Campaigns for local, state, and national offices are getting into high gear throughout the United States. In view of scandals uncovered in the recent past and the religious professions of leading contenders for the presidency, many Christians are taking a greater than usual interest in the political process. Those who suddenly plunge into campaign observation and activity should be prepared for some facts of political life.

First, the candidates are not running for church offices. They are seeking positions in secular governments that serve people of widely varying beliefs. Candidates want to appeal to as many voters as possible. They will not needlessly offend those whose votes they seek, or those whom they will lead or serve if they win. While Christians have every right to expect candidates to be honest, they should not expect them to take stands (such as opposition to the legal use of alcohol) that will virtually guarantee their defeat.

Second, some of the reports from “good” people can be misleading. Potential voters need to beware lest they be misled by friends or foes of candidates or even by neutral persons. The news media have to shorten what candidates say; they cannot report every word. Usually they try to be fair, but occasional distortions are inevitable. The Bible says that at least two witnesses are required when certain charges are brought; for understanding candidates, many more witnesses are in order.

A recent issue of a Christian political newsletter illustrates the need for caution. It presented quotations from various sources as an “informational service” to indicate the positions of Jimmy Carter on twenty-five questions. The newsletter quoted the Democratic standard-bearer from a May 10 Time story: “… [My sister] asked me if I would give up anything for Christ … if I would be willing to give up politics. I thought a long time and had to admit that I would not.” The newsletter ended its report of the conversation at that point, but Time did not. In the magazine, the next sentence was, “His sister warned that until he could, he would be plagued with self-doubts.” Then Time reported, “… the experience led directly to his being ‘born again,’ ” and it quoted the candidate as saying, “I established a more intimate relationship with Christ. I developed a deeper sense of inner peace.” A Christian reading the newsletter and one who read the magazine’s more complete report would go away with quite different impressions. The Time reader would see a turning point, while the newsletter reader would, at best, wonder if Carter ever went beyond the negative answer.

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Such misleading material, often dotted with quotation marks so as to have an aura of authenticity, is all too common in political campaigns. Carter himself and those acting on his behalf are not blameless. As they exercise their political stewardship, Christians, who are to be lovers of truth, should carefully scrutinize campaign verbiage. They should compare material from sources with different viewpoints, and they should study full-length position papers from the candidates.

Votes should be cast on the basis of what one knows, not what one feels. We cannot learn everything, but that is no excuse for not trying to get good data. The facts about the candidates’ voting record, other areas of their past performance, and their public stands on issues, along with evidences of their character traits, should play a larger part in our decision than our emotions.

Protecting The Innocents

“Every live convicted terrorist in prison increases the chance of dead innocents abroad.”

These chilling words were in the New York Times column of C. L. Sulzberger after Israel’s daring rescue of hostages from the Entebbe airport last month. Reflecting on the pro-Palestinean guerrillas’ hijacking of an Air France flight, Sulzberger, foreign-affairs specialist at the Times and a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, decided that condemned terrorists must get the death penalty. The only apparent purpose of the air piracy was to get pawns for use in a scheme to force the release of imprisoned terrorists. Sulzberger concluded that the passengers on the hijacked plane (many of them Israeli citizens or Jews with dual citizenship) were subjected to a week of terror simply because they happened to be on that flight. The hijackers had no grievances against any of them personally, and none was a prominent figure. The only way to discourage future abuse of such innocents, the columnist reasoned, was to execute terrorists.

Israeli authorities no doubt believed that this kind of “eye for an eye” justice was the only kind that would discourage future attempts at hijacking their citizens. The lightning raid has been acclaimed by people around the world, but not all of those applauding the tiny Jewish state are doing so for the same reason. Certainly not all believe that operations of this kind are the ultimate solution to the problem. Some are simply impressed with the refusal of Israel to negotiate with blackmailers; others applaud the skill and discipline displayed by the commandos in accomplishing their objective rapidly; others appreciate the deflation of Ugandan president Idi Amin. Many of the admirers of the operation are just hopeful that it will discourage future attempts at hostage-taking aboard international flights.

