October 17, 2012

Loving Our Neighbors at the Ballot Box

Many Seventh-day Adventists, including those living in the United States, have the opportunity to shape their government by exercising their right as citizens to vote.  To that end, the Adventist Review publishes occasional articles that focus on Biblical principles that should guide believers as they consider their participation in the electoral process.  Neither the Adventist Review nor the Seventh-day Adventist Church endorses political candidates or political parties, urging that each person should consider how to best respond to the opportunities and responsibilities of being a citizen in a democracy.--Editors

As Election Day draws near in the United States, and citizens head to the polls to express themselves and their values, the question of how faithful Christians should vote is again on many people’s minds.

For the past seven and a half years I have had the joy of serving the Hollywood community in Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country. My heart is broken on a daily basis as I see the pain and suffering that my members and neighbors endure just to survive and make a decent life for themselves and their children. Young adults with college degrees and several part-time jobs can’t afford rent without two or three roommates. Working families cannot take their children to the doctor when they’re sick because they lack basic health care coverage. College students are buried under a mountain of debt with no chance of starting a career on solid footing.

As Election Day draws near, here are some principles that can guide us as we vote.

Loving Our Neighbors
In Genesis 4:9, after God asks Cain about his brother, Abel’s whereabouts, Cain sarcastically replies, “I don’t know? Am I my brother’s keeper?”

2012 1528 page34God’s silence in the face of this arrogant question is answer enough. “Yes, Cain, you were to be your brother’s keeper.”

Jesus tells a story in the New Testament that makes this point even clearer. Fulfilling God’s law means loving God and loving our neighbors. But who is our neighbor? Anyone in need is your neighbor, says Jesus. Especially the one who is so different than you as to be your enemy. As Christians we know that we have a responsibility for the good of our neighbors. Christianity teaches that we belong to one another—not just in the body of Christ, but also in the world. Christian faith resists the individualism of contemporary culture and insists that we have a common responsibility to care for and see to the flourishing of life for all who are created in God’s image.

The question to ask is which candidate (and ballot initiatives) supports policies that create a world in which we all belong to each other and have a responsibility to support one another, especially those who are suffering?
I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy” (Ps. 140:12). Justice is about fairness and equity. Injustice prevails when some gain an unfair advantage over others, usually at their expense. Inequality in America is at an all-time high. According to research in the new book, The Price of Inequality by Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, “the top 1 percent of Americans gained 93 percent of the additional income created in the country in 2010, as compared with 2009” (3).1 This has come at the expense of the middle class and the working poor who have seen their wealth, if they had any to begin with, evaporate. Fairness and equality, from the time of the Judges to today, has meant that people have, more or less, equal opportunity. When one class of people prospers at the expense of the majority, this violates the principle of justice.

Economic injustice is not the only injustice in America. People of color, immigrants, women, senior citizens, and children are all in jeopardy today. God says to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isa. 58:6).

The question to ask is which candidate better expresses the biblical value of justice and equality of opportunity for all people? Which candidate is better prepared to understand the plight of the poor and oppressed and create policies of fairness?
Jesus is the model of non-violence. He not only taught us to love our enemies and, when struck on the right cheek, to turn the other to our assailant,2 he followed his own advice when his enemies nailed him to a cross. From our founding Seventh-day Adventists have understood that violence is not an option for faithful Christians. For this reason we have registered as conscientious objectors in America’s wars, refusing to bear arms and kill another human being.

The question to ask is which candidate is most likely to bring our current wars to an end and the least likely to get us involved in new wars? Which candidate is most likely to reject violence as the first course of action and pursue every diplomatic means to resolve national and global conflicts and promote peace in the world?
2012 1528 page34Religious Liberty
As Christian Sabbath-keepers, Seventh-day Adventists have long understood the importance of one of the founding principles of American democracy—freedom of religion. The first article of the Bill of Rights says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Historically, America has been a friend to people of all religions and no religion. Today, this climate of freedom is in jeopardy with the rise of Islamophobia.

The question to ask is which candidate will create a climate that is safe for all religions to grow and thrive, and protects the rights of those who choose to have no religion? Which candidate will create a climate of freedom and equality for all people regardless of their race, gender, or religious views?
Adventists are known around the world for an emphasis on healthful living, leading to an average of seven additional years of life attributed to Sabbath keeping, a healthy diet and exercise.3 We are also known for operating some of the finest hospitals, clinics, and other health care facilities in the country. Yet in America it is still a tremendous challenge to access this system of care when you need it. Health care expenses are the leading cause of family bankruptcy. The performance of the health care system in the United States comes in dead last, while spending more than anyone else on health care, according to a recent report.4

Because the Bible teaches that each person is created in the image of God and is entitled to respect and dignity, the question to ask is which candidate is most committed to creating a climate of physical health and a basic standard of care for all people, regardless of age and socio-economic status?
The Bible is the story of strangers in strange lands. From the very beginning of the story Abram leaves his homeland at God’s call and settles in a foreign land. For 400 years the Israelites are slaves in Egypt with no land to call their own. Jesus himself was a refugee, fleeing a murderous king. This is why in Deuteronomy God says to the Israelites, “you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).

The question to ask is which candidate will create just laws that are welcoming to immigrants and supportive of immigrant families, refusing to separate children from parents?
Your vote is your voice. Take your Christian values with you to the ballot box this November and use your voice to love your neighbor as yourself.


1Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2012.
2 Walter Wink, in The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1998), notes that turning the left cheek made it impossible for the abuser to backhand the abused. Far from being an act of passive submission to abusive power “turning the other cheek” is a non-violent insistence on being treated as an equal (see pp. 98-111).
3 See Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Press, 2008.
4 “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally” (2010 Update). The Commonwealth Fund. http://www.commonwealthfund.org/~/media/Files/Publications/Fund%20Report/2010/Jun/1400_Davis_Mirror_Mirror_on_the_wall_2010.pdf (accessed October 9, 2012).

Ryan Bell lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife and two daughters. He is the pastor of the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church and a community leader with LA Voice PICO. This articlde was posted October 16, 2012.