Author archives: Joseph Backholm

Christian Voting Myth #3: “I Don’t Like Either Candidate, So What’s the Point?”

by Joseph Backholm

October 12, 2020

This is part 3 of a 4-part series debunking four common myths Christians use to not vote. Read myth #1: “One Vote Doesn’t Make a Difference”myth #2: “God Is in Charge Anyway So It Doesn’t Matter if I Vote”; and myth #4 “I’m Not in the Majority Where I Live, So Why Bother?”

In an ideal world, you would always have the option to vote for really great people that you agree with in every respect. In the real world, however, your ballot may give you choices that make you feel less like you’re choosing someone to represent your values and more like you are choosing a cancer treatment. In that situation, what you want most is a different option. But sometimes there is no different option. What should you do then?

For a lot of people, the answer is “nothing.” Instead of voting, they choose to be absent from the process, absolve themselves of responsibility, and blame God for allowing it to come to this.

One reason it’s sometimes difficult to vote is because we want to support someone without reservation. On social media, we “like” people that we care about, things that makes us laugh, or ideas that we agree with. Our “like” is our stamp of approval. If we only like it a little bit, we’re likely to move on to something else.

There’s a temptation to treat our ballot the same way. If we can’t give unqualified support, we are tempted to abstain and wait for something better. But voting is not like social media. It’s more like filling a job vacancy. The job has to be filled and the Constitution has dictated the timeline. The fact that you haven’t found the ideal candidate may be frustrating, but it is not relevant to the fact that the job is going to be filled.

Your desire to find someone you can give unqualified support to is noted but not especially helpful under the circumstances. In that situation, it may be more helpful to think less about good and bad and more about better or worse. Is that possible? Maybe.

Character always matters, but if a completely virtuous person is not one of your choices, maybe the policies represented by one candidate are more virtuous than the policies of the other candidates. Is one candidate working on behalf of the abortion industry while the other works to defend life? Does one candidate defend conscience rights while the other supports suing nuns and churches that live out their faith? Does one candidate want parents involved in their child’s education and health care decisions while the other wants the state to interfere with parental rights? In a situation where all the candidates are flawed, we might be able to find clarity if we allow ourselves to think less about people involved and more about policies that will be affected.

In addition, if there is no “best candidate,” it may be helpful to think about the “best team.” No politician works alone. Most candidates are part of a political party, and all candidates have donors and supporters. Executive offices, like mayors, governors, and presidents also appoint cabinet members, judges, ambassadors, and thousands of other positions that affect how government operates.

Which candidate, for political reasons, is going to be pressured more often to do things you like and which candidate is going to face pressure to do things you won’t like? If the two foremen are not people you especially care for, is there a reason to prefer one crew over another?

Though it sometimes seems the end is near, we do still live on earth and that means we will be consistently faced with imperfect choices. It would be nice if the choice was always clearly good or evil, but it’s not. Sometimes the choice is better or worse, and if you aren’t willing to choose better, you may find yourself stuck with worse.

Read myth #4: “I’m Not in the Majority Where I Live, So Why Bother?”

Christian Voting Myth #2: “God Is in Charge Anyway So It Doesn’t Matter if I Vote”

by Joseph Backholm

October 8, 2020

This is part 2 of a 4-part series debunking four common myths Christians use to not vote. Read myth #1: “One Vote Doesn’t Make a Difference”myth #3: “I Don’t Like Either Candidate, So What’s the Point?” and myth #4: “I’m Not in the Majority Where I Live, So Why Bother?”

Anyone who has spent 15 minutes around a church during election season has heard someone say some version of the following: “Don’t worry about the election. It doesn’t really matter what happens because God is always in charge anyways.”

It’s true, of course, that God is always in charge. Neither human frailty nor human stupidity threaten God’s plan for the world. He will accomplish His plan despite us. But it isn’t logical to conclude that because God is sovereign, we don’t have to care about what happens in government. Here’s why. 

The freedom we enjoy in America is unusual. Even if you’re not a political activist, you’re probably thankful that life in the United States is different than life in places like Venezuela or North Korea. It’s not just different, it’s better. We can own property, say stupid things online about our government without fear of the police arresting us for it, and even help determine who our government is.  

These freedoms are so normal for Americans that we tend to take them for granted, but they were unimaginable for generations past. Billions of people have lived and died under a monarchy, oligarchy, or some form of dictatorship. That’s not only true of the past, it’s true of the present. Most people alive in the world right now are not free in the way Americans understand freedom.  

Those of us who have freedom and prosperity probably didn’t do anything to earn it. We inherited it. We’re political trust fund babies. Though we didn’t do anything to get it, we are responsible for what we do with it. To whom much is given, much is required. That’s why indifference isn’t an option. The American form of government is a gift, and we owe it to those who gave us that gift to treat it with appropriate respect and appreciation. One way we do that is by taking care of it.

