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The Importance of Voting

Air Date 10/24/2016

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Radio host John Stonestreet and public policy analyst Carrie Gordon Earll discuss our civic responsibility to make our voices heard in the upcoming elections.

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Episode Transcript


John Fuller: You may be disillusioned and fed up with government and politics and maybe you can't wait for the elections to be over. That's probably true for many of us, but while it would be easy to throw your hands up in despair, we still have a privilege and a duty to make a difference in a number of ways by voting on November 8th. This is "Focus on the Family," hosted by Focus president Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we have two experts with us today to share some very helpful perspective on this and possibly they'll say some things you haven't considered before.


Jim Daly: John, it's true. The elections are right around the corner, and I want to offer a bit of a disclaimer before we get underway. We're not here to tell you who to vote for, what party to vote for. We just want to offer some help in answering some questions that many Christians are contacting us here at Focus about, and hopefully help you think through some of the big issues that are at stake in this election. And my biggest hope is that you will be encouraged, after you've heard what our guests have to say, to get out and vote. I think that will be the main point today.

John Stonestreet is the executive director of the Chuck Colson Center of Christian Worldview and the co-host of a wonderful program called "Breakpoint." John, it's good to have you with us.

John Stonestreet: Thanks, Jim.

Jim: I do love that program.

John S.: Thank you

Jim: And you do an email, what would you call it, a post?-

John S.: Well, when Chuck Colson started it, it was a radio program. Now we call it a commentary because it goes on radio and email, but a four-minute moment of thinking well about the culture.

Jim: How does a person connect with that?


Jim: Okay, great. And they can get it there. It's really a pithy way to start your day, so good thing. And our own very own Carrie Gordon Earll, who is the vice president here at Focus on the Family of government and policy. Carrie, it's great to have you with us.

Carrie Gordon Earll: Hi, Jim.

Jim: I so appreciate what you and the team do each and every day. You know, and the connection here between our efforts with public policy and the Colson Center, we concentrate on marriage, life, and religious liberty, which is really the original statement, right, that Chuck Colson, Dr. Robbie George, and Dr. Timothy George wrote in the Manhattan Declaration. And those are the three core elements of that, weren't they?

John S.: Well, that's right, and these are non-negotiables. The last line of that Manhattan Declaration says that we will ungrudgingly render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but we can't render to Caesar what belongs to God—life, marriage, and freedom of conscience. Those are things that even our own founding documents in America recognize as primarily coming from God, not from the state.

Jim: Well, and that is a great place to start here. You know many people, they've become jaded about the November election, because this has really been one of the uglier political seasons. I mean, I've read some of the history of, you know, the races years ago, I mean 100 years ago. They were pretty brutal, too. We tend to forget that, but they were kind of gloves off, knuckles and raw, you know, accusations about affairs and other things, even 100 years ago. So I don't think that's new, but it just seems like it's becoming more and more partisan, more and more visceral. What would you say to those who have soured on the whole idea of even participating in the process?

John S.: Well, I think that, first of all, Scripture says if we can do good, we should do good, and because we live in this nation, we have the privilege, the ability to vote. And so, it's hard. Sometimes we don't like either choice ahead of us. I'm in that seat right now. I look ahead and I think, "Wow, is this the best that we have?" But you know what? We know that politics is primarily downstream from culture. What we're seeing is a reflection of where our culture is.

Jim: That's scary.

John S.: It is a scary thing, and something we need to be realistic about. And yet, at the same time we have the privilege, we have the opportunity to show up on November the 8th and we need to do that.

Jim: Okay, Carrie, I'll give you a shot.

Carrie: Well certainly, every election has its challenges. We can go back just in my memory of presidential years, and there's always been a lot of debate, a lot of heat, a lot of emotion, and it seems like it's never gonna end.

Jim: But it seems to push people away, because they say, "Well, why do it? Why vote?"

Carrie: It can, and we're seeing that this year. We're seeing the apathy, the frustration. People don't like what's going on with government; they want it to change. But in the midst of that, we need to turn that frustration into action and not make that an excuse to be apathetic.

