For my humor-impaired readers, that was a joke. The initial list was a joke, too. I think.)

Still, now that the two major parties’ nominating conventions are over (praise the Lord and pass the regular programming), it seemed like a good time to reflect a bit on this year’s presidential contest. I must preface these remarks by affirming what I have stated over and over: as a pastor, I do not engage in partisan politics. I do not endorse candidates (which I’m sure greatly frustrates them, since they might need the two or three votes I could send their way), I do not put bumper stickers on my car, and I do not put signs in my yard. Some pastors feel comfortable doing so and they are within their rights so long as they advocate as individuals and not as spokespersons for their church. I have trouble identifying where the line between “Ruffin as individual” and “Ruffin as pastor” lies—and I think that people in the pew and in the community have even more trouble seeing it than I do—so I stay out of that realm.

My comments here, then, are intended to be non-partisan. Any bias that you detect toward one candidate is either unintentional on my part or the result of bias in the other direction on your part.

Comment #1: Presidential candidates and their surrogates need to stop lying so much. I really think that they should stop lying altogether but, given the pervasiveness of the activity, I’ll settle for an appreciable reduction. We can hardly expect them to go cold turkey. The withdrawal symptoms would be ugly to watch.

Now, I know that politicians have always lied. Somewhere in my vinyl record stack is an album from the early 1970s called The Watergate Comedy Hour. During a sketch in which the lies of the Nixon administration are being addressed, one of the actors says, “Lies? Everybody lies. George Washington lied and now they sell cars on his birthday!” OK, so that’s not one of the funnier lines on the album, but it still makes the point.

Still, it’s disheartening to hear candidates and their supporters spew half-truths, quarter-truths, and non-truths; it’s just as disheartening to hear their audiences cheer in response to those lies like Romans watching a Christian getting eaten by a lion.

My advice: we should all be regular visitors to a source like so that we can verify the veracity or lack thereof of the claims made by the people who want to be our leaders. I suppose that I’m idealistic, but I just have a hard time taking seriously people who will say anything they need to say to get elected, regardless of the truth, and then expect us to trust them once they occupy the Oval Office. If they’re not faithful in little, how can we trust them to faithful in much?

Comment #2: Change is coming. I confess that I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to presidential elections. After all, the system is the system and I usually doubt that one person, even if that person is the President, can make that much difference. I truly feel sorry for people who pin all their hopes on the election of a particular candidate as if that is the key to the future of the universe. Presidents are not messiahs, even if some folks think of Obama as “the One” and even if others take seriously the assertion in the introduction of McCain at the RNC that “the stars are aligned.” To quote the late, great Elvis when a woman tried to give him a crown because, she said, he was “The King”: "No honey, I'm not the King. Christ is the King. I'm just a singer." We should keep our heads and remember that Christ is the King and Obama and McCain, though powerful in the world’s eyes, are just men.

I have to admit, though, that who is elected president does make a difference. Regardless of personal political persuasions, any of us would have to admit that had Gore become President rather than Bush or had Humphrey become President rather than Nixon or had Douglas become President rather than Lincoln, things would have been different. While I still believe that there is only so much that a President can do, I’m sure that things will be different if McCain is elected than if Obama wins or vice-versa.

Still, I think—and I hope—that whichever candidate comes out on top, he will work hard to change “business as usual” and to alter the partisan climate in Washington. I think—and I hope—that either one will reach across the aisle and try to work with members of the other party and with Independents to do what’s best for America. I think—and I hope—that both Obama and McCain really believe in the agenda of change and reform to which they are both lay claim.

Of these two things I am convinced: (1) In his heart, McCain is a reformer and an independent thinker who would, as President, prove less partisan than his conservative base forces him to sound as a candidate and (2) Obama would, as President, present an image of change and diversity to the world that would speak well of America. I am frankly more encouraged by the choice that I have in this election than I have been in a long time. Whichever candidate wins, I suspect that he will try hard to undertake real reform and to deal realistically and creatively with the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.

Still, I want to make it clear that as a Christian, my trust is not in either one of these candidates. My Bible teaches me not to trust in the security-promising powers of the earth but rather to place it in Almighty God.

Comment #3: Presidential elections are exciting. Georgia Bulldogs football games are more exciting.


JerryJordan said...

Brother Mike, thanks for another good post.

Actually, I find it interesting (not from you specifically but in general), that we might separate the priority of God from the priority of Church.

Is that the way it should be? Is it just a factual delineation (would factcheck have it for me)? Is there a concept of perfection in Christianity where we might look for them to be one and the same? Is that called Heaven?

Probably not the position you might have thought I would take from your blog but your "Top 5" list made me think about it.

For me, politics is God's gift to us who can't get get enough football ... but since Vanderbilt is now 2-0 after a Thursday night game ... I have to wait eight days before we get to play again.

Michael Ruffin said...


Go Vandy! (Until they play UGA.)

I think that participation in church is an expression of our faith in God, but the two are not to be equated. I can't quite separate them, but I also can't equate them.

I think you may be on to something with your concept of heaven.

Scott said...

At the risk of merely sounding like a cheerleader, I think these are timely remarks.

I'm frustrated that so many of my Christian friends feel the need to denigrate one side or the other simply because of their party affiliation.

My Republican friends refuse to say anything positive about Obama's historic candidacy, and my Democrat friends refuse to affirm any ounce of integrity in McCain.

It seems clear to me that churches ought to steer clear of thinking that any political party represents us. And yet so many of us (me included) are so willing to jump head first into partisan politics and uncritically affirm one party, while firing invectives at the other party.

I wonder what the Church would look like if we all disengaged from partisan politics and affirmed political independence? I wonder how the Church might be transformed by the refusal to affiliate with those whose first priority is their own power, often without regard to ethical considerations?

Rev. K.T. said...

Hi Dr. Ruffin! Eventually I'll comment on your blog, but in the meantime I'm just happy to have found you. I'm now of the "pastor world" too so your comments speak volumes to me.

Katie Mathews Treadway

Rev. K.T. said...

Great questions, Scott! Bill has suggested something similar. It would take a united front and it would most certainly change our little piece of the world.