HOW SHALL I VOTE? When the choice on display makes it difficult to choose
Few topics raise as much heated debate as the Christian and politics. Opinions on this issue range from believing we should be totally disengaged (based on misquoting 2 Timothy 2:4) through to the other extreme of what has become known as liberation theology. Of course Christians are unable to escape politics, because we believe Jesus is King, a belief that has resulted in the martyrdom of many believers throughout church history.
Christians in western liberal democracies today are in a very different world to that of the early church. It is in many ways a blessing to live in a democracy, because when it functions well it enables people to have a voice and enjoy freedom. The basic idea in a democracy is that the elected government gets chosen by the people.
But what happens when the choice on display is not exactly what you would have hoped for? After the debate debacle between President Trump and Democrat candidate Joe Biden on 29 September 2020, I think many Christians in America may well be despairing and wondering on how to vote. All eyes are on America at the moment in what is arguably an incredibly significant cultural moment.
Its been a particularly tough year. It is well documented on just how divisive and polarizing the issues and people have become, thanks in large part to the assistance of social media platforms, and of course this has all taken place against the backdrop of Covid-19. There has been a rise in negative partisanship in which you look for the demise of your opponent more than your own success. If the 2016 elections were marked by polarization, the 2020 elections are even more so. To quote Daniel Bennett (Associate Professor of Political Science at John Brown University): “If anything, the political atmosphere has become more toxic over the last several years. This should concern Christians. Our country’s extreme political climate might tempt us to adopt its hostile rhetoric and dehumanizing tones, rendering us indistinguishable from the world. Or we might be tempted to abandon political engagement altogether, fatigued by the rancor and fed up by the partisan stalemate.”[i]
He then goes on to say the following: “But neither option will suffice for those of us called to be in the world for the sake of the kingdom. We must forge a better path for a healthier, Christ-centered political engagement.” [ii]
It is in this spirit, gleaning from the wisdom of God’s Word that the following is offered as food for thought to guide your decision. This is not only for those in America, but for any Christian who seeks to honour God through their vote.
Firstly, it really goes without saying but we shall say it anyway:
God is clear on this. In James 1:5&6 we read: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”
If you note the immediate context of this verse, you will notice that James is speaking about how going through tough times tests and develops our faith, and in tough times wisdom is needed. Our modern 2020 context with Covid-19 has certainly brought the world and Christians into a tough place: how wonderful to know we can ask God for wisdom!
To this I would like to add that the body of Christ has a marvelous opportunity in seasons of polarization to reveal a better way. The church can come together and pray: we can pray in a spirit of repentance in which we examine our hearts and confess that so often we have been part of the problem rather than the solution! To this aspect, we can appeal to the mercy of God that He would apply to us as well the promise that He gave to Solomon after he completed the temple: If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
We can further pray in a spirit of hope. We know that God is sovereign over all, and that He can use all things to further His glory. God also commands us to pray for those in authority, to pray that a context will be created in which His people can ‘lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way’ (1 Timothy 2:2). Why would God want this? Because there is a kingdom purpose: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (v3)”
For those who would like to Pray the Vote, an American initiative to pray every day through the November 3rd election, you can subscribe at the following link.: www.presidentialprayerteam.org/pray-the-vote/thank-you/
82,085 have already accepted the challenge.
2) Vote Policy, not person.
The second guideline for voting that I offer is to think in terms of policy, not person. This is so important. What are the perspectives being offered on issues that are close to your heart? To this end consider carefully the importance of your issue in the broader scheme. I am blessed to have a friend who served in Parliament in South Africa as an MP for 20 years with the ACDP (Ms Cheryllyn Dudley), and who helped me to see things differently. One lesson she often shares about is how important it was for her was to choose the hill on which she was willing to die, because there are no shortage of issues!
More importantly, what are the proposals being put forward that will align with God’s heart? If we look to God’s Word, we know that God has implemented civic authority for the purpose of implementing justice (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-15). Which party policies do you believe will most ensure this? This raises many issues which help one realise that issues of politics are actually not as clear cut as many would like to have us believe. You need to consider the worldview being held by the person and party, you need to look at who they surround themselves with in terms of advisers. In a recent keynote address given at School of Governance conference, Cheryllyn Dudley shared the following:
“Biblical political justice, I came to understand, accepts the imperfection of the world and seeks to serve, preserve and bless, making society as just as possible. It does however measure political systems by the quality of justice the system secures for the poorest of the poor and weakest of the weak, it seeks ways to work with whatever political leadership we have, not accepting the myth that one leader will be all good and another all bad, and it is always looking for ways to move our justice system away from punishment towards redemptive restitution and restorative justice.”[iii]
There are in all probability Christians in the party you don’t like because their reasoning processes and issues they believe in are different to yours. In an interview with Church of Ireland Gazette, Philip Yancey shared the following:
“One of the UK prime ministers, John Major, was trying to understand evangelicals, so he called in the head of the Evangelical Alliance. “I can’t figure out these evangelicals,” he said. “Are they liberal or conservative on political issues?”
The response: “They’re both.” Christians may well support certain policies that represent both sides of the political spectrum. I once heard a sermon from Tim Keller in which he cited a list of what early Christians in the Roman Empire insisted on. Some examples:
There is only one way to God. We oppose pre-marital sex, and also abortion. Those would usually be considered conservative positions.
Christians should not serve in the armed forces. We support programs for the poor, and also gender equality. Those would usually be considered liberal positions.
Keller was making the point that people who are trying to follow Jesus can’t be compartmentalized into a binary political platform.[iv]
3) Be the Change
As Christians, we are called to and can display a different spirit. We cannot afford to demonize opponents because their point of view is different. We are called to respect the Imago Dei (image of God) in each and every one of us. How we need to learn to listen before we speak!
We also live as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), and no matter what the political outcome, our primary allegiance will always be to Jesus Christ. Peter offers us instructions on how to live as citizens in 1 Peter 2: 16&17: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor.”
I want to close with a quote that has really helped shaped my understanding of how we are to live as Christians in this political age. It is by Landa Cope:
“As God’s people we are called into civil governance for the glory of God and the good of the people. Our goal is not to perfect the world or nation but to offer God’s perspective, a better way, and allow society a choice. We are not Jews in the promised land; we are God’s people in Babylon, God’s people surrounded by nations in darkness, offering salt and light. We have influence, but we are not in control. We are not defending God’s kingdom; his kingdom is already established. We are not here to “bring back the King;” the King is already coming. We are ambassadors of light, helping to dispel darkness. We are salt, preserving and changing the flavour of our communities choices. We are salt that can bring healing. We offer an alternative to the lies of the lawless one. And we are preparing to deliver God’s justice beyond the borders of this world and time”[v]
Article written by Rev Richard Baird
(For an extended essay on the Christian and Politics (South African context) which delves into some church history, go to www.shepherdledlife.co.za and look under resources)
[iii] Received via personal correspondence
[v] Cope, L God and Political Justice p27