A Christian in the Voting Booth

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(various scriptures)

INTRODUCTION: They say you’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics, but I’m going to do both today. I know, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. But this is an election year, and we have a hotly contested election taking place in two days, and I think it is good for us to stop and ask, “What does the Bible have to say about how I will vote on Tuesday? Is there any guidance or instruction for me?”

I believe the answer is yes, but maybe not in the way you might think. I am not going to pull out any magic verses for you today that will tell you how to vote on a particular issue or for a particular candidate. But I want us to look at some principles from Scripture together that should inform us as we go to the voting booth on Tuesday. If you’re too young to vote this time around, remember you won’t always be, so I trust this will be helpful to as you think about voting someday in the future. But as always, let’s begin with prayer. (Pray.)

I. Do I have a Christian responsibility to vote?

The first question I would like to address is this: “Do I have a Christian responsibility to vote?” And you will find a variety of answers to that question out there. Some people feel that Christians should have no part in the civil process, that we belong to another kingdom and that we should not get involved in the affairs of this world. Others believe Christians should be heavily involved in politics and culture and that we have a cultural mandate to rule this world according to God’s principles. Others come out somewhere in the middle. Well, let’s look at some Biblical principles that might help us answer this question.

    A. You are responsible to exert a godly influence. (Matthew 5:13-16, 6:9-10)

First of all, you are responsible to exert a godly influence in this world. If you are a parent, you are responsible to raise your children in the Lord. If you are a boss, you are responsible to run your company according to Christian standards. If you are in government, you are accountable to God for the decisions you make on behalf of other people. Whatever you’re sphere of influence, you have a responsibility to use that influence for God and for good.

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13-16) Light points the way, and salt preserves. We should live in such a way that we point others to God and preserve godliness in a culture that is contaminated by sin. We should seek for God’s will to be done in our homes and in our cities and in our nation. As Jesus instructed us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10) So, first of all, you are responsible to exert a godly influence.

    B. You are responsible to pray for your leaders. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Secondly, you are responsible to pray for your leaders. We read in 1 Timothy 2: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2) The Bible urges you to pray for your leaders and to be thankful for them. We are to pray for those in authority that they will make good decisions so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives, and that we may freely worship God and share the gospel with others.

    C. As a voter you share the responsibility of government. (Romans 13:1-5)

So, you are responsible to exert a godly influence, you are responsible to pray for your leaders, and then thirdly, as a voter you also share the responsibility of government. Those who share in government are accountable to God for how they lead. Romans 13 tells us that all governing authorities are established by God and under God’s authority.

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God … Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.” (Romans 13:1-5)

Of course in those days there was no such thing as voting. People lived in monarchies and empires. Your role in government as a Christian was basically to pray for and submit to the ruling authorities. But when you live in a democracy or a republic like we do, things are different. As President Lincoln described our government in the Gettysburg Address in 1863, we are a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” (The Gettysburg Address; Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; November 19, 1863) And so as a voter you share in the responsibilities of government.

The word “vote” comes from the Latin “votum,” meaning “will or choice.” Instead of just praying for your leaders to make good and wise choices on your behalf, you are part of the decision-making process, and so you are responsible to make good and wise choices on behalf of your nation. And we do that through voting. As theologian Dr. John Frame writes:

“…in some cultures (like the ancient Roman, in which the New Testament was written) there is not much that Christians can do, other than pray, to influence political structures and policies. But when they can influence them, they should. In modern democracies, all citizens are ‘lesser magistrates’ by virtue of the ballot box. Christians have an obligation to vote according to God’s standards. And, as they are gifted and called, they should influence others to vote in the same way.” (John Frame; The Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 617)

Now that does not mean you should just vote willy-nilly or fill in the blanks on a ballot like a multiple choice quiz where you don’t know the answers. You have a responsibility to vote responsibly. The uninformed voter probably should not vote, at least on those things where he or she is uninformed. But as Christians we have a responsibility to be informed on the issues and the candidates and then to vote accordingly. As a voter you share the responsibility of government and thus share accountability to God for what takes place in our nation.

