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Columnists Remarkable Providences
Presidential elections are a throwback to ancient styles of single combat.
The biblical example from 1 Samuel 17--the David and Goliath account--shows each side drawing up its battle line and then sending out a champion.
In the old days a vast army depended on one flesh-and-blood person. In this year's election two ideologies, conservatism and liberalism, compete in the persons of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, each supported by a vice presidential armor-bearer.
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton are not terrific champions. Their javelins are rubbery. Their shields are porous. But give both candidates credit for making comebacks: Mr. Clinton's over the past 20 months, Mr. Dole's over the past 20 days.
A short time ago many Christian conservatives, myself included, were ready to declare August 16, the day following the Republican convention, independence day from presidential politics this year. Some are now applauding Bob Dole's second coming as if it were Christ's. I am not, but Mr. Dole's willingness to select Jack Kemp and to include in his acceptance speech a coherent discussion of morals as well as money kept his hopes alive.
Serious questions remain. It is unrealistic to expect most politicians to bring up issues that will harm their election chances, but Bob Dole could have helped himself by portraying Bill Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion bill as the extremist act it was. One nurse who observed a partial-birth abortion recalled seeing the almost completely delivered baby's body moving, "its tiny hands clasping and unclasping." Bob Dole could have talked about hands. He could have moved a nation.
There are also questions about armor-bearer Kemp. Yes, he can still spiral a football, but can he confront our culture's downward spiral? For 15 years Mr. Kemp has frustrated many of his fans--and I am one--by evangelizing with great enthusiasm for his economic theories (which have a moral component) but spiking the spiritual. As Jack rhapsodizes about the magnificence of God's human creatures, will he remember the Creator?
And there are questions about the direction of the Republican Party. As I have written before, the American political spectrum can be better portrayed as a triangle than a line. Picture a triangle with big government on the left, small government on the right, and righteous government on top.
Conservatives can do well by campaigning heavenward; they do not have to move leftward to pick up the undecided.
Will the Republicans spiritually triangulate, or will they follow the route of Colin Powell, who last fall was on the fence but now has changed his position on affirmative action and planted both feet in the pro-abortion camp? They would do better to learn from the convention's best prime-time speaker: J.C. Watts, the pro-life (and black) Republican congressman from Oklahoma. (His speech is reprinted on page 24.)
Rep. Watts did not fall into the liberal Republican tendency of trying to appear "compassionate" by endorsing failed Democratic anti-poverty programs and then trimming them slightly to appear fiscally conservative. Instead, Mr. Watts noted, "Compassion can't be measured in dollars and cents. It does come with a price tag, but that price tag isn't the amount of money spent. The price tag is love, being able to see people as they can be and not as they are."
It was gratifying to see many speakers throughout the convention attempt to seize back the powerful word compassion that they had long ceded to the Democrats. Still, it is unclear whether Republicans will emphasize biblical compassion--warm-hearted but tough-minded--as did Rep. Watts, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas, or whether they will think that voting to spend more government money can buy them the love of those who worship the state.
There are clear differences between the two major political parties now, but Christians should not say that one of the single combatants now on the field is God's man. Since we live in Babylon and not heaven, we should work in coalitions and support imperfect candidates who can help to move America in the right direction, yet the verse from the old hymn still holds: "Put no confidence in princes."
Besides, this presidential election is important, but it is not Armageddon.
In the long run, what parents do during the first week of November in their churches and with their children will be far more decisive for the future of America than the decision they make on Dole vs. Clinton. "Vote early and often" was the line in the corrupt political precincts of Chicago; Christians should work and vote, yes, but our operative principle must be "pray early and often."