Christians and Voting
by Michael G Muñoz, D.Be.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Mat 10:16)
So, there’s been a lot of heat (mixed with some silliness), but I wonder how much light. I’m speaking about the upcoming election and how Christians ought to vote. It’s been either Christians must vote for Trump or we are guilty of murdering babies. Or, Christians are sinners if they vote for Hillary because we would be electing a murdering socialist. And on-and-on it goes.
While politics is neither the answer or the savior to our nations woes, we are still given the opportunity and privilege of engaging in it wisely and to the glory of God. So, what principles can we use to help guide us in what we should do when we enter the voting booth? As with any ethical issue, I think there are three perspectives that need to be considered: Norms (Biblical/moral principles), the situation, as well as the personal aspect. So with much tentativeness and a desire to start a dialogue (though, I realize, it’s pretty late in the game; but this could be helpful for the next election as well), here is what I have been grappling with.
The normative perspective considers God’s authority over all of creation and takes account of biblical imperatives, moral principles, and godly wisdom which guide us concerning any given moral question. Can we proclaim it a sin if a Christian does not vote? I don’t think so. However, I think there are some biblical principles that point us in the direction of the responsibility and wisdom in exercising our constitutional right to vote. 1 Tim 2:1-2 instructs us to pray for all men, specifically including “kings and all who are in authority.” Why? So that we may lead “tranquil and quiet” lives. Surely our prayers are meant for their well-being as well as to influence their decision making in a godly direction. It seems a perfectly legitimate application of this verse to begin in the ballot box. In Rom 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-15, we are instructed, “to be in subjection to” and “submit” to those in authority. It seems the height of folly to not exercise what control we have been given in choosing our leaders if honoring God involves submitting to them.
What kind of leaders should we choose? The wisdom literature provides important and general characteristics of a good king. He should be just (Pro 8:15; 20:8), he should not be a wicked man, but one of righteous character (Pro 16:12), he should be wise and righteous (Pro 20:26, 28), and most of all, he should honor and obey God (Psa 2). Because Christ has been given, “all authority . . . in heaven and on earth (Mat 28:18), because all earthly rulers ought to bow the knee to Him (Psa 2; Phil 2:9-11), and because Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 19:16), it is appropriate to look for these characteristics in the leaders we choose. Certainly wisdom would also instruct us to consider other necessary qualifications for the job at hand, but character is foundational. The problem in the current election—specifically with the only two candidates with a chance of winning (see below)—is we don’t have a righteous candidate from which to choose. What do we do now? We turn to the next two perspectives for further guidance.
The situational perspective takes account of God’s sovereign control over all things and considers context, goals, and probable or desired outcomes. Like it or not, we have a two party system. That means that unless God works a miracle, there are only two possible candidates with a chance at the presidency—Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In other words, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, or any other write-in candidate have the proverbial “snowballs chance in hell” of being elected. However, they can most certainly affect the outcome of the election. How so?
I’ve heard it said that a vote for a third party candidate is a vote for the other party—depending whether you are a Republican or Democrat. The typical response to this assertion is that it is logically fallacious. I think this depends on what is meant by the assertion. The English language is flexible and we don’t always speak in logic-ese. It is true, by not voting for one viable candidate, you are not adding a vote to the other party’s candidate. However, I think what is meant by the assertion, which illustrates how the third party candidates can most certainly affect the election, is as follows. To make the math simple let’s assume that only 30 people can and are voting—15 Democrats and 15 Republicans. If everyone voted according to party line it would be a draw. However, if all the Republicans voted the party line, but only 10 Democrats voted the party line and 5 voted third party, then the Republican candidate would win. This, I think, is what is meant by the assertion and I think it is sound reasoning. So, we can practically conclude that a third party or write-in vote helps one of the two mainline candidates. Which one do you want to help? Then vote accordingly.
I have heard some Christian commentators say that America is under the judgment of God. While I’m not a prophet, I tend to agree with this. After Roe v. Wade (abortion) and Obergefell v. Hodges (gay marriage), it’s hard to imagine God blessing America. However, we are reminded often in Scripture that if we turn from our wickedness, repent, and submit to God (e.g., 2 Chr 6:36-39; Jer 18:5-10), He may relent. The Great Commission (Mat 28:19-20) instructs us to “disciple the nations.” We can be confident in this task, because Jesus promises to be with us, “even to the end of the age.” My point is that whether we are under the judgment of God or not, we should never give up hope and we should never quit fighting to stem the tide and reverse the judgment. Voting is a way of doing this.
The personal perspective asks: What can I do? And what are my motives for doing so? This perspective applies biblical virtues to a given situation. So, wisdom dictates we ought to vote and we should do so relying on the lovingkindness, compassion, and grace of God. We vote within an imperfect and seemingly thoroughly secular system (though arguably it was never meant to be such). It is pretty obvious that we are not going to end up with a righteous and godly president this election cycle. And practically speaking, a third party vote or write-in a candidate will actually help one of the mainline candidates win the election. What do we do?
I’ve heard many say that they cannot vote for either of the mainline candidates with a clear conscience; so, they will either not vote or write-in their choice—regardless of the outcome. But is having a clear conscience that simple? Are there no other issues involved (oh, that life was that simple)? If nothing else, is it possible by voting for a mainline candidate we could slow the tide of America’s eventual, deserved, and seemingly inevitable destruction? These are the questions that Christians should take to the ballot box. We should go into the voting booth “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I believe our innocence is affected by our desire to glorify God while recognizing the imperfect, secular system we must work within. So, what else should we wisely consider? Here is where it becomes very difficult because we cannot predict the future with the omniscience only possessed by God. Nevertheless, it seems to me that some of the issues we as Christians ought to consider are the following: Religious liberty, supreme court nominees, the rights of the traditional family, marriage, abortion, physician assisted suicide, terrorism and border safety, genetic science, the escalation of pornography, and so much more. Many will say that a President can’t really affect any of these issues or that these concerns fall within the authority and purview of Congress. And if our system was working properly, this would be correct. However, aside from our broken system, history proves that a president can affect outcomes concerning issues like the ones listed above. Many a president knew how to use the bully-pulpit and influence the nation.
Others will say that we cannot rely on either mainline candidate to affect godly and moral change in any of these areas. This may be true. We may simply have to ask, “Which candidate will do the least amount of damage?” And then vote accordingly. Remember, Christians are not of this world, but we are placed directly within it and we are called to do everything in our power to affect change and work toward discipling the nations.
As you go to the polls and make some tough choices early this November, please, most of all, remember the words of our Lord:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
This commandment is for Christ-followers. Be gracious to your brothers and sisters who may disagree with you. By all means vote your conscience, but do so with wisdom and an understanding of how far the issues extend and thus what falls within the domain of your conscience.