There are quite a few reasons, actually. But none of them push me over the line. After eight years of Clinton, it has been comparatively pleasant to have a government staffed with grown-ups. Add to that the fact that Jean-Francois Kerry is, in countless ways, insufferable. N’est pas? Couple this with the fact that Bush is predictable — he appears to me to be driven by principle, even when I differ with those principles. Bush’s approach to the problem of terrorism seems to me to have been admirable in many ways. Some might point to the apparent quagmire in Iraq as a counter-example, but we have to remember that our choice was not between a quagmire in Iraq and no quagmire in Irag. The choice was between American soldiers dying abroad or civilians dying here. I believe we have had three years of freedom from terrorism domestically because of Bush’s response.
Another reason for considering support for Bush is that a Republican president brings with him at least the possibility of decent Supreme Court appointees, while a Democratic president provides us with a guarantee of horrendous Supreme Court appointees. This argument is not as compelling as it might be because the Republican record is spotty at best. After twenty years of abortion, Roe v. Wade was upheld by the Supreme Court, and the Court that upheld that grotesque decision was made up of Republican appointees, 7 to 2.
Probably the best argument that Christians have offered for supporting Bush is that we need to learn how to advance our agenda incrementally. We ought not to be sectarian in our politics. We have to be patient. We have to pay our dues. Bush in office provides us with more opportunities for good than Kerry in office does, and so we have to take what we can get. Since it is almost certain that either Bush or Kerry will be the next president, why should Christians not rally behind the one that is least objectionable?
The problem is idolatry. George Bush is not a proposed law, or a referendum. He is man who has a responsibility to worship God through Jesus Christ. And this he does, as a baptized and confessing Christian. He is like Solomon, and is a covenant member. But, also like Solomon, he is doing something else. George Bush, in a disciplined and principled way, has supported and advanced syncretistic idolatry. He was central in that abominable National Cathedral worship service after 9-11. The National Cathedral really has become a National Pantheon. He had the Islamic holy month of Ramadan honored in the White House. He paid religious honor at a Shinto shrine in Japan.
Incrementalism makes good sense when we are talking about proposed legislation. Passing a law that outlaws partial birth abortion is not compromised just because the law does not obtain everything we are after. One step at a time. Laws or bills or measures almost require incrementalism by definition. But men, when they need to repent in fundamental ways, must not do so incrementally.
Take again the example of a reforming king, like Hezekiah or Josiah. They did what they could, and the Scriptures praise them as godly kings, even if they did not succeed in removing all the high places. If there were idolatrous places of worship in Israel, incrementalism in removing them could make good practical sense. But say that the king in question was personally worshipping in all these pagan temples. Incrementalism in backing out of such idolatry is incoherent. Confronted with ten forms of idolatrous worship, a godly king in ancient Israel might not have tackled them all at once. But if he was participating in all ten, repentance would look like simple repentance, and he would walk away from all ten, all at once. He would not detach himself from idolatry incrementally. Nathan the prophet would not have arrived at court to urge him to “taper off.”
So the central problem is that our national evangelical leaders who support Bush show no signs of any willingness to confront the central problem here, which is that of syncretistic idolatry. In fact, all the indicators are that our evangelical leaders are complicit in this sin, or have accomodated themselves to it in some fashion. Who is the evangelical leader, who has the president’s ear, who has confronted him about this? And a private confrontation doesn’t count — these are high profile public sins, and the confrontation needs to be as public as the sin.
Further, this illustrates that incrementalism is a two-way street. Who is more likely to get politically-involved Christians to participate in idolatrous worship services? Bush or Kerry? Who is more likely to get Christians to timidly occupy their assigned corner in the National Pantheon? Bush or Kerry? Who is more likely to get conservative Christians to go along with some generic “people of faith” approach? Bush or Kerry? Given the zeal with which many Christians support Bush (despite such glaringly obvious problems) I think we already have our answer. Incrementalism doesn’t work if you sell your soul along the way.
In conclusion, I readily admit that this is all very easy for me to say. I live in Idaho, which is about as likely to go for Kerry as it is to go for Nadir (no, not a spelling mistake). Further, I am beginning to suspect that Bush will not only win, but that he will win in a blow-out. I am not at all convinced that the election will be a squeaker like last time. But if I lived in a swing state, and if I knew the election was going to be close, the pressure would be on me good, and I confess it. There would be beads of sweat on my forehead. I cannot abide Mr. Kerry, and his running mate, Mr. Happy Bottom, is little better. Couple this with the fact that I really like George Bush. In fact I like him so much that it really distresses me that among our national Christian leaders, there has been no one willing to play the role of a faithful prophet and friend. George Bush is a layman, and he could always excuse himself by pointing to all the evangelical leaders, like Billy Graham, who follow this same approach. Who will tell the president to stop including the idols, and in doing so, make it a fundamental issue? Billy Graham? Jerry Falwell? World magazine? Again, the problem is the Church, and the fact that the position I am arguing is controversial shows that their incrementalism is working far better than ours is.