A republican form of government, like everything in our lives, requires constant maintenance. If you decide to never mow your lawn again, never replace the breaks on your car, or never fix the leak in your roof, God will still be in charge and He will still accomplish His purpose. Nothing about neglecting adult responsibilities threatens God’s sovereignty. But we don’t decline to fix our roof because God is sovereign, nor is God’s sovereignty the reason we would fix it. We fix the roof as an act of stewardship for the good gift of a house that God has given us and as an act of service to the people in our family who live in the house. So it is with governments.

Educating ourselves, voting, and running for office are forms of civic maintenance. They feel like chores because in a real sense, they are chores. They’re civic chores and they’re a privilege. We shouldn’t complain about our civic duties any more than we should complain about the maintenance costs on our private fleet of jets. Some problems aren’t problems, they’re blessings. It is a privilege to be able to query which candidate is most tolerable. At least we get to have an opinion. Doing the work necessary to keep the luxury items God has given us in good condition does not show a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty, it shows good stewardship of what He has given to us and kindness to our neighbors.

After all, well maintained governments make life better for everyone. Ideas are not neutral. All ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. When we allow bad ideas to take root in government, people get hurt. Engagement in our government is not just a way to fulfill a civic duty, it’s a chance to make life tangibly better for other people. Babies who would otherwise die get to live. People who would otherwise be punished for speaking the truth get to speak. Businesses that would otherwise be shut down can flourish. Parents who would otherwise lose the right to direct the upbringing of their children get to have the final say. Communities that would otherwise be unsafe are able to thrive. Justice exists where it didn’t before. Some political choices are purely a matter of opinion—chocolate or vanilla? But sometimes they’re a matter of life and death.

It’s true that God is in charge and we can trust Him, even when things are hard. It is also comforting to know that God will restore all things in His time, even if something bad happens. But that’s no excuse for indifference. God has placed us on earth to be His hands and feet in a broken world. Our efforts to make the world better by living out our beliefs are not a sign of misplaced trust but a recognition of who He made us to be.

Read myth #3: “I Don’t Like Either Candidate, So What’s the Point?”

Christian Voting Myth #1: “One Vote Doesn’t Make a Difference”

by Joseph Backholm

October 6, 2020

This is part 1 of a 4-part series debunking four common myths Christians use to not vote. Read myth #2: “God Is in Charge Anyway So It Doesn’t Matter if I Vote”; myth #3: “I Don’t Like Either Candidate, So What’s the Point?” and myth #4: “I’m Not in the Majority Where I Live, So Why Bother?”

In an age where we’re constantly told to follow “the science,” everyone wants their decisions to be data driven. We study and research to ensure that what we are doing does not simply feel helpful, but actually is helpful.

At the same time, we’re all told we should vote because every vote makes a difference. We’re often told this by the same people who tell us that our decisions should be data driven. Sometimes the idea that every vote makes a difference isn’t actually supported by the data. For example, in the 2016 election, 139 million people voted in the presidential election. That’s a lot of people.

Those of us who followed the law only voted once. You don’t need to be a math major to realize that one vote out of 139 million isn’t going very far to determine who the president is. Let’s be honest, if you or I had decided not to vote, we would still have the same president. But our vote still matters. Here’s why.

While presidential elections are usually the first thing we think about when we think about elections, elections are about much more than a presidency. State and local elections not only have a big impact on your life, they are often decided by a small number of votes. In 2017, a Virginia House of Delegates race ended in a tie after more than 23,000 ballots were cast. The winner was decided by pulling a name out of a bowl, which also decided the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In 2016, a New Mexico State House seat was decided by two votes out of 14,000 ballots cast. School board elections, which happen in every town in America and determine what kids will be taught at school, don’t have hundreds of millions of votes—in many cases they have hundreds of votes cast. Total. These are critical decisions that make a big difference in our lives that are decided not by millions of people, they’re decided by dozens of people. Each one of those votes matters a lot.

But that’s not all. In elections, as in all of life, many small decisions make a big difference. When one person decides not to vote, it’s easy to make the argument that it doesn’t really matter. But what happens if millions of people decide that voting doesn’t matter?

In 2016, there were 235 million eligible voters in the United States, but only 139 million of them actually voted. That means that almost 100 million people who could have voted chose not to. Many of them probably thought their vote wouldn’t make a difference. But it did.

For Christians, however, voting isn’t just a practical decision. It’s also about doing the right thing.   

Romans 13 tells us that government was created by God in order to punish evil and reward good. If any of us had been born into royalty and grown to be king or queen, our duty to God would require us to use the power God gave us to punish evil and reward good. Most of us weren’t born into a royal family and won’t be monarchs, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have political authority. Those of us privileged enough to vote have authority, and it, like everything, came from God. That means we have stewardship responsibility to use our authority in a way that recognizes where that authority came from and what it is for. Indifference is never good stewardship.

It’s true that we can’t always control what happens, but we can always control what we do with what we have, and that’s what we’ll ultimately be responsible for.

Read myth #2: “God Is in Charge Anyway So It Doesn’t Matter if I Vote”

Coronavirus, Education, and Tofu: Why Choice is the Solution to the Education Conundrum

by Joseph Backholm

August 4, 2020

The coronavirus has been disruptive to our politics, our economy, and even our decency, but perhaps nothing has been disrupted as significantly as our education system.