There's another thing that's happening this year, Jim, that concerns me, and it is a deep division among conservative Christians. There is some real strident comments and disagreements—social media, mainstream media and what we have here are people of good conscience, good will, who disagree on how to approach this election; whether to vote in a particular race, whether to vote at all. And I think we need to have a lot of grace and compassion with each other, because the world is watching, and I want to encourage people not to let their passion about the election dampen their affection or their respect for brothers and sisters in the Lord, because when this is over, we need to have intact relationships.

Jim: Well, Carrie, that is such an important point, and it's one that I struggle with because there's so much energy in this political arena when it comes to the Body of Christ. And if you don't see things the same way, it's visceral. And people actually, the disunity that is sown in that arena particularly, is, you know, it's actually so harsh and so difficult. I'm concerned about it.

John S.: I am, too, absolutely, because, I mean, part of that happens every four years. You know, there's a quirky French theologian named Jacques Elul that called it "the political illusion"--the idea that the entire game is politics. Now listen: politics matters. Who's in office really matters. But it's more important on November 9th that we are going to be able to take communion together, worship together, and together seek to be ambassadors for Christ and restore culture together.

And some of the deep divide that Carrie mentioned, I see it, and it's really discouraging. And we're going to need to have some grace with each other. I mean listen, there's a lot of people this year that are sitting it out that shouldn't. There [are] also a lot of people that are going with hearts broken.

Jim: Let me ask you this. Is there ever a strong rationale for sitting it out?

John S.: I don't think so; not in the American experience, because we have the opportunity.

Jim: We're part of it.

John S.: Well, that's right.And Jim, here's another thing that I think is very important. I live in Colorado like you. We have nine ballot initiatives on our ballot, and all of them are extremely important, maybe as important, you know I'm tempted on some days to think more important--

Jim: At the state level, sure.

John S.: --at the state level, but maybe more important than the national races. I mean we think that the entire game is the presidential election. In Colorado, we are gonna decide whether patients can choose with doctors' assistance to end their lives, because of what has become primarily mental, not physical, suffering. That's the sixth state in the union. There's a national movement to legalize physician-assisted suicide. This is the next chapter of the pro-life movement. To not show up is to leave that question unaddressed. I don't think we can do that.

Jim: And we're going to talk in a moment a bit more about the local ballot, the down ballot, as we say. Let me ask you this bigger kind of 40,000-foot view question. As I've heard the debates, listened to things at the national level, something that continues to haunt me right now is another French philosopher, De Toqueville, who, you know, did the tour of the U.S. and saw the U.S. as a great nation and concluded that it's a great nation, because it's a good nation. Primarily it's a good nation because of its Christian, Judeo-Christian value system, the number of people that went to church and embraced it.

And he said, "America will cease to be great, when America ceases to be good." It feels like, especially with this election, we are at that point where we are no longer good; where there's so much corruption, so much damaging influence going on. Are we fulfilling that horrible prophecy that De Toqueville said and warned us about?

John S.: I think we're there. I mean, that's my take. I think AleksandrSolzhenitsyn, in his wonderful speech at Harvard University said that the indication of a cultural decline is the decadence of art, obviously, and the lack of great statesmen. And you go back and look at that and you think, well, that's where we're at. And yet, as Bonhoeffer, if we can keep throwing out names here, said, this is the tempest of the living. We can't choose to be in another cultural moment. The apostle Paul on Mars Hill, said that God determines the times and places in which we live. Christians should see their cultural moment as part of their calling to engage.

Jim: Right. One of the things that I'm reminded of, you know, traveling internationally I have met with our brothers and sisters who live under terrible government regimes, and they are thriving spiritually. I mean that's the thing. They may not be thriving in materialism and in other things, but they are solid believers, and the Lord is doing the work through them, and so it gives me great confidence. Despair is a sin. The Lord doesn't say, "Now look at your political process and be troubled, be worried. Despair if it's not going your way." What should we take from Scripture when we look at the political arena? How should we act as Christians?

