Factoring religious platforms

For many Calvin students, Nov. 8 will be their first time voting in a presidential election. As Christian students wading through media buzz and the influences of their community, they have many questions to consider: Should students’ Christianity affect their voting decision? How should a candidate’s religious platform — both what a candidate declares as their religious beliefs and what religious practices and ideals they display in their public and personal life — affect a Christian voter’s decision? Religion professor Matthew Lundberg and political science professor Mikael Pelz gave their thoughts and on this relevant issue to student voters.

In reply to the question of whether a candidate’s religious platform and religious identity matter to Christian voters, Pelz stated, “It’s relevant. It is not the only thing we should look at. Candidates can use this as a cognitive shortcut,” a way of bypassing discussion and communicating a whole set of ideas and ideals. So, “when a candidate says … ‘I’m a Christian,’ they are conveying an idea. And voters think, ‘Oh, I can vote for this person.’” Thus, voters identify with a candidate because both the voter and the candidate identify with the same term (Christian) without defining what the candidate and the voter mean individually by the term.

As Lundberg pointed out, “It’s not always easy, in an age of polarized media, rapid-fire social media and a distrustful public, to get an accurate sense of what a candidate’s ‘religious platform’ actually is. How faith has informed political activity over a candidate’s longer career may be a more reliable indicator than what they are saying in the midst of a campaign to get elected or what people are saying about them.”

Instead of latching onto terms, Pelz urged students to “grapple with the questions” and examine the policies themselves informed by their own faith. Lundberg noted that faith does shape policy and that “If you are a person whose faith informs the way you do your work, live in your community, raise your kids (etc.), it is quite natural to be interested in how the candidates’ faith shapes their work and how it affects their visions for the good of society.”

According to Lundberg, voting informed by faith involves “looking at what the candidate’s planned policies are and asking whether they seem apt to contribute to things like the care of God’s world, solid employment so that people can use their gifts and meet their family’s needs, a better future for the disadvantaged members of society, defense of the country and the furthering of peace in the world community and developing the infrastructure needed for economic and social stability.”

He added that a Christian could conclude that a candidate who subscribes to a different belief system — Muslim, Atheistic, etc. — is the best individual for the office because that “candidate’s policy ideas pointed in that direction [toward ideals and goals Christians prioritize].”

Lundberg also noted that “something else to keep in mind is that all candidates are going to say that they would work towards those goals. The question that voters need to answer with discernment is whether a candidate’s articulated policy ideas point convincingly in that direction.”

Pelz advised young Christian voters to “think independently … think through these things that define you.” He said students should ask, “How do each of the policies promote the gospel?”

Lundberg added that “Christians should be people of witness, people whose lives hopefully reflect in word and deed the difference that Christ has made in their lives, people whose confidence in the power of God’s truth enables them to interact with people of other faiths without fear or arrogance.” He acknowledged that this practice is difficult in life as well as politics and requires “hard work and discipline.” He added that the motivation for this diligent examination is that since “kindness, peace and patience are supposed to guide the Christian life, it seems like Christians have good reasons to seek the protection of the religious expression of their non-Christian neighbor and genuine justice for their non-Christian neighbor.”

Pelz also notes the challenge and importance of disciplined discernment: “You almost have to be methodical.” Before the upcoming election, students should ask of candidates’ policies, “Does this represent the gospel? Does this represent the good news? Does this promote peace, justice and human flourishing?”