A Christian vote for Obama

Editor's note: Our series on the U.S. presidential candidates also includes endorsements of Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

What’s so Christian about Obama?

In contrast to the other ideas and policies offered this election season, an Obama administration embraces a commitment to the common good, to the anti-individualism outlined in the Gospel. It proudly promotes a commitment to putting others before ourselves. Access to health care for all, equal pay and a graduated tax system all operate from a perspective of abundance, not scarcity. Hope, not fear. Unity, not division. Would we want the same rules if we found ourselves in a different place in life? When we envision a law’s implementation, do we envision only ourselves or also those whose lives we rarely touch? Do we see our neighbor?

I first became acquainted with Barack Obama when he was a state senator in Illinois. I was working alongside many others to enact increased financial regulations on payday lending. I saw a man who had both the ability to step into the shoes of those living paycheck to paycheck and the skills to create laws that honored their self-worth, their hard work and desire to support themselves and their families.

Twelve years later, I support this same man. While there have been disappointments along the way, his fundamental ability to walk in others’ shoes, to understand how the many issues we face as Americans interact and to inspire us toward common purpose away from division is why I voted for him in 2008 and am working for his re-election in 2012.

The most important factor in my vote in 2008 was the president’s promise to pass health-care reform. It is simply unconscionable to live in a country with amazing health care and have so many unable to afford it. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, it will need adjustments, but I am proud to say that soon there will be millions of families who will not have to suffer needless heartache over situations beyond their control. At the root of it, isn’t this the mercy we are asked to extend to one another? In this policy we see a commitment to justice for all and self-sacrifice for some. We see mercy and a vision for the dignity of all people created in the image of God. 

The president also signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, ensuring women get equal pay for equal work. It is only just that my daughter’s work is rewarded at the same rate as my son’s when they hit the workforce. Again we see justice and a commitment to the dignity and worth of all.    

And finally, an Obama administration advocates a graduated tax system asking all of us to pay a proportionate share of our wealth in taxes. This policy in particular advances shared prosperity and self-sacrifice. Many agree with me to a point, but cannot agree that the government is the proper method for meeting others’ needs. I have deep admiration for those who do share a significant amount of their wealth through private giving. Certainly, so much of the work nonprofit organizations do would not be possible without these gifts. However, in a country with so many people, coming from so many different perspectives and backgrounds, I believe that the government is the most democratic system we have to ensure that assistance reaches all those in need, regardless of personal passions, interests and understandings. This is a vital distinction, and why paying a proportionate share in taxes is important if we are truly able to meet our neighbor’s needs.

In 2012, my vote is cast for Barack Obama because I believe that whatever the next four years bring, I know I can trust that he will continue to promote, advocate and enact a system of government that embraces so many of my Christian ideals. If we begin with policies that honor each other’s worth and end with a system that trusts in the ability to share prosperity in the face of abundance, surely we are closer to staking a claim in this corner of God’s world that others will recognize as His.

What Do You Think?

  • How do you rate Barack Obama’s performance as president?
  • How does your faith play a part in that evaluation?


Anne Larsen VanderWeele works as a Field Consultant at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. / Illustration by Schuyler Roozeboom.

Comments (12)

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Faith plays a big part in my vote. And Anne’s analysis of her support as a Christian for the current president is an interesting perspective, but somewhat idealistic.

Using biblical principles to tax the rich is a stretch. Anne, you talk about a proportional tax structure. How do you support the 47 percent who pay nothing?

Anyway, I admire that you have convictions and just pray for wisdom for all of us.

There’s more to unpack in this blog than can be approached in a comment thread, so it’s a little bit difficult for me to know where to begin.
—What does “Christian” mean to VanderWeele? I’d be interested to know.
—“An Obama administration embraces a commitment to the common good” Really? The “common good” spoken of here is strictly about wealth redistribution. Is protection of unborn babies for the “common good?” Is protection of the sanctity of marriage for the “common good”?
—VanderWeele says, “If we begin with policies that honor each other’s worth and end with a system that trusts in the ability to share prosperity in the face of abundance, surely we are closer to staking a claim in this corner of God’s world that others will recognize as His.” Again, I tend to think that barbarous infanticide sort of runs against the grain of “honoring individual worth.” And as for “sharing prosperity in the face of abundance,” it is altogether void of Christian value if this “sharing” is compulsory. VanderWeele is terribly confused and would to well to recognize that Big Brother Robinhood is quite different than Christian charity. There is nothing biblical about robbing the rich to give to the poor.

I agree completely with texjoe but beyond all of the rebuttals that can be made to this article my question is where in God’s Word does it say to commission the government to care for the widows, orphans and the poor? Is this not the commission of the Church?? It seems to me that we, as the Church, have allowed the government to take our place. Is this not sin? Are we looking to either Obama or Romney to “save” us? Where do we see the light in the midst of all this darkness? Our hope is in the Lord, who gave Himself for us.

I agree with texjoe. Well said.

I’ll also add that neither candidate tends to respect life on a level that would make Christians comfortable with voting for them. Obama has a kill list (that some of his supporters brag about in defending a liberal from the accusations of being weak on national defense) and Romney has said things that make us believe that he will do nothing more than continue the madness of twisting the Constitution until it’s unrecognizable. We must pray for our leaders. The temptation to cave into sinful pride and abuses of power are great, especially for those who represent us in the USA government.