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The United Nations Security Council, called into special session over the affair, failed to agree on a solution. Much of the debate was over the Israeli incursion into Ugandan territory, and not over the original hijacking. On this one issue, however, it ought to be easy for people of good will to agree. Certainly, no country is willing to say in an international forum that hostage-taking is a legitimate political tool. Every U.N. member nation ought to agree to punish hijackers and not to assist them in any way.

Until such an agreement is effective, guerrillas of all sorts will be tempted to continue this kind of “international diplomacy.” And nations such as Israel will be tempted to retaliate in the most effective way they can.

Dignity, Pride … And Politics

It was a sad sight when the athletes carrying the Republic of China flag got off the plane in Taipei. They had planned to represent the Republic of China in the Montreal Olympic Games, but the Canadian government prohibited them from entering under that name. At home, they got welcomes fit for victorious heroes, but some returned with tears.

It was equally sad when a bloc of African nations started a boycott of the Olympiad to protest the presence of New Zealand athletes. Their argument was not with the individual athletes who had come to Montreal to represent New Zealand. The fact that a New Zealand rugby team had been playing in white-minority-ruled South Africa was what stirred the ire of the boycotters.

It was a matter of dignity, said an African organizer of the boycott. It was also a matter of politics and publicity.

For the would-be competitors from Taiwan there was also a question of dignity. The athletes did not raise that question, however. For political reasons, Canada, the host country, did. (Strangely, Canada allowed Germans from both sides of the Iron Curtain to compete under the inclusive names—German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic of Germany—of their territories.) It is doubtful that Canada’s dignity was at stake, but the government must have thought something important depended on its treatment of the athletes from Taiwan.

It is not far from dignity to pride. Pride, says the Bible, goes before destruction. And that applies to nations as well as to individuals.

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If the Olympics are not to be destroyed, some of that pride must be swallowed. Governments unwilling to set aside political pride for the sake of the Olympics should not train athletes and send them to the games, only to disappoint them at the last minute by forbidding them to participate. Neither should such countries be the hosts for an Olympiad. They could end up by destroying the athletes, the Olympics, and themselves.

Listening To God During Drought

Whenever the world or some substantial part of it experiences a long drought, the third horse of the Apocalypse, a black horse, rides again. Right now, Europe is undergoing the most severe shortage of rain in more than a century. Parts of the United States have been afflicted as well. This may be a portent of some calamitous times, not only for the Western world but also for the Third World, which depends so largely on food supplies from the West. Christians in Europe and in America are being called upon to ask God to intervene to stop the drought.

Any fair reading of the Bible reveals that God uses nature and the weather to accomplish the purposes he has in mind for the world. We cannot run away from the fact that when famine kills multitudes of people, this ugly human outcome must be related to the permissive or the direct will of God. We know from Scripture that God specifically and directly caused famine by drought, and he will do it again. The famine in Egypt in Joseph’s day was brought about by God’s hand. And he used that famine to nourish and to protect the Israelites when he brought them to Egypt to make of them a great nation.

A drought in Elijah’s day was brought about by the prophet. Wicked Ahab and his wife Jezebel ruled over Israel, and God was warning them. The prophet declared that rain and dew would cease throughout the land for an extended period of time. It was not until Elijah himself gave the word three years later that the rains fell.

Sometimes God uses drought and famine to warn a backslidden people and to draw them to himself in repentance. The lesson is clear: spiritual drought is far more dangerous to human beings than physical drought. King Solomon grasped this truth. He prayed: “When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against thee, if they pray … and turn from their sin … then hear thou in heaven … and grant rain upon Thy land …” (1 Kings 8:35, 36).

God is speaking today through drought, which, if it continues, will be the prelude to famine. Will mankind get God’s message and respond to the divine initiative?

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