Some things were meant to be together. At least, that's what I learned somewhere along the way about table manners. Even if you just want the salt, etiquette requires that you ask for the salt and pepper. In the words of Miss Manners, "they get lonely if separated."
Ancient Israelites, as far as I know, didn't even have a word for pepper, but they did have the twin words mishpat and tsedaqah, which most English Bibles translate as justice and righteousness. "Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness" (Ps. 72:1)—justice and righteousness go together just like king and royal son.
"The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed" (Ps. 103:6), and the Messiah "will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness" (Isa. 9:7). Prophets and psalmists thought in twos: throne and kingdom, establishing and upholding, justice and righteousness. Mishpat and tsedaqah. Two great tastes, to quote the commercial of my childhood, that taste great together.
Just as salt and pepper belong together on a well-set table, justice and righteousness belong together in a nation. Mishpat and tsedaqah show up together more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible, nearly always in a political context. Because justice and righteousness are the foundation of God's throne (Ps. 89:14), they are also the "measuring line" and the "plumb line" (Isa. 28:17) of earthly thrones.
Which brings us to Democrats and Republicans, and to why I will be voting this November with, well, fear and trembling.
Justice, in biblical terms, is more than equal treatment under the law—it involves putting power at the service of the powerless and wealth at the service of the poor. My friends who care about justice argue that Democrats have spent 50 years advocating for the vulnerable: the poor, the sick, the youngest, the oldest. And though the party of the powerless also has a curiously strong appeal among the elites of Hollywood and Manhattan, on the whole my friends are probably right.
Righteousness, meanwhile, is more than honesty and fair dealings—it requires the alignment of our lives with God's original good intentions for creation. Like justice, righteousness in a nation especially benefits the poor and powerless, who cannot insulate themselves from the effects of sin. My friends who care about righteousness argue that Republicans have held the line against values that come straight from the maw (or the mall) of individualistic consumerism, where pleasure and preference reign. And while the party of moral character raises lots of money from people whose only interest is making the world safe for consumerism, I can't argue with these friends either.
To make matters worse, each presidential candidate has blind spots even in his area of putative strength. John Kerry declines to see that abortion is not a matter of private morality but of public justice for utterly vulnerable human beings. (Bizarrely, he justifies his position by saying that government must keep out of people's bedrooms. Abortions do not generally happen in bedrooms.) Any public official who professes Catholic faith and is as enthusiastically pro-choice as Kerry does not have, in the words of the Catholic bishops, "a well-formed conscience."
Yet our President's conscience also seems too clear to be true. Asked a simple and predictable question at an April 2004 press conference—to name his greatest mistake since September 11, 2001—he couldn't answer, saying, "I don't want to sound like I've made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one." Is it too much to ask that the most devout President in recent history have a more concrete response to a question about his own limitations?
Such is the state of our presidential politics: an evangelical President flummoxed at any suggestion of his own fallibility, and a Catholic candidate who sidesteps his church's teaching authority. And in both our political parties, concern for justice often serves as cover for self-justification; righteousness curdles all too quickly into self-righteousness.
So I've decided that my own vote will be less about endorsing a platform or person than discerning the potential for change—in biblical terms, for repentance. Is it more likely that the party of justice can repent of its indifference to righteousness, or that the party of righteousness can repent of its deafness to justice? I have to choose one, but I will pray for both. Some things aren't meant to be separated.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other campaign and election issues Christianity Today covered this election season include:
Ethics Cloud Hangs Over DeLay Campaign | Bribery allegations give challenger hope to oust Washington's third most powerful man. (Oct. 01, 2004)
Senate's Top Democrat in the Cross Hairs | Conservative social issues may alienate voters from Tom Daschle's Washington record. (Sept. 30, 2004)
California's Prop. 71 Stem-Cell Scam | Supporters of cloning embryos for research have $11 million to convince state voters. (Sept. 29, 2004)
It's Not About Stem Cells | Why we must clarify the debate over harvesting embryos. (Sept. 29, 2004)
Wooing the Faithful | President Bush needs evangelicals more than ever, but it's unclear how badly they want him for another four years. (Sept. 28, 2004)
John Kerry's Open Mind | The candidate has roots in liberal Catholicism, establishment Protestantism, and secular idealism. (Sept. 27, 2004)
Not Far from the Brahmin Tree | Kerry's morals have been shaped by an old Protestant establishment. (Sept. 27, 2004)
More campaign articles are available from our Election 2004 Hot Topic.
Earlier Andy Crouch columns for Christianity Today include:
'Live More Musically' | The difference between Christian practice and a Starbucks purchase. (July 29, 2004)
The Cruel Edges of the World | There are some places that bring the distant biblical text closer to our lives. (June 07, 2004)
Pilgrims to Nowhere | Freedom isn't much good if you don't have a sense of direction. (March 30, 2004)
Glittering Images | A profound Christian rethinking of power is overdue (Feb. 17, 2004)
Before the Deluge | All of us have a sexual orientation that bends toward the self. (Dec. 03, 2003)
Two Weddings and a Baptism | It's still impossible to predict what will advance the gospel in Hollywood. (Oct. 15, 2003)
Wrinkles in Time | Botox injections as a spiritual discipline. (Aug. 11, 2003)
Rites of Passage | Self-improvement is our culture's most durable religion. (June 6, 2003)
Christian Esperanto | We must learn other cultural tongues. (June 4, 2003)
We're Rich | But why is it so hard to admit? (Feb. 20, 2003)
Blinded by Pop Praise | To see God "high and lifted up," just open your eyes. (Dec. 17, 2002)
The Future Is P.O.D. | Multicultural voices have an edge in reaching a rapidly changing America. (October 12, 2002)
Rekindling Old Fires | We can resist technology's chilling effects on how we spend time together. (August 2, 2002)
Interstate Nation | The national highway system is a lesson in how to transform a nation. (June 21, 2002)
Amplified Versions | Worship wars come down to music and a power plug. (April 17, 2002)
Thou Shalt Be Cool | This enduring American slang leaves plenty out in the cold. (March 18, 2002)
Borrowing Against Time | We live in a fallen world. We will die. We need to face that. (Jan. 17, 2002)
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.