I don’t tend to weigh in on political debates online, but here goes:  I am not going to make a case for either candidate getting your vote.  But I’d like to respond to a point Amy Christine Wilson Gray has made.  “Where in God’s Word does it say to commission the government to care for the widows, orphans and the poor? Is this not the commission of the Church??”  On the same token, where in God’s Word does it say that we should commission the government to regulate morality? Is that not also the commission of the Church?  You can’t have it both ways.  If, as a Christian (and please understand, I am not questioning your Faith in the Lord), you say that the government has no place assisting it’s citizens, then it also has no place regulating them as well.  Is it not the place of the government to provide for the citizenry regulations and benefits to better society?  Not free of taxation, of course, but as a whole for the common good?  Again, I make no case for either candidate.

Amy Christine Wilson Gray- I’d like to address your question “where in God’s Word does it say to commission the government to care for the widows, orphans and the poor?”

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll quote from a recent article written by Jim Wallis entitled, “Caring for the Poor is Goverment’s Biblical Role” (http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/08/30/caring-poor-governments-biblical-role):

[[The words of Paul in the 13th chapter of Romans are perhaps the most extensive teaching in the New Testament about the role and purposes of government. Paul says those purposes are twofold: to restrain evil by punishing evildoers and to serve peace and orderly conduct by rewarding good behavior. Civil authority is designed to be “God’s servant for your good” (13:4). Today we might say “the common good” is to be the focus and goal of government.

So the purpose of government, according to Paul, is to protect and promote. Protect from the evil and promote the good, and we are even instructed to pay taxes for those purposes. So to disparage government per se — to see government as the central problem in society — is simply not a biblical position…

And the Scriptures say that governmental authority is to protect the poor in particular. The biblical prophets are consistent and adamant in their condemnation of injustice to the poor, and frequently follow their statements by requiring the king (the government) to act justly. That prophetic expectation did not apply only to the kings of Israel but was also extended to the kings of neighboring lands and peoples.

Jeremiah, speaking of King Josiah, said, “He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.”

Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for kings or political leaders: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”

There is a powerful vision here for promoting the common good — a vision of “righteous” prosperity for all the people, with special attention to the poor and to “deliverance” for the most vulnerable and needy, and even a concern for the land.]]

For more where that came from, you can refer to the direct article link, which I have included above.

I have posted multiple times to Think Christian, and more than once I have argued that our votes should follow from an individual determination of which politician’s policies best reflect our own understanding of Christianity. In that regard, I find Anne’s post both revealing and interesting (where she may never come out and clearly state how she defines Christianity, I think they are easily inferred). I have a problem, on the other hand, with the comments here that attempt to abrogate government’s role based on a lack of government responsibility in the Bible—the writers, redactors, and compilers of the Bible could not possibly have had contemporary American governmental roles and structure in mind; as such, we should not be surprised that we do not find analogous examples in the text. If Jesus calls us to individually care for the sick, the unfortunate, and the poor, though, then I can’t imagine that He would object to a government that does the same.

It seems to me that, in a government “of the people and by the people” this is a distinction that doesn’t mean much.

My thoughts on this question, which I hear an awful lot… -Stephen

I am excited to see Christians engaged in respectful debate about how our faith applies to our vote. I would like to comment on a few of the ideas offered in the preceding comments to further our conversation and answer some of the questions that were asked. 

When I speak of the common good, I think of it more broadly than strictly related to wealth. To me it incorporates a sense of justice as well as a responsibility for and towards one another.  This is why healthcare and equal pay are important.  But I also agree that its definition takes on different forms as the issues change.  Abortion in particular is an incredibly difficult issue as it is a nexus between individual and common good.  However, I believe we are called to think and vote carefully on a broad range of issues, abortion among them, and taken as a whole I support Obama’s platform.

Some have responded to my views using the term “wealth redistribution”.  However, I understand wealth as a gift given as a blessing of God, a result of nothing but His grace, given in order to bless others.  In other words, my wealth isn’t mine to begin with and therefore, while I often fail, I try to live without ownership of it.  We can argue about the best way to administer charity, via the government or via our own aims and the church’s, but I’m concerned that if left solely to my own aims,  I might support only those I deem worthy, and not everyone in need.  I know that my ability to recognize God’s image in others is too often short sighted and therefore think there must be a more equitable system.

Finally, I find it disingenuous to argue that 47 percent of Americans do not pay any taxes.  At a minimum, surely every American pays sales tax as a daily experience.  And taken as a whole, that contribution as a percentage of income has quicker impact on the poor than on those with more means.  In addition, payroll tax comes into play for many included in the 47 percent figure being discussed.  And it doesn’t pass a simple “gut check” for me.  That seems an extremely large percentage of people who want nothing more than to take and take without any desire to make some manner of contribution to society. That doesn’t ring true with a majority of people I have encountered in life.

    I have some problems with a couple of the points being made.
  First of all, I do not believe that God’s Word is a bitter pill we are called to shove down someone else’s throat. 
  Secondly, I WISH our leaders would regularly review God’s instructions to Kings and Rulers. We should pray for them daily and our votes should reflect those standards.  But Government assistance should be a last resort, not the first.
  Thirdly, Anne states that she understands “wealth as a gift given as a blessing of God, a result of nothing but His grace, given in order to bless others.”  But one could argue the same for poverty.  If all occurs according to God’s Will and Blessing, than who am I to change another’s fate??  There seems to be an acute lack of interest in the story of the fine perfume used to wash Jesus’ feet and the subsequent argument with Judas regarding this “wasteful” act.  Doesn’t Jesus point out that “the poor will be with you always”? 
    Honestly, I’m being a bit facetious but I do believe there is a huge difference between giving to others as God has called YOU to do and picking someone else’s pocket to do so.  Laws should benefit the Country as a whole and taxes should go to support the general good, not special interests and pet projects. 
  Be careful what you vote for.  You may get it.

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