Carrie: Well, the book of Matthew, I've been reading in the last couple of days, particularly has a lot to say about that, to "Let your light shine before men so they will see your good works." And good works is voting, in my view. The Scripture tells us we need to do good. We need to "do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God." How can we "love our neighbor as ourself" when we say, "Well, I'm gonna wash my hands of this and just kind of let you fend for yourself, even though I know God's ways are best"?

It's interesting you mention the persecuted church. I've been thinking about this. When I hear people say that they are not gonna vote, I have to wonder, how would you explain that to someone in the persecuted Church who did not have a say over who rules over them? We have a say, Jim. How would you explain that to a first-century Christian who runs the risk of their body being used as a torch in Nero's garden? (Emotional) How would you explain that to a Middle Eastern Christian today who risks being beheaded or a North Korean Christian starving in a concentration camp? I would have a hard time looking at that brother and sister and say, "I have the power to do good, not only for the citizens but for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and I didn't do it." That is a sobering perspective to me.

Jim: That is convicting. That is well said. John, let me ask you, heading up now the Colson Center. Chuck Colson was a great friend and a wonderful mentor to me through the transition with Dr. Dobson. He would call; he would come out and have lunch with me. I really appreciated, just the way he put an arm around me. And I found out later he did that with a lot of young, transitional leadership, you included.

John S.: Absolutely.

Jim: And I love the way Chuck would encourage me, and I'm sure you, to say, "Don't become an ideologue. Make sure you're following the Gospel of Christ." But knowing him the way you did, if he were sitting with us still today, what would he be saying to you as he mentored you about this election?

John S.: I think the first thing he would say is that politics is downstream from culture. That's what he would say over and over and over again; I can't tell you how many times I heard it. But not that politics wasn't part of culture, but that the Church was called to engage culture. The second thing he would say, and maybe the first, is that Christianity is personal, but it's not private. It's not a private faith in kind of the recesses of our own mind.

He'd also say to vote. Many people don't know, but because of his role in Watergate and the Watergate-related charge that he was convicted on as a felon, he lost his right to vote for decades.

Jim: I'd forgotten that.

John S.: And one of his proudest moments was when that was returned to him by the governor of Florida. And man, he would talk about that, and say, "You have to vote. You have to enact your civic duty. You've got to."

Jim: Wow.

John S.: I think he would be deeply troubled by the division, by the corruption. He believed character mattered when it comes to leadership. But at the same time, the Church needed to be the Church, and that involves standing up for the least of these; that involves, you know, doing the good that we can in terms of voting, and also involves on November 9th, together, looking at how we can address the brokenness in our culture.

I mean you know Chuck started ministering to prisoners, and then started to work on justice issues and started to work on re-entry issues, and then started to work on worldview and cultural issues. He continued to go upstream, upstream, upstream, because he wanted to cut the problem off at the head, and the Church needs to do this. So as crazy as this moment is, and we have to be involved, we can't put all the eggs in the political basket.

Jim: Let me ask you this. Approaching the elections with that Christian worldview in mind, how can we prioritize the different positions the candidates stand for? I mean, there's nothing seemingly pristine in this particular election. We don't have the white knight. Many people talk about it in the context of the lesser of two evils. So how do you go about, as a Christian, as a believer, saying, okay, this candidate—at whatever level, national level, local level—this person best represents what I believe, and what I believe in the Bible as to what we should do as Christians in this culture? How do you go about making that analysis?

Carrie: Well, I think there are several things to look at. First of all, what policies would this candidate bring into office? What is the traction, what is the trajectory of the nation with the policies this candidate is gonna bring? Second, I think we need to look at the party platforms. I mean they're pretty clear. All the major parties lay out what they believe, and while that's not binding on a candidate, it certainly indicates where they will go. Also, their past voting record, if they've been in office before.

