How to Vote as a Christian: Ten Suggestions for the Present Landscape

How to Vote as a Christian: Ten Suggestions for the Present Landscape

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Published:
September 14, 2020

Whenever voting season descends upon us, we face perplexing questions. How do we navigate a field covered with emphatic and incompatible claims? Whom can we really believe? Which storylines should we deem important?

The following are a few guidelines to consider when, as a committed Christian, you prepare to enter a voting booth or fill out your ballot from home. These suggestions can also be useful after voting, not only in the blue/red divided states of America but in every country.

1. Thou shalt remain reasonably knowledgeable about issues.

Jesus directs, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17). Romans 13 begins, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” and furnishes an impassioned defense for paying taxes (vs. 6, 7). When Jesus describes the regional governor as “that fox” (Luke 13:32), He isn’t talking about Herod’s good looks.

The argument that Jesus didn’t involve Himself in the politics of His day so we shouldn’t in our day is misguided. His context — living in an occupied country under a dictatorship without option of voting rights — was far different from ours. We might as well refuse to use telephones or wear eyeglasses because, after all, Jesus didn’t.

The key word is reasonably, which connotes balance. Even if you’re naturally apolitical, be aware that voting and politics profoundly affect day-to-day lives of people who are dearly loved, especially as we’re touched by the pandemic. Sure, you can’t be expected to know every county supervisor and appellate court judge. You can, however, review summary statements about issues and from candidates.

Apathy is not a Christian virtue. Jesus sends us into the world (John 17:18), not out of the world, to help by whatever means are available. One is to be an engaged, intelligent citizen. This approach presents to the watching planet a reasonably attractive face.

2. Thou shalt not hitch thy wagon to one political party, come what may, right or wrong.

Recently a close friend in his mid-70s confided to me, “I’ve been a registered __________ since I was 18, but I’m changing parties this year.” We are never too old or young for healthy change.

Several years ago, I switched to “Independent” and was amazed at how many people on all sides began listening to me. Suddenly I was a novelty. I suppose they thought I was no longer stuck in a deep rut.

Political parties are not sacred vessels. God is not a Republican, or a Democrat, or a Libertarian, or a Green, or a member of the Inanimate Objects Party. Our identity is ultimately, inextricably, joyfully bound up with Jesus, God’s Son. We may happen upon a convincing political point of view, an agreeable pulse and trajectory, but all political parties may rightly join us in admitting to being “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).

3. Thou shalt acknowledge that complexity cannot fairly be reduced to a five-second sound bite.

The Agricultural Age, Industrial Age, and Information Age morphed to our present Age of Entertainment, in which what matters is shimmer and bounce, style over substance.

Unfortunately, entertainment does not adequately equip us for assessing truth. In his classic Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman laments, “Americans no longer talk to each other; they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities, and commercials.”[1]

Within today’s complex realms of pandemic healthcare, immigration, energy, financial implosion, abortion, homelessness, and free speech we encounter layered nuances and baffling contradictions. Often, we may feel like tossing up our hands in despair or caving to the spin merchants. Neither approach honors Jesus who said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).

Sift. Read. Investigate. Compare. Reach beyond easy pieties and cynical offerings from reactive echo chambers. Remain patient and attentive.

Love with your mind.

4. Thou shalt weigh integrity of character.

Adlai Stevenson quipped, “Your public servants serve you right.” Character matters. You are voting not merely on a candidate’s recorded past but on a plausible future.

In a culture where lying is epidemic, simply telling the truth sets us apart. Mistrust in any relationship sooner or later violates and imprisons. By contrast, Jesus declares, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

To fall prey to “the ends justify the means” credo is to succumb to the rationale that felled Lucifer, Judas, Caiaphas, Stalin, and Pol Pot. But Jesus asserts that the means are the ends. The journey is the destination. That’s why He reveals, “I am the way” (John 14:6). We cannot lie for truth or bomb and bludgeon for peace any more than we can create a precise jigsaw puzzle using a chainsaw.

The apostle Paul warned, “Remember that there will be difficult times in the last days. People will be selfish, greedy, boastful, and conceited; they will be insulting, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, and irreligious; they will be unkind, merciless, slanderers, violent, and fierce; they will hate the good; they will be treacherous, reckless, and swollen with pride; they will love pleasure rather than God; they