The Christian in an Election Year
by Rick Shrader
Election year comes every four years, like it or not. I don’t necessarily, even though I watch more cable news and read online news than in any other year. When we could be anticipating March Madness and the NCAA tournament, we are more embroiled in Super Tuesday and March Sadness. It saddens me because the political process of running for President inevitably draws good people into muddy and murky waters and seems to hang out the dirtiest of our national clothes.
Make no mistake, however, about the seriousness of this year’s election. In fact, it seems that elections have grown more serious season by season throughout my lifetime. We will be electing more than just a figure head sitting in the Oval Office tending to the affairs of Commander in Chief. Our selection will determine Supreme Court Justices who now dictate (unfortunately) important moral issues for generations to come; we will set the direction for national security not only across the seas but in our homeland; we will turn the direction arrow for jobs in or out of our country; and we will decide whether we are an independent people or dependent on the rest of the world for our politics, our beliefs, our energy, our security, and even our faith.
In the midst of all these very important election year issues, I must remember first and foremost that I am a Christian whose “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and that I am just a “stranger and pilgrim” (1 Pet. 2:11) on this earth and am waiting for a Savior Who will one glorious day bring in His rightful kingdom to this earth and override the authority of any human nation, including this one. We know, until that day and while we are living here, we have a foot in both worlds and the one we have in this world is a stewardship from God. How we live it and how we make decisions is important to Him.
I suppose I am considered part of the “evangelical” vote. I would say so because I am born again according to the evangel, or the gospel, contained in the Scripture (1 Pet. 1:23-25). However, it seems to me, “evangelical” has become a term that is now a mile wide and an inch deep. We used to talk about the lack of true regeneration in the old mainline denominations (which is why the term evangelical was born). But “evangelical” has now become the new mainline denomination and I wonder if it is really evangelical in little more than name only. It is so co-mixed with beliefs that even the Pope can throw evangelicals into a tizzy by questioning a candidate’s faith. The explanations that followed were a hobo stew of theological beliefs and applications about whether we can even know if a person is truly born again. But this is the “evangelical” vote.
I watch with sadness as some candidates, whom I accept as true believers in Jesus Christ, get caught up in the overwhelming current of political power and begin to act more like the world than like Christ. Some claim to be Christian but not only don’t act or speak like it, but can’t even give a rational explanation of what that means. Yet, on the other side of the political planet, the only other choices seem to be national suicide by sanctioned dishonesty or socialism, both of which are not the America we have known.
With a foot in both worlds then, before I delve into some warnings for the believer in this political year, let me also say that I believe a Christian can be a Christian in this world; I believe a Christian should vote; I believe a Christian can and often should run for and hold public office; I believe a Christian can not only vote for a Christian but often votes for a non-Christian who will be a blessing to Christians; I even believe that a Christian may vote for the least worst of two candidates precisely because this is not the kingdom of God and this world is not our home.
I am not intending to write a political article. But I am intending to reflect on the pressures that are brought to bear on the believer during these political seasons. When I say that a Christian “cannot” do this or that, I realize that we have disagreements among ourselves. Yet I am also saying that the Scripture gives us clear direction in many areas of our lives that not even friendship, party affiliation, nor honest patriotism can override.
A Christian cannot dishonor civil authorities.
We know this is true from the plain statements of Scripture. “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:7). “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). Jude was very harsh toward those who “despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities” and even used Michael as an example when he showed Satan respect for his position, he “durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
Politics seems to have a magnetic negative effect even on Christian politicians. It is like a giant black hole which draws him in until he is mixed with all the other negative, harsh, temperamental, and dishonoring speeches of political candidates. This is similar to the Christian athlete who scores the points and goes into outlandish celebrations; or the singer who puts on the sour look and shouts out his angry lyrics. This is hardly the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1) with which Paul beseeched the church.
Why do these situations give the Christian permission to act unchristian? Is the outcome more important than fellowship with Christ? I know it is easy for me to say, but not even being President is more important than that. It is just not a Christian virtue to berate a civil authority because it is necessary to do so in order to get elected.
A Christian cannot condone known immorality.
We know this also. Isaiah said, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isa. 5:20). The apostle John in speaking against false teaching, used a universal principle that appears throughout the Scripture, “For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 11. See also 1 Cor. 10:21; Eph 5:6-11; Rev. 18:4).
I use the word “condone” because that is becoming a seminal issue for Christians in America. A store owner may be able to sell a cake to a homosexual couple without condoning their immoral life-style, but he cannot cater their wedding without putting his stamp of approval on their sin. A photographer may be able to take pictures of an aborted baby, but he cannot film the process for the benefit of the abortion clinic. A Christian minister could never perform a wedding, which is to him a sacred ceremony in the eyes of a holy God, for a homosexual couple because he would be condoning their life-style.
A candidate for office or a voter in the voting booth cannot say by his platform or condone by his vote something that is immoral. This is not to say that one could not cast a vote for a non-Christian who has the propensity for immoral actions sometime in his term of office. All men, even Christian, have this fallen nature. But if a man (or woman, of course) says he will kill babies or legalize same-sex marriages or actively seek to make Christian expression illegal, then a vote for him/her would be condoning that action. Not all issues I would disagree with are necessarily immoral. I may object to sending jobs to China, or closing a detention facility, or paying Saudi Arabia any more for oil, but these are not biblical immoralities.
A Christian cannot undermine Biblical authority.
