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Book Review: How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy

cover artHave you heard that there’s an election coming up soon? So has WaterBrook Publishing, apparently, because they timed this blog review giveaway to fall just before the 2008 presidential election. Which brings me today to review How Would Jesus Vote? A Christian Perspective on the Issues, written by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe. Kennedy was the senior minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Newcombe is a television producer for Coral Ridge and a frequent co-author. I will admit to being skeptical about the book when I was invited to do the review; in general I feel that the “Religious Right” has done far more harm to the name of Christ than it has accomplished with its political machinations over the past 20 years. But I figured it was worth a read.

Chapter One of HWJV? asks, appropriately enough, would Jesus even have His followers vote at all? Unsurprisingly, it concludes that yes, He would, based primarily on the “render unto Caesar” command in Luke 20. Taking it even a step further, the authors claim that it is primarily the Christians’ fault that America’s morality has taken a downturn in the past century; if only Christians had been more involved politically, they say, and been more effective at “legislating our morality”, things would be much different today.

Part Two of HWJV? addresses “The Issues”, devoting a chapters to:

  • Matters of life and death (Abortion, stem cells, suicide, euthanasia)
  • The Death Penalty
  • War – can it ever be justified?
  • Education and the schools
  • Economic Concerns
  • Health-care issues
  • The environment and climate change
  • Immigration and racial predjudice
  • Protection of marriage
  • Judicial Activism

This is a pretty fair swath of topics that surround most elections, and I was looking forward to having them dealt with in a thoughtful manner. I was quite disappointed, then, to read the chapters and find that they are little more than a regurgitation of the “Religious Right” talking points that you would hear from Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition, or any similar religious conservative political group. Some examples:

  • After telling us in Chapter 3 that he will never tell folks who he’s voting for, Dr. Kennedy says in Chapter 4 that he “cannot support [a] person” who is “for the pro-choice position”, saying that “this one issue of life trumps all others”. Doesn’t leave much question who he’s supporting now, does it?
  • After saying, though, that the “issue of life trumps all others”, he goes on to conclude that the death penalty is an appropriate deterrent for crime and that “only by misunderstanding the Bible… could one conclude that Jesus would oppose the death penalty.”
  • In the chapter on education, the authors detail the decline of the public education system in America and stunningly conclude that “as long as God continues to be barred from our public schools, the public-education system will continue to falter.”
  • On health-care, the authors conclude that Jesus would “be concerned” about the plight of the uninsured, but that He would not favor government involvement in health care, not only because of government inefficiency, but also because it would “impose an anti-Christian ethic, such as forcing abortions on handicapped unborn children or forcing euthanasia on the weak”.
  • On the environment, I’ll give them credit for a slightly more nuanced position than I would’ve expected; the authors say that it’s important we care for our environment, but suggest that there are more practical ways to do that than the massive programs proposed to stop “global warming”.
  • On immigration, the authors pull a fair number of examples from the Old Testament claiming that God had Israel deal with two groups of immigrants differently, treating those who came to adapt and become Israelites as Israelites, while opposing those who came in as “aliens”.
  • On judicial activism, the authors speak harshly against the Senate that railroaded Robert Bork and tried to destroy Clarence Thomas, but in the end conclude that they can’t say “whether Jesus would prefer judges who hold strictly to the constitution”.

One of the most disturbing things to be in HWJV? was the way the authors mangled Scripture interpretations in support of their views. No place was this more evident than in the chapter on the economy and taxes. After arguing the standard Republican platform (that big businesses are good because they create jobs, and that it’s damaging to tax them more heavily) for the better part of the chapter, they then stunningly support this by quoting Matthew 23:11: “The greatest among you will be your servant.” So, they say, look at Henry Ford as an example. He was a great, rich man, but in doing so he enriched the lives, and thus served, many others.

I want to explore that a little bit more. Matthew 23 is a chapter in which Jesus chastises the Pharisees and religious leaders for their pride, ambition, and hypocrisy. In context:

8″But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ.[b] 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

– Matt 23:8-12, NIV

That’s right, the authors picked a single verse from a chapter in which Jesus is telling us that the values of the kingdom are inverted, that status and position don’t matter, but that humility and servanthood do… and they use that single verse to try to prove that God would have us reduce taxes on “big business”, because those rich are doing us all a service. Did they completely miss the irony here?

I had hopes for How Would Jesus Vote?, hopes that it would be a thoughtful consideration of the issues, a step beyond the talking points that are rehashed on the radio and the blogosphere every day, hopes that the authors would acknowledge and consider that there are Christians, deeply devout, serious, thoughtful Christians, who disagree with nearly every “Religious Right” tenet. Instead the book turned out to be just more of the same stuff we hear every election cycle from those would would have us believe the lie, as Derek Webb wrote, that “Jesus was a white, middle-class Republican”.

The link to Amazon is included here because it’s part of the reviewing agreement; however, I’d suggest you spend your money and time on some other, more thoughtful book.

[How Would Jesus Vote? on amazon.com]

5 thoughts on “Book Review: How Would Jesus Vote? by D. James Kennedy

  1. Just for the record, Kennedy died last year. So he won’t be voting for anyone.

    bullet point #1: I would agree with his point that a christian should not support a candidate that supports abortion (so that means, yes, I think christians voting for Obama are morally wrong… wanna fight?). But fallacious to assume this means you know who I am voting for.

    bullet point #2: I basically agree with it. Of course, it can be fleshed out more. Jesus, I believe, supported the death penalty in so far as he allowed for it. It isn’t a positive good, but a necessary evil, so to speak. Similar to divorce. I do believe it is absurd to say that killing an innocent, unborn child is morally equivalent to killing a convicted (i.e. guilty) murderer. That being said, I have grave concerns about capital punishment as practiced in our society presently.

    bullet point #6: I don’t know what the position in the book is (not having read the book), but I would wager I also disagree. Doug Wilson posted about this some time ago, and it’s worthing tracking down in you’re interested. The point, though, is that aliens in the land are a blessing to a faithful people. They are only a curse to us when we are disobedient and hard hearted in what God has commanded. So the solution is kicking them out… the solution is living righteously.

  2. Richard, thanks for the clarification – I thought I remembered hearing of his passing, but I apparently trusted the “is” verbs on the book flyleaf and the author’s bio I was emailed a bit too much.

    Re: bullet point #1, you are correct, it’s a bit of a jump to assume I know who the authors are voting for… there are always third parties to consider. I jumped to a bit of a conclusion given the Republican-talking-point nature of the rest of the book.

  3. Hi son,

    Maybe you could post my sermon as an alternative for the more nuanced among us. No offense if you don’t. You had more patience than I would have if you actually read thru it all after you saw what it was.

    Dad

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