And finally, power, because somebody's going to take every one of these offices, and we are gonna give them power with our vote. And what are they gonna do with that power when it comes to judicial nominations, to legislation, to executive orders? People need to be diligent and do a little research. And you know, we've made that easy in many states through our state family policy councils that are associated with Focus on the Family. And we have links to those 38 groups that have voter guides at our website, which is Commit and the number 2 vote 2016 dot com.

Jim: Is that it?

Carrie: Yes, and it's a rich website. It has links to these state-based groups; it has the party platforms—the two major party platforms, with comparisons on the major issues that social conservatives generally think about. It also has videos that you can share, social media tools, reasons people don't vote. We've addressed that on the websites, so if one of those categories fits you, you can go look that up.

Jim: And we'll have that link at our website.

Carrie: We will.

Jim: And we'll have a link to that at our website,

Carrie: Yes, and it's a rich website. It has a lot of different tools for us, and it allows us to do the due diligence we need to do as voters, when we're very busy with our lives. So, I would say you've got to look at that field and what most closely aligns with your views.

Jim: I want to press on a couple of thoughts, and Carrie, you're a woman. This campaign, particularly at the national level, has involved a lot of allegations—both sides—about the mistreatment of women. As a Christian woman, how are you processing that? How are you seeing it? Are you troubled by-- again, both sides--it's not a one-sided thing, but how do we bring a Christian perspective to that part of the dialog? What do Christian women say and what are they thinking?

Carrie: Well, I think there are a lot of different views on that topic, but most certainly we live in a sex-saturated culture. Everything from the music, to how we sell women's lingerie and underwear is so sexualized. We can't expect that not to penetrate politics. As John said, as Chuck Colson has said, that is downstream of culture. So as I look at this as a woman, I just have to go to the Word.

And for me, I think one of the clarifying scriptures this year for me is Matthew 22. And you alluded to that earlier, John. This is when the Pharisees' disciples come to Jesus and say, "Well, should we pay taxes? And we're good Jews. We really don't want to pay money to this pagan, gentile, corrupt government." You know, "Should we do that?" And Jesus very clearly says, "Well, show me what the issue is here. It is a coin. Whose image is on the coin? It is Caesar." And Jesus says, "Yes, pay your taxes." Jesus paid His taxes.

And what He's saying is, you can be a good believer, engage with the civil government, and not compromise your vows to God. So as I look at that ballot, to me, I don't see Jesus on the ballot; I see Caesar. That is Caesar's likeness. I'm a Christian woman, and I'm gonna vote my values, but I know that the tool, just like God put coins in the hands of the Jewish citizens so that they could be part of the government, God has put ballots in each of our hands, and we need to take advantage of that for good. So that is the lens I am looking through. It is Caesar's ballot, but I am bringing God's values to my vote.

Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family." Today we're talking about the importance of voting on Election Day, which is right around the corner. We have two special guests with us—John Stonestreet, president of the Chuck Colson Center on Christian Worldview, and our very own Carrie Gordon Earll, who is our vice president of public policy here at Focus on the Family.

John, you're a bit younger than me, so let me ask you this Millennial question. The way that things cut in the old days when I was maybe 40--not long ago--you know the life issue, religious liberty, conscience as we have talked about, marriage, those were core issues that we all saw kind of hotly contested in the political arena, but fairly discernible where biblical truth would land, more conservative, typically. Millennials are saying, "You know, it's not that easy anymore, because those are important, but there's other things that we're looking at, like care for the earth and those other issues." How do you speak to a Millennial crowd about how to discern, if you're in your 20's and 30's? What's important to remember when you go, maybe for the first time, to vote?

John S.: Yeah. Well, as a Gen-Xer, which I kind of sometimes look at and wonder what is our generation contributing to the world? Maybe we can bridge that gap between the Boomers and the Millennials. You know, one of the things, and Chuck and I actually talked about this, of course, as a Boomer, and looking at the Millennials, and we talked about how I think a lot of times Millennials lay out these issues one by one by one by one, and maybe total up, okay, there's 12 issues. You know, this guy has 3 of the 12, but this one has 9 of the 12.

