I’ve been having on Facebook some discussions regarding a Christian’s responsibility in the polling booth, in particular, when the choices on the ballot are not appealing. I’ve seen a range of complete pragmatism to just rubber stamp a party to people who say if you don’t vote for a particular candidate (in the primary) or do vote for a particular candidate (in the general election), then you have no principles. One position doesn’t exercise discernment, and the other lacks humility. One has seemingly no standards beyond winning where the other position is legalistic.
First of all we need to understand the limits of politics. We should be engaged, but we will not ultimately impact people for the Kingdom of God and make an eternal difference through political discourse.
Second, we also need to realize that this is not an issue which should divide the Church. Matters of essential doctrine? Yes. When there is an abandonment of biblical standards regarding conduct of church leadership? Yes. There is liberty in voting, and it is a matter of conscience. When it comes to voting it isn’t so cut and dried at times. Brian Myers, a contributor here, wrote back in March:
Not everyone is going to have the same view on even some very basic questions. For example, assuming a Christian may vote, must he vote? Is it his duty? Another more basic question arises: What, exactly, is the nature of a vote?
This latter question is one that rarely receives much attention but is critical nonetheless. If one views the vote as a highly principled endorsement of sorts, then the candidate one votes for must meet a high bar indeed. His religious beliefs, his political views, and his lifestyle must match one’s own to a very high degree. Perhaps in a covenanted nation, one where the Christian religion is established, this view of the nature of a vote would be the correct one to take. However, given our present circumstances, is it necessary to take such a view? The Christian may see voting as nearly impossible if such a rigorous standard is applied. And the Christian may well believe that it is not in his best interest to simply disengage from political activity.
Isn’t it possible that a Christian may, in good conscience, vote for people and legislation that will do him the least amount of harm? Some people may call this a “lesser of two evils” approach, but it really is nothing more than utilizing a civil mechanism in an attempt to keep evil at bay.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) made a statement, “In the essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.” Certainly there can be debate over what is non-essential, but I would have to think how we vote is pretty inconsequential to say compared to our view of the divinity of Christ or the infallibility of the Bible. We do have liberty in this arena and our conscience should be our guide. Christ prayed that his people would be one, (John 17:23). We point to homosexuality, promiscuity, and idolatry as a work of the flesh, as well we should. It is easy to forget that enmity, strife, dissensions, and divisions are as well, (Galatians 5:18-21). That doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we should be charitable toward one another.
Third, our conscience should be guided by Scripture and a have a view toward what is the common good. Chuck Colson makes some excellent points in an article for Christianity Today written just before the 2008 elections:
Today, God no longer chooses our leaders directly (although some of us wish he did, if only to spare us the years-long political campaigns). We live in a democracy, so God entrusts to us the job of choosing leaders he will anoint. (Deuteronomy 1:12–13 shows us that democratic principles go directly back to the Old Testament.) Like Samuel, we are commissioned to choose leaders of competence, virtue, and character. That’s why not voting or rejecting candidates because they are not perfect on some biblical or political score sheet is a dereliction of our trust.
So is voting for a candidate simply because he is a Christian—startling as this may sound. Rather than checking on the candidates’ denomination, we should look for the ablest candidate. Martin Luther famously said he would rather be ruled by a competent Turk—that is, a Muslim—than an incompetent Christian.
In casting a vote, judgment should ultimately be guided by what we perceive to be the common good, a term not often heard in today’s special interest–charged political debates. Our founders understood this, which is why they used the term commonweal, or commonwealth. But today’s politicians pander to special interests, as we saw last year when congressmen dumped over $13.2 billion into earmarks, paying off special pleaders.
Fourth, our discourse within the Church and without should be marked by love. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing, (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, ESV).
We must consider how loving we are in our discourse, we are to speak the truth (and we typically don’t have a problem with that), but do we do it in love? (Ephesians 4:15). When we are communicating with those who are not followers of Christ are we communicating with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:16)?
Some things to consider for Christ-followers as we head toward election day.