II. How do I approach voting as a Christian?

So how do you approach voting as a Christian? You think through the Biblical principles and morals that apply to the issues and candidates on the ballot. And then you vote accordingly. Now that does not mean that every Christian will vote identically on the same ballot. Some issues involve a variety of Biblical principles, and one Christian may balance them out differently than another.

To give you an idea of how this works, let’s take a few minutes and think Biblically through a number of the issues that are on the ballot this time around. For state issues I have picked the three questions on the Massachusetts state ballot, but even if you are not from Massachusetts, you can still get an idea of how to work through the issues on your own particular ballot.

    A. Voting on state issues

        1) State personal income tax

Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot has to do with the state personal income tax. Quoting from the state ballot materials:

“This proposed law would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65% for all categories of taxable income for the tax year beginning on or after January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010. … A YES VOTE would reduce the state personal income tax rate to 2.65% for the tax year beginning on January 1, 2009, and would eliminate the tax for all tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010. A NO VOTE would make no change in state income tax laws.”

So what Biblical principles do you apply when considering how to vote on Question 1? Well, a lot of Question 1 has to do with Biblical principles of stewardship. Do you believe the Massachusetts government is spending your tax money wisely or do you believe there is a lot of government waste? If you feel your tax dollars are going towards necessary services to help the community, you would be more inclined to vote no on Question 1. However, if you feel there is a lot of waste and the best way to cut out that waste would be to eliminate the tax, then you might be more inclined to vote yes.

You should also be careful to apply the Biblical principle of “Love your neighbor as yourself” here. In other words, it’s not just a matter of whether you want to keep more of your own money or not, but how will this decision affect others in the state.

        2) Possession of marijuana

Question 2 has to do with a change in penalties for the possession of marijuana. Once again, quoting from the state ballot materials:

“This proposed law would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties … A YES VOTE would replace the criminal penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana with a new system of civil penalties. A NO VOTE would make no change in state criminal laws concerning possession of marijuana.”

Some of the principles you would apply here would be the Biblical admonitions to care for our bodies, the importance of protecting the weak and vulnerable, as well as principles of justice and mercy.

We know from the Bible that God wants us to care for our bodies, and so substance abuse is morally wrong. Then again, not all forms of morality can or should be legislated, and so you need to decide whether substance abuse falls into the lines of personal moral choice or one that has a greater effect on society. Drug dealers especially prey on our children in society, and so you want to make decisions that protect our children from those who want their money but do not care about their bodies or souls. As far as justice and mercy, you also want to make sure the punishment fits the crime. So these are all things you need to be thinking about as you decide how to vote on Question 2.

        3) Dog racing

Question 3 has to do with dog racing. Quoting from the ballot materials:

“This proposed law would prohibit any dog racing or racing meeting in Massachusetts where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs … A YES VOTE would prohibit dog races on which betting or wagering occurs, effective January 1, 2010. A NO VOTE would make no change in the laws governing dog racing.”

So what are the principles here? Well, first of all, dog racing is a form of entertainment that involves gambling, so you would want to see what the Bible says about gambling. There are many Biblical principles which taken together would condemn the act of gambling, such as good stewardship of your money, prohibitions against greed, and trusting God rather than chance. But once again, even when you are convinced from the Bible that gambling is not morally right, you would still need to decide whether this should be a case of personal morality or one that should be legislated in society.

Dog racing also involves the use of animals, and so you would want to see what the Bible says about animals. Animals are part of God’s creation which we are called to care for. At the same time, animals can properly be used for a variety of purposes: such as food, labor or household pets. Human beings are created in God’s image, animals are not, and most people would also see a proper ethical use of animals in medical research that would benefit human beings.

So part of your decision on Question 3 would be based on whether you see dog racing as a legitimate use of animals. The book of Proverbs says that “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal” (Proverbs 12:10), and so you would also be concerned as to whether these specific dogs are being cared for properly. Then, loving your neighbor as yourself, you would weigh all of these matters against the jobs which would be lost if Question 3 passed and make your decision accordingly.

    B. Voting on national issues

How about national issues? Let’s just look at three briefly.

        1) The economy – As you look at the economy, stewardship is a major principle once again. You want to elect candidates who will be good stewards of our state and national resources: our money, labor and productivity. Applying the principle of love your neighbor as yourself, once again you do not vote just on what will personally benefit you the most, but on what you believe is right and just and will benefit the nation as a whole. Good Christians will often disagree on what is the best way to proceed with the economy.