A Christian does what he does because his conscience is convinced of Biblical truth. For us, the Bible is God’s only written revelation and no king, potentate, president, or supreme court justice will be given a higher place of authority. Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Persecution comes upon Christians only in those societies where they are commanded to give to Caesar what belongs to God alone. This they have not done, even at the cost of their own lives.
We thank God for America because all people have been given the right to practice their faith, whatever that may be, without undue interference from the government. Christians have no problem with the limits placed upon that, i.e., that we cannot commit atrocities in the name of a religion which are forbidden by law. Of course we would not want to murder, lie, or steal, in the name of our faith. And, lesser laws that merely inconvenience us are things we agree to (building codes, zoning laws, safety regulations, etc.) because of the greater liberties we enjoy.
If I understand the first Baptist pioneer, Roger Williams, correctly, he strongly disagreed with his Pilgrim and Puritan friends about how this divided authority can work within a country of mixed faiths. Whereas they tried to govern every aspect of societal life by the Bible, he allowed for non-believers to govern the religious part of their lives the way they wanted, as long as they obeyed the civil part. Civil law may be able to oversee the second half of the Decalogue (love thy neighbor as thyself) but only a man’s conscience can oversee the first half (love the Lord thy God with all thy heart). Thus was Providence founded in the wilderness called Rhode Island.
Christians generally loved the Roman Catholic supreme court justice Antonin Scalia because he seemed to understand this separation of authorities better than many evangelicals. We loved that he described himself as a “textualist,” a term we often use to describe our own method of Biblical interpretation. We loved that he sought in the constitution the “original intent” of the authors by keeping their writing in their historic context, a hermeneutic for the Bible that evangelicals hold dear also.
Christians will never be able to violate their Scripture for political convenience. We feel the freedom of conscience eroding and the freedom to refuse unbiblical activity shrinking. And I might add that we feel a strange and illogical undercurrent toward Sharia law (out of abject fear I suppose) which would establish a man-made terrorist theocracy, the very thing conservative Christians are falsely accused of wanting themselves. It is also a strange day in our history when a political party advocates a candidate who openly promises a socialist form of government.
A Christian cannot justify unbelief.
Although the Christian can live in a mixed society and live in the presence of sin as long as he isn’t forced to condone it, and although he can allow his neighbor to live by any other faith, he cannot be asked to profess that there is any other true faith than the Christian faith. I can live next to a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Muslim, an atheist, or a pagan (and I probably do) and be a friendly neighbor and give him his space. But I can’t say to him that his faith is the true faith, or even that his faith is equal to mine. Besides being wrong, it would be a lie and an outright hypocrisy. Neither do I expect him to say the same to me!
We live in the arena of ideas and beliefs. “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). Christians believe that the Holy Spirit and the Word of God are more powerful in witness to the truth than any force in heaven or earth. “Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). But politics places the Christian in a unique tension. An elected official must represent all citizens, not just those of his own faith. But to be true to his faith, he cannot be forced to say that all faiths are equally true. Yes, he must defend the rights of all faiths equally, but he must do that without compromising the one true faith which he believes.
The one obvious caveat to this part of the discussion is that America’s documents give credence to the Christian faith and base their purpose on it rather than on all faiths. Therefore the Christian politician does have a right to refer to his Creator and the unalienable rights He gives to people, rights which human governments cannot take away. Anyone who has walked the halls of congress, or the supreme court building, or the historic monuments in Washington D.C., knows how much our history is inscribed with the Christian Scriptures. That is not being bigoted, it is being honest with history.
A Christian cannot replace kingdom with country.
Our Jehovah Witness friends cannot put their hand on their heart and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. But I can. They believe that if they do so they are placing human authority above God’s authority in their lives. But I don’t. And we have always allowed them to refrain out of respect for their conscience, just as we allow conscientious objectors to abstain from violent military service. Justice Scalia said that he thought that protestors had the right to dishonor the flag, but he hated them doing it.
I can pledge allegiance to my country’s flag because I understand what I’m doing. I am not saying, “I pledge allegiance to the flag above the cross.” I’m not saying, “and to the Republic for which it stands above the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.” No. I am merely recognizing an earthly arrangement, an arrangement to which God Himself tells me to be obedient and respectful. I stood at a marriage altar forty two years ago and vowed to love my bride above all others. I was not being untrue to my Savior Who once said, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). When God said, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated” (Rom. 9:13), He was merely saying that He placed Jacob before Esau. Similarly, I have to place God before my wife, and likewise I have to place God before my country. By acknowledging my earthly responsibility to wife or country, I am not dishonoring God, I am honoring Him by keeping all earthly and heavenly relationships in proper order.
A politician or a common citizen must acknowledge this dichotomy while also keeping his relationship to both intact. I think that sometimes Christians begin to speak of country and constitution as equal or even above God and Scripture. But I think this is an uncareful, or at best, inaccurate way of expressing kingdom and country. Someone said, “If the Ship of State goes down, our little compartment goes with it.” Now I don’t believe that at all. The church will be the church in America and in Russia, in freedom and in persecution. The gates of hell itself cannot prevail against God’s church. Still, I do not want the Ship of State to go down because it is a good Ship, it has been a friend of my faith, and I know how to give to Caesar his things, and how to give to my God His things.
And So . . .
I believe that Christians can make the best political candidates, or the worst. They can be the best when they are true to their faith and display Christian character at all times. When they do not, they give the enemies of our God cause to blaspheme. Being a political figure may be the hardest job in the world for a Christian to do and I don’t envy them in that. We should be as Paul, “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1-2).