I often talk to Millennials about [how] there is a hierarchy to these issues. You mentioned life, marriage and religious liberty. I think it's easy to dismiss these as Boomer concerns, but really these are foundational issues, and here's why, first of all, the dignity of life. The greatest sin in our nation's history is not honoring the dignity of life. The other greatest sin in our nation's history, and I'm talking here about slavery and abortion, and I'm not sure which one you put first and which one you put second, but they actually treated other people as not being worthy of dignity and honor.

And dignity of life—this is not, you know, Carrie so well put the idea of "Whose image is on the coin?" Jesus said. Well, whose image is on human life? You know, we are God's image. That doesn't belong to the state. And even in the Declaration, the dignity of life is recognized as a gift from God, not a mandate from the state. If the state gives human rights, the state can take away human rights. This is no small issue, the dignity of life.

Marriage. You mentioned Alexis De Tocqueville earlier. One of the things that De Tocqueville pointed to that made America so exceptional and unique was not that it had some sort of spectacular federal government or that we were somehow better citizens than Europeans, but in between the citizen and the federal government were all these layers of local government and institutions of strength—primarily marriage. And you look at some of the writing done recently from Charles Murray or others, they point to the fact that marriage breaking down is breaking down America from the middle—not the top down, not the bottom up, but the middle is getting weak.

We can't raise good citizens without strong families, and that is a systemic, universal thing. If we want to fix issues of education and poverty, if we want people to be responsible in how they treat others and how they treat the environment, you have to have marriage. And so, that's why that's fundamental.

And then the third is conscience. We are in a place right now in American history, where we are really wrestling with whether people of faith can bring their beliefs into the public square.More and more we are being challenged that those are private beliefs; keep them in the privacy of your own mind and your own home, maybe in your own house of worship, so we could have freedom worship. But our country was built on freedom of religion, but our allegiance was not to the state; our allegiance first and foremost was to our conscience before God. That's a radical shift in how we have understood America to be. That's why that one matters, I think, more than others.

Jim: So well said. Let me ask you this. When you look at the big issues, you've touched on some of the more rightfully obvious ones, but what about the Supreme Court? Is the Supreme Court that important?

Carrie: It's absolutely huge. I mean, as a voter you have two opportunities to influence who may sit on the highest court in the land. That is when you vote for President, who nominates, and the U.S. Senate, who confirms. And we have one opening right now with the late Justice Scalia's passing; there may be a couple more to come. And that is your opportunity to do that. Now we have a balance of power in this country, but Supreme Court decisions, as we know from Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, are not easily overturned, so there is an opportunity here, I think that is very important with the Supreme Court.

Jim: So that carries weight.

Carrie: I think so.

John S.: It does carry weight, and it also reflects, too, the importance of some of the down-ballot issues that we mentioned. There was a stunning headline, one of my favorite headlines ever on Time magazine a couple years ago, that pro-abortion forces won a major victory in Roe v. Wade, and they've been losing ever since. Isn't that a great headline? I loved it.

And they've been losing not necessarily because the Supreme Court was flipped, as important as that is, but because of the importance of down-ballot, local elected officials, enacting commonsense legislations, limiting kind of the unfettered freedoms of Planned Parenthood clinics and others to run it however they wanted. I mean the wisdom, just wise hospital admitting privileges, parental notification laws. These happened at the local level, and that's one of the reasons I think we would say, "Go vote," because it's not just at the top; it's also all the way down the ticket. There are very strategic issues that are being questioned, and you have an opportunity to have a say.

Carrie: Well, as we're talking about abortion, there is another high-stake item on the agenda at the federal level, Jim, and that is the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment has been in place for 40 years. It is an annual appropriation measure that limits how our federal tax dollars can be used when it comes to Medicaid abortion. That is a high-value target right now for the abortion industry, and their lobbyists and friends in Congress want to overturn that 40-year-old policy. That is gonna be a fight when Congress comes back.

