How Should a Christian Vote?
As the general election in November looms ever larger, it is fitting to ask ourselves some election-related questions.
Does God care how I vote? Does God care whether I vote at all? Does a candidate’s faith matter? How do I gauge a candidate’s character and to what extent should it influence my vote? How do I sort out whether to support or reject a particular ballot proposal? Does the Bible have anything to say about voting?
Let me be clear about two things right up front. First, I am not about to tell you who to vote for. Second, Christians must find their primary identity in a political party or position, but in their redemption in Christ. These two points must be firmly established in order rightly understand the five guiding thoughts that follow.
Christians have a responsibility to participate in society as Christ’s ambassadors.
As Christ-followers, we are simultaneously aliens and strangers in this world (1 Peter 2:11) and ambassadors to this world (2 Corinthians 5:20). We have not been removed from the world (John 17:); rather we are called to engage the world (Matthew 5:14-16). The Apostle Paul serves as an example of utilizing secular rights of citizenship (Acts 22:25-29, 25:9-12), and both he and Peter call Christians to submit to governing authorities as those appointed by God (Romans 13:1-8, 1 Peter 2:13-17). Even in the Old Testament, when God sent his people into exile in Babylon, He instructed them to engage and to work for the prosperity of Babylon for as long as they were there (Jeremiah 29:4-7).
In our society, responsible participation in society involves voting. Just as we have certain rights within society, we also bear certain responsibilities. To neglect these does not increase our spirituality; rather, it decreases our faithfulness.
There are no perfect options when considering sinful people or social issues in a fallen world.
Because all people are stained by sin (Romans 3:23), we must not expect people (including candidates for public office) to be more than they can be. Each of us has limitations, flaws, hypocrisies, shortcomings. If we only vote for candidates without flaws, we will never vote. Whenever we vote, we are selecting which limitations, flaws, hypocrisies, and shortcomings we are willing to live with and which we are not. The only perfect person is Jesus, and he is not running for office.
Likewise, social issues and ballot proposals also exist in a fallen world and are defined or designed by fallible people. Very often, this leads to imperfect options from which a Christian voter must choose.
The reality of inevitable imperfection means that even the most appealing options fall short of what they should be. Recognizing that perfect choices are an unrealistic expectation, we must use wisdom to discern the best option available.
Character matters, but it is often difficult to discern.
Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”
When voting, we should be aware that the upright character of a godly candidate is absolutely worth seeking, but it can be increasingly difficult to discern as elections move farther from the local level. The closer the election is to the local level, the better opportunity voters have to know the candidates personally. The farther from the local level, the less personal, responsible, and accountable to constituents the candidates are prone to be. Because they are farther away, it is exponentially more difficult to know the true character of those running for national office; we are left to rely on the opinions, experiences, and reporting of others. When voters do not have direct contact and interaction with a candidate, prevailing narratives have outsized influence over voters, regardless of whether that prevailing narrative is accurate.
Human authorities are established by God to restrain evil, but they do not represent His Kingdom.
It is true that every authority is established by God for the good of humanity (Romans 13:4) as a blessing of His common grace to all. It is also true that the Lord retains ultimate control over all rulers, whether godly or ungodly (Proverbs 21:1, Daniel 4:17, Romans 9:17). Nonetheless, we do not see secular government equated with or tied to God’s Kingdom in the Bible. God’s Kingdom is His direct rule. In Genesis 1-2, God delegates His ruling authority to mankind, but when sin enters in Genesis 3, humanity forfeits that delegated authority, and control of the temporal world falls to “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2, 1 John 5:19). The rest of human history is leading up to God’s restoration of the fullness of His rule in the New Creation (Revelation 20-21). In the meantime, God’s representation on Earth is through His Church (2 Corinthians 5:18-20), not the secular state. We are the foretaste of His coming Kingdom; let us not put weight on human government that God never intended it to bear.
The Bible teaches us wisdom for life, but we must learn to apply that biblical wisdom to life.
God’s Word is our authoritative standard for life and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 Thessalonians 2:13), but it is much bigger than a “how-to” book. While it is replete with practical wisdom for daily living, our temporal life is not the Bible’s primary focus. The focus of the Scriptures is God and His relationship to His people—a relationship that goes far beyond the bounds of earthly life. It is not surprising, then, that the Bible deals more often in transcendent principles than step-by-step checklists.
The Bible makes no mention of how Christians should vote, mainly because democratic governments in which average citizens had a voice were unknown to the recipients of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, we are called to live in every situation according to biblical and godly wisdom. We see in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10, et al). Our call is to learn the will of God through renewing our minds with His Word (Romans 12:2), and to apply the principles of godly wisdom to the events of daily life. The same holds true for our voting; we must apply the principles of wisdom as best we can to the decisions we make at the polling booth.
As we each seek to apply wisdom principles, we may come to different conclusions about any number of things. Each person must weigh out the decisions presented, understanding that in a fallen world we will regularly have to choose between imperfect options. Choosing one good may come at the cost of another good; voting against one evil may allow another evil to slip through the cracks. As we earnestly seek to live out God’s will in our voting, we must demonstrate Christlike charity and grace to our brothers and sisters who reach different conclusions in their own earnest quest to honor God. We must learn to disagree in a way that reflects the reality of Christ through our relationships.
As we near the upcoming elections, we need not think uniformly, but we must think “Christianly”. We should, indeed we must, approach our voting as we must approach all things: through the lens of God’s Word as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. We must recognize that in this world we are the reflection of Christ, the salt and light of His influence, ambassadors of Christ in a foreign and hostile kingdom. We must always understand our primary identity to be children of God in Christ, royal citizens of God’s Kingdom. We must always recognize our primary purpose to be glorifying God by reflecting the reality of Christ through relationships. We must always remember our primary mission to be representing the Kingdom of God as ambassadors in a foreign nation, declaring His message of salvation to a world condemned.
God cares deeply how you and I vote, even when we vote differently from one another, because He cares how we think and how our actions flow from those thoughts. The Lord expects—He demands—that our whole lives be transformed by the presence of His Holy Spirit and the revelation of His Word. When our processes are surrendered to Him, even differing conclusions can bring Him glory.