        2) Foreign policy – Some important principles here would include the responsibility of protecting your family and others from possible harm, the sanctity of life, and also that of loving your enemy as yourself. These can be difficult principles to balance out when you are dealing with dangers such as world-wide terrorism where you must sometimes kill others to prevent them from taking innocent life, and yet we must strive to find a way to uphold strong moral principles while defending our nation.

        3) Moral issues – And then there are moral issues such as marriage and abortion. As far as abortion, the Bible affirms the sanctity of human life in the womb. The Bible also speaks clearly about defending the weak and vulnerable. Therefore, we should elect candidates and vote for measures that will protect the rights of the unborn who cannot speak for themselves. As far as marriage, marriage was instituted by God as a lifetime commitment of faithfulness between a man and a woman and was designed to reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. Therefore, we should elect candidates and vote for measures that will uphold and support the institution of marriage as God has designed it.

    C. Voting for candidates

How about voting for candidates? How do you know who to vote for? Well, first of all you must go through the prior work of thinking Biblically through the issues. Then once you have come to a decision on the issues, vote for those candidates whose positions best line up with your Biblically-informed thinking. Of course, this gets tricky because, as we have already seen, different Christians come out differently on the same issues. Plus you will never find a single candidate who lines up with you on all the issues – unless you happen to be the person running for office! And so you have to prioritize the issues at hand and decide which ones are the most important to you. For me, personally, abortion is a huge issue, because it deals with matters of life and death, whereas most of the other issues do not.

Beyond that, what else should you look for in a candidate? Three things: character, wisdom and leadership.

        1) Character – First of all, character. A leader must be a person with integrity and character. Samuel Adams once said, “Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of exceptional character.” (Samuel Adams) Character is important for leadership because leadership involves power, and power presents many temptations to those who wield it. The book of Proverbs lists the following desirable character traits for those in leadership: they should detest wrongdoing (Proverbs 16:12, 20:8, 26, 25:4-5), and they should exhibit character traits of justice (Proverbs 16:10, 29:14), honesty (Proverbs 16:13), faithfulness (Proverbs 20:28), purity (Proverbs 22:11), and discipline (Proverbs 31:1-9).

        2) Wisdom – Secondly, wisdom. You want to vote for candidates who will make wise decisions on behalf of the people.

        3) Leadership – And then thirdly, leadership. You want to vote for a candidate with integrity who will be able to take their positions on the issues and then use their wisdom to lead others to actually accomplish the goals set before them.

Now, you will never find a candidate who exemplifies all these things at the same time. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate. But you set the standard high, and then you vote for those who come closest.

III. Three things to remember.

Let me close with three things to remember on Election Day.

    A. The gospel is bigger than politics.

First of all, the gospel is bigger than politics. Our faith is in Christ, not in any political party or candidate. Barack Obama is not the messiah. John McCain is not the messiah. Jesus Christ is the Messiah who came to make things right in the world.

    B. The church is bigger than political parties.

Secondly, the church is bigger than political parties. God is neither a republican nor a democrat. We may disagree with each other on many issues, but that should not affect our fellowship in Christ. In just a few moments we will be sharing communion together, and when we do we will gather not as republicans or democrats or independents or libertarians, but as Christians, united together by our common faith in Christ.

    C. God is bigger than elections.

And then finally, God is bigger than elections. This is a good one to remember not just on Election Day, but also on the day after Election Day, especially if your candidate does not win. No matter how strongly you feel about one candidate or another, and no matter how disappointed you may feel if one candidate wins instead of another, God is bigger than all that.

If the early church was able to worship God and spread the gospel under Emperor Nero, if contemporary Christians are able to worship God and spread the gospel in Communist China, trust me: we will still be able to worship God and spread the gospel under either John McCain or Barack Obama. And whoever is elected president, you need to respect that person as your newly elected leader and pray for them accordingly.

God is sovereign. God is in control. Let us pray for the election, let us do our part in voting as responsible Christians, and then let us trust God with the results.

© Ray Fowler

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