Religious freedom is gonna be a fight. We are gonna see bills introduced on both ends of the spectrum, both to give us more protection for our conscience rights, and also to take away rights. So we talk about the Supreme Court, the Hyde Amendment, religious freedom; these are some big-ticket items as we're looking, as you say, down-ballot. Every member of the US House of Representatives is up for election, one-third of the senate, 12 gubernatorial races are in play, hundreds of ballot measures.

You have a majority of state legislatures, which is really where, as John said, things happen on the issues that we care about, the majority of state legislative races are up for grabs. Now legislatures—this is interesting—at the state level are 17 times more productive than Congress--

Jim: Not shocking. (Laughing)

Carrie: --which is not real hard to imagine. But if you want to have an influence this election, go and vote for your state legislatures. Again, go to our website at http://commit2vote2016.comand we will connect you with state policy councils across the country that have non-partisan voter guides that will give you the skinny on where these candidates stand on the issues you care about.

Jim: I think you answered my next question, so let me end it with you, John. Give your best pitch to the person listening who's saying, "I don't know if I'm gonna vote." Give me your best shot.

John S.: The best pitch is simply this: Je[sus], you know, the Scripture says, "To him who knows to do good and does it not, it's sin." So, I don't want to say if you don't vote you sin, but this is a good that we can do. And I think Carrie's point earlier about the Christians around the world who do not have this privilege and, by the way, who are looking, many of them in areas of high persecution [that] the people that are speaking up for them are American Christians. And so, religious freedom matters, not only for our sake, but also for the sake of the culture, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters around the world. There is some responsibility, some expected responsibility of being an American citizen and a Christian, and I think we need to go to the ballots.

Jim: Okay, now the final one (Laughing). So you wake up on Wednesday and it didn't go the way you hoped it would go. How do you move away from despair into hope?

John S.: The most true thing about our cultural moment, any cultural moment that any person has ever lived, is this: Christ is risen. This is not a spiritual truth; it is a truth of the universe. The entire story of human history, as told in the Scripture, centers around the reality that Christ has risen. And that's why in 1 Peter, the apostle wrote to a church, kind of where we're at. You know, things are getting uncomfortable, the cultural pressure is increasing, and said, listen, hope is not an option; hope is a command. You know, outrage is not a strategy. Christ is risen from the dead. That is the center of what it means to be Christian in the world.

Jim: Amen. John Stonestreet, Carrie Gordon Earll, thanks for being with us.

Carrie: Thank you, Jim.

John S.: Thank you.


John F.:Well, stop by where we'll link to a lot of great information about this election and what you can do. And ourCitizen staff works very hard all year long to keep up with family and social issues at the state and local levels and the national level, as well. And Citizen magazineis a great way for you to stay informed. It's the kind of thing you can get and have your kids read, as well. Subscribe when you call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or at And if you can please, make a generous donation to the work of Focus on the Family, as we help spread a biblical worldview and equip Christians to make a difference. When you donate to Focus on the Family, you'll be encouraging and lifting up families across this nation and we'd like to say thank you for your generosity by offering a complimentary subscription to Citizen magazine, so donate today.

Our program was paid for by Focus on the Family through generous listeners like you and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.

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John Stonestreet

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John Stonestreet is Executive Director of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also the co-host of the Christian worldview radio program Breakpoint, and the voice of The Point, a daily national radio feature on worldview, apologetics and cultural issues. John and his wife, Sarah, have three daughters and reside in Colorado.


Carrie Gordon Earll

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Carrie Gordon Earll is the vice president of government and public policy at Focus on the Family, where she leads a staff that provides expertise on a range of social policy topics affecting life issues, marriage and religious liberties. She also serves as the senior policy analyst for bioethics, researching and writing on a range of topics including abortion, end-of-life medical decisions and physician-assisted suicide. As a media spokesperson for Focus on the Family, Carrie has been interviewed by hundreds of print and broadcast media outlets, including ABC World News Tonight, Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.