Friday, September 21, 2012

Can a Christian Vote for Obama or Romney?

Christian Ethics and Politics


There is a lot of noise in the Christian community right now concerning the American practice of voting. As with any behavior, Christians must grapple with the ethics. James said that pure piety involved keeping oneself spotless or unstained by the world. (James 1:27) In addition, John commands us not to love the world or anything in the world because those who love the world do not love God. Contrary to modern Christian laxity, believers must be acutely aware of their ethical conduct. Cultic worship unaccompanied by ethical living is empty, vain, and fruitless. Both John and James were dealing with these problems 2000 years ago. Every believer must be aware of how he or she conducts their life if they want their worship to be a true expression of adoration for the God they claim to serve. Hence, we come to the question of Christian participation in the American voting process.

Is there a divine imperative to participate?

I have participated in a few discussions on the subject of politics over the course of my life. During that time, I have experienced a considerable shift in my position on the subject. At one time, I thought Christians had no right to say anything about politics or political leaders if they did not vote. Additionally, I thought it was impossible for one to be a believer and vote for a certain party because of the pervasive immorality expressed in that party’s platform. However, over time I have moved away from such positions holding them now to be incongruent with Scripture, not to mention highly legalistic.

 Recently, I had a discussion with a group of believers in a Christian forum about the ethics of voting. The leader held that there is a divine imperative for Christians to vote. His reasoning was that Scripture commands Christians to be good citizens. Good citizens, according to the constitution, are duty bound to vote. Therefore, Scripture commands Christians to vote. Another argument is that Christians are ethically bound to restrain evil where possible and voting is a way of restraining evil. Therefore, Christians are under a divine mandate to vote.

In response to the former argument, we have to ask if Scripture commands us to be “good citizens.” Secondly, we must ask if Scripture and the unregenerate culture agree on what makes a citizen good. In this case, we also must ask if the form of American government places an obligation to participate or merely gives us the “freedom” to participate should we so choose. These are all questions that we must grapple with when we engage in such a discussion. Moreover, we must be willing to entertain that our views could be more the product of our culture and upbringing or tradition than they are based on a sound exegesis of the biblical text. With that willing disposition in place, perhaps we can reach some conclusions that are consistent with a biblical attitude about the matter of participation in American politics.

I think I am safe in saying that God and the unregenerate heart of wicked men do not agree on what makes for a good citizen. That is the first point. A good citizen is one who submits to God. She is one who acknowledges God’s right to rule over all governments. She testifies of God’s goodness in her conduct and with her message and she does so continually. She holds to godly values, not worldly ones. This is a good citizen. Secondly, Scripture adamantly points out that our citizenship is not of this world. Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven. We do not set out minds on earthly things. This whole discussion is a discussion about earthly things in my opinion. Who will lead America? This is distinctly an earthly issue, an earthly matter, not a theological one as far as the “ideal” itself is concerned. In addition, there is nothing in the formation of this government that places an ethical obligation on the individual to rule themselves through the political process as some would argue. The limits of citizenship stop short of obligation to participate in the political process, ending with opportunity. In other words, we are free to participate or not. Otherwise, there should be fines and penalties or personal, immediate, and direct incentives to participate. The whole point of the American experiment is freedom. The founding fathers were not interested in trading the tyranny of a King for the tyranny of a document. If there is no divine imperative to participate in the voting process, what then is the relationship of the church and the individual believer to the government?

Romans 13:1-7 provides explicit instructions for the believer-government relationship. The Christian attitude must reflect godly change in the heart. The believer recognizes the government as God’s instrument of social order. He submits to God’s instrument with all humility. The believer understands that refusal to submit to government authority is refusal to submit to God. In this periscope, Paul never implies or infers that it is the business of the Christian to shape and form the government into a “Christian” system. As it stands, it is God’s instrument. Rather than rebel and rebuke, Christians are to submit and obey the government. For some reason, Christians, American Christians think that it is their duty, or right to insist that the American government live out and force its citizens to live out Christian values. This is what happens when the Church confuses her identity and comingles her divine mission with human temporal one.

Paul also talks about the Christian relationship with secular authorities in his first letter to his ministry partner, Timothy. The Christian is to make entreaties, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings to God for civil authorities. Paul tells us that the purpose for this behavior is so that Christians may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This word dignity is semnotes  in the Greek and it means “behavior which is befitting, implying a measure of dignity leading to respect.”The idea is honorable behavior, noble character fitting for those who profess Christ. Of course the testimony and witness of the Christian community to the outside world comes into view. According to Paul, God may use civil leaders to provide optimal conditions for Christian living within a given culture. This is by no means a promise. This is simply the end to which we must pray for those who are in civil leadership positions. The key point here is that the Church is never instructed to engage in political activism in order to create what God brings about through prayer, if indeed He will bring it about at all.

The two key components that undergird the relationship between the Church and civil government are submission and prayer. Christians must submit to and obey the civil authority because he is clearly God’s minister. To resist him is to resist God. That is hard pill for American Christians to swallow. Yet swallow it they must. Secondly, Christians are to be diligent in their prayers for civil leaders in hopes that God will use them to produce optimal conditions for godly living. Optimal Conditions for godly living existed at one point in the American culture. However, they appear to be weakening over time. Christians must commit their anxieties in this area to God’s sovereign rule and refuse to take matters into their own hands. The church is not God’s instrument by which He brings about these conditions. Her role in this matter is intense and diligent prayer and humble submission to her government. It seems then that there is no divine imperative for American Christians to be involved in political activism. This would include the supposed obligation to vote. The view that such a divine imperative exists is far more the product of cultural conditioning than it is biblical exegesis.