Harvard has already announced that it will be conducting all classes remotely for the 2020-21 school year. Meanwhile, a battle is forming between school districts, parents, and teachers’ unions over the best way to do education in elementary, middle, and high schools in the age of corona.  

In Florida, the teachers union has sued the state over the governor’s attempts to require school districts to provide in-class instruction. The nation’s second-largest teachers union has authorized its teachers to strike if school districts do not meet certain demands like requiring masks or updating ventilation systems.  

Parents not only want their children to resume their educational pursuits; in many cases, they need somewhere to send their children so they can work. Not all families are wanting the same thing. Some parents think schools should resume as normal because children are in a low-risk category from the virus. Other families, whose children or close relatives are vulnerable, are either removing their children completely or insisting on a range of challenging or expensive modifications to school routines and buildings.

Meanwhile, school districts face a dilemma. If they choose online education, many families will leave. If they opt for in-class instruction, teachers may refuse to teach. For schools, there seems to be no right answer. But there could be. As sticky as this dilemma is, it’s made much more complicated by the fact that families are generally denied options about where to spend their education dollars.

In other contexts, this scenario isn’t particularly unusual or difficult. If McDonald’s replaces all their meat patties with tofu, vegans will descend on McDonald’s, and everyone else will go to Wendy’s or Burger King. It may require a change in routine, but ultimately everyone will get what they want because everyone has the freedom to spend their lunch money at the place that will give them what they’re looking for.

For reasons that are almost entirely political, education doesn’t work this way. While tax money is allotted for each student, students are almost always told where they can go, not asked where they want to go. Only those with enough money to look outside the public school system have real options. We are so accustomed to a choiceless education system that many of us have not paused to consider how strange it is. We would march on Washington if our health insurance providers told us they would only cover medical treatment at the hospital closest to our house.

There’s no way for schools to meet the unique needs of every family as they navigate this global challenge, but they shouldn’t have to. Families, schools, and teachers each need the freedom to do what’s best for them, but the law says they can’t. Families aren’t allowed to choose the school that’s best for them, and schools are forbidden from hiring teachers who are a good fit for the educational approach they will choose. As a result, schools are stuck with teachers who may refuse to work, and families are stuck with schools that may not have teachers.

If the education market worked like any other market, our present dilemma would still be challenging, but it would be solvable. As it is, we’re heading for a showdown that will end with nearly everyone being frustrated.

State legislatures should be calling special sessions immediately to allow families the freedom to choose the education that works best for their unique situation. One-size-fit-all solutions to education are always a problem, but right now, they’re especially harmful. Families must be empowered to solve this problem for themselves because they’re the only ones who can. If state legislatures don’t do this, they shouldn’t expect education in the age of corona to go well. People don’t enjoy being told they have only one option if that option doesn’t work for them. It’s like being told you have one option for a burger and learning they only sell tofu.

SCOTUS Delivers for Religious Schools

by Joseph Backholm

July 10, 2020

The Supreme Court had some misses this term, but not when it comes to religious schools. Two decisions in the past two weeks have greatly improved the landscape for religious education, including Christian education.

In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court said religious schools cannot be excluded from that state’s private school tax-credit program. Previously, the Montana Supreme Court, citing a state constitutional provision known as a Blaine Amendment, said that religious schools could not be the beneficiaries of a public tax benefit—because they are religious. However, the U.S. Supreme Court said that provisions excluding religious schools solely because they are religious violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

In doing so, the Court again emphasized that the Constitution does not require government and religion to remain disconnected in every respect, only that government treat every religious organization and faith similarly.    

The impact of this decision is significant. Currently, 37 states have language similar to Montana’s anti-aid Blaine Amendment. But 26 states have school choice programs in the form of vouchers, tax credits, or education savings accounts. Until last week, parents in most of the 26 state school choice programs were prohibited from using them to attend a Christian school. No longer.

In addition to expanding opportunities for school programs that already exist, parents and churches in states with no school choice laws now have reasons to start that conversation in their state legislature. Not only does this expand options for parents, it provides opportunities for churches to start new schools.   

In the second piece of good news, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of religious schools to make employment decisions free of government intrusion. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, former teachers had sued two religious schools claiming that they had been discriminated against when they were released from their jobs. The Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the Court from even hearing the teachers’ claims. Why? Because if a court were to regulate how religious organizations hired and fired, it would effectively be determining how a religious organization is run.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court said such oversight was outside their constitutional jurisdiction. Specifically, they said that these teachers fell under a “ministerial exception” to non-discrimination laws which had previously been used to protect a church’s right to hire and fire ministers. 

As a result of this decision, religious schools may develop a new habit of describing Christian educators as ministers in their employment documents. Regardless, the Supreme Court has again recognized the right of religious organizations to be religious, free from the demands of a swiftly moving cultural tide. 

Providentially, at a moment where the need for cultural renewal has never been greater, the opportunity for Christian education has never been better.

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council.

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