As Christians, we want to honor God with our lives. We are days away from what is one of the most rancorous election cycles in American history, and so we want to know, “How can we think and act in this moment in a way that honors God?” Many ask: Should preachers even talk about politics? Many people say that we must not mix faith and politics. Why even venture into such dangerous waters? Because I help shepherd this flock, and I know that you all are concerned about this election. You have questions. You all are trying to think Christianly about matters which demand your attention.
Back to my question: Shouldn’t faith and politics be kept separate? Colossians 1:18 teaches that that Jesus must have first place in everything. Politics is a “thing”, so we must make sure that Jesus has first place in our thoughts and actions regarding politics. The Bible commands us to do good to all people whenever we have the opportunity (Galatians 6:10). An election is an opportunity, so we must wrestle with how to “do good” in this current situation. What if, in voting certain way—I end up doing good to people on one issue but bad to them on a different one? Do they cancel each other out? If we can sort issues according to how much harm or help each is likely to accomplish, can we vote in such a way to favor the “big” issue and yet maintain a clear conscience before God as we vote against a “lesser” issue? How do we even sort out issues? And what if I deem an issue to be “big”, but you deem a different issue to be big? What then? Can we both be pleasing to God? Am I responsible for the unforeseen consequences of my voting choice? Must I be omniscient to vote “Christianly”?
I was asking these same questions four years ago. Do I vote for a person who says some offensive things—but with whom I agree on what for me is my most important policy issue, or do vote for someone I find to be more pleasant as an individual, but who promotes a policy I find repugnant and, try as I might, cannot square with biblical morality? I decided that the best way I could be of help to my congregation is to “think out loud” in front of you. Perhaps the process I went through as I wrestled with these questions may be of some help to you.
The starting point that gives me the stability I need to think more biblically about the specific issues related to this election is that Christians are citizens both of heaven and of various nations, but our primary allegiance belongs to heaven (Philippians 3:19c–20). King Jesus replaces the president as my ultimate sovereign. This is the foundational orientation that gives us stability in confusing and troubling times. In fact, my focus needs not only to be on heaven, it actually needs to be away from this world (Hebrews 11:16). I’m a sojourner here; I have one foot on earth and the other in heaven—but the direction of my movement needs to be heavenward! I’ve decided that the Bible will have the controlling voice in my goals, priorities, and attitudes. I also keep in mind that society is not ever-evolving toward the good. We humans—including politicians—are not going to solve Earth’s problems. We need a savior! Eventually King Jesus will put things right, but it won’t be through politics.
Yet we also are citizens of earth, and I do believe that politics is one way that we love our neighbor. Consider the plight of Africans enslaved in America 150 years ago. It made a profound difference that Abraham Lincoln’s policy of equality won out over Jefferson Davis’ policy of enslaving blacks. Although politics cannot determine anyone’s eternal destiny, what happens in this life does matter. People live 80 years here on earth, then we live eternally, either in heaven or hell. Eighty years of bad laws and difficulties—followed by heaven—is better than eighty years of good laws and prosperity—followed by hell. But thankfully, as Americans in the 21st century, we’re not faced with that bleak choice. The American experiment of self-governance is a break-through that gave ordinary people like us the privilege and responsibility to help shape the government we have to live under. I think that I have a moral obligation to vote. During slavery, there were Christians who kept silent, who didn’t speak out against it—and we judge them guilty for that. We are commanded to take every opportunity to do good to people (Galatians 6:10).
But if I don’t like either candidate, do I just “hold my nose” and vote for one of them? I realized that I’m not voting on which candidate’s personality I enjoy more; it’s policies, not personalities, which have the power to harm or help people. But since all platforms are a “mixed bag” of good and bad policies, I had to prioritize policies according to their relative importance biblically. I can live with policies of lesser importance and difficult personalities.
For me, the weightiest issue of all is protecting innocent unborn life. Although any sin separates us from God, the Bible says some sins are more heinous. When someone stole, he had to pay back five times but when someone killed a man, he had to pay with his own life. Abortion is an attack on the image of God, and already we’ve sacrificed 65 million of our own children. Three thousand a day; that’s a “9-11″ every day! Some issues loom so large that they form a “continental divide” of sorts.
Important Note: If you have abortion in your past, we don’t condemn you. The Bible says that for those who’ve trusted in Christ, there is no condemnation. Abortion is not the unpardonable sin. What I am making a case for is saving future children. If you have abortion in your past, we have certified biblical counselors—female counselors—ready to help you with your pain. Statistically, one fourth of all women have been hurt by the abortion industry. I hope that you hear our heart. We welcome you, we value you, and we’re ready to help. Please email us for free, confidential help.
Because abortion is so important, I can vote even for lost non-believers who fight abortion. I ask, “What policies will this candidate likely pursue?” I’ve been asking: “Is there a clear distinction between the two party platforms? Which one promises to protect unborn life?” Platforms always are a mixed bag, so I simply aim to restrain the worst evils of this world and to promote as much human flourishing as I can. For me personally, it’s a question of percentages, not of perfection. Politics is only of limited effectiveness. I think its OK to be a “single-issue voter”. For me personally there are some issues that rise head and shoulders above the others. Some policies—such as slavery and abortion—have the ability to destroy life, while other issues—such as property rights and tax policy—only have the ability to diminish a person’s experience.
I think lots of people actually are single-issue voters (be it immigration, climate change, health-care, racism, poverty, prison reform, or gender/sexual freedom). How shall each of us decide what is our “continental divide” issue? My non-negotiable standard is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I don’t want self-interest to be my most important criterion. That’s why, for me, the economy and taxation are not very important. Giving the unborn an opportunity to have any sort of life is more important to me than trying to improve my own standard of living. Christians disagree on which issues are most important. Thankfully, we don’t answer to each other on this choice—we each answer to God (Romans 14:4–9). He’s given us his book, and we each become informed about what he values, what he’ll hold us accountable for.
For me personally, my “continental divide” issue—abortion—is clear cut. But each of us must examine the platforms, decide which one proposes policies which square with positions that we each personally believe will bring the most good, and then we each vote accordingly. This makes the choice of my vote clear to me, but you’ll have to decide what’s right for yourself. And although heavenly issues are our primary concern, the Bible supports using earthly privileges to promote human flourishing (Paul asserted his Roman citizenship rights).
Although I believe Christians should vote, the most powerful asset we have is prayer (1 Timothy 2:1–6). We pray and vote so that we can live tranquil, quiet, dignified, godly lives. And tranquility helps us achieve the most important thing: gospel witness and salvation of the lost. Christians, out of neighbor-love, seek to use everything at our disposal to bring about civic stability and freedom to live godly lives, so that people can be saved. Prayer is the most powerful tool we have, but since by the grace of God the vote also is available to us, we examine the platforms and see which one proposes policies which square with God’s positions on issues that we each believe will bring the most good. Then, we vote as our conscience dictates.
When it comes to politics, Christians should…
- Know that our first allegiance must be to King Jesus.
- Feel the responsibility of improving others’ temporal experience.
- Do good to all men, through every opportunity America’s freedoms give us.
Take One Step
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)