Is there a divine imperative to direct specific actions if one does participate?

The next question is related to the first. If a Christian decides to vote, which is fine, is there a divine imperative for “how” they should vote. Since we are currently in the middle of the election season, I think it best to use our current situation. One Christian says you cannot vote for Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon or allows for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the mother’s health. Another Christian says you can’t vote for Obama because he is for unrestricted abortion, gay marriage, etc. Both of these positions deem it unethical, or immoral to vote for either one of the leading candidates. In other words, it would be a sin for a Christian to vote for either candidate. The idea is that you cannot support men who violate God’s moral law. In order for it to be sinful for a Christian to vote for a particular political leader, you have to be able to demonstrate where the wickedness rests in that person’s heart. In order to examine this position we have to examine its fundamental commitment, its presupposition(s) if you will. Does a man have to be born again in order for a Christian to vote for him? What does Scripture say? In answer to the latter, Scripture says nothing. Sin is a matter of heart motivation. This is not to say that one cannot sin in the voting booth! I think you must certainly can, but not for the reasons most American Christians think. So, since it is not a sin to vote for an unbeliever, the question arises, how much of an unbeliever can they be in order for a Christian to be morally culpable? Suppose Mormonism isn’t enough to place Mitt Romney on the “do not vote” Christian list, what would be enough? Do certain sins and unregenerate beliefs place people on this list while others are okay? Suppose president Obama were against abortion but for gay marriage. Can the Christian vote for him? Is there a guide, based soundly on biblical exegesis, that helps Christians place candidates on the do not vote list? One would think such a guide could be created if you listen to some arguments on this issue.

 So Christian “A” will vote for Romney but will accuse other Christians of sinning when they vote for Obama or vice versa. Which sin disqualifies the man? Does Scripture say? It does not! Who says then? We do and that is the problem. Gay marriage is big issue for me so I am not as concerned about other issues, let’s say. So I vote for Romney. How can I attack those who vote for Obama if I vote for Romney? How can those who vote for Obama criticize those who vote for Romney? Both men hold to worldviews that are squarely contrary to conservative evangelical theology. Am I wicked because I think Barak Obama will do more to take up the cause of the less fortunate? Am I wicked because I think Mitt Romney will do more to create and protect a system that appears closer to the biblical model of work and reward?

I do not know that we have ever had a “born again” president leading America. I am very skeptical when I hear people claim that this one or that one really was born again. I am skeptical because of what it takes to actually reach this level of success in a system that is corrupt and depraved as the American political system is. How can it not be? It is run by unregenerate, greedy, radically ambitious, and thoroughly hedonistic humans. So where are we? What is the practical guidance for Christians in the American voting process?

First, Christians have no divine imperative to participate in the political process. Let your own conscience be your guide. Second, if you do decide to vote, make sure you are doing it for non-selfish reasons. If you vote for one candidate over another because you think he will make life easier for you, then you need to re-examine your motives. Some people vote for socialistic leaders because they are lazy. Others do so because they genuinely do care about the less fortunate and that shows in their lifestyle. Third, it is not a sin to vote for an unregenerate candidate. Sin proceeds from heart, not the voting booth. Just because an issue is a burning issue for you, that does not mean it is the same for another believer. Try to avoid arrogantly imposing your passions, causes, and convictions on others as if somehow you have cornered the mind of the divine while the rest of us poor sinners grope in the dark trying to get a clue. Show a little humility toward those with whom you disagree. Christians must avoid establishing norms that are not themselves established by Scripture. It is a sin to judge others based on our own personal convictions and passions around certain issues. That much I do know. While it may not be a sin to vote for Obama or Romney, and I don’t think it is, it most certainly is a sin for us to accuse others of sinning when they are not! Is it a sin to teach Christians that they must vote or sin in the process? I believe it is. Is it a sin to tell Christians they are sinning if they vote for what others think is the more wicked of two candidates? I think it is. What is the Church to do?

We should do what Jesus told us to do! We should preach the gospel, make disciples, and shine our values into this world for all to see the light that shines forth from the Christian group! That is our calling, our mission, our purpose. Politics? In my opinion, an exercise in futility that has little to do with the mission of the Church. Let us hotly pursue that for which we have been apprehended! Holiness, sanctification, and love out of a pure heart! If you want to vote, then vote. God is not sitting in heaven waiting to rebuke you because you voted for the wrong person. Moreover, He isn’t sitting in heaven hoping you pick the right candidate so that He can carry out His plan for America. All that I advise is that you always search you heart for why you are doing what you are doing. That is true for everything we do. Are you voting for the right reason in your heart? Are you voting for this person for the right reason in your heart? Are you voting from the standpoint of pride so you can boast that you did your duty? Are you voting for one candidate over another because you stand to really benefit greatly while others may suffer? You know why you are voting and you know why you are voting for the person you have selected. Examine those reasons for selfishness, and any other sinful reason that may exist. That is my advice to any and all who vote as well as to those who don’t for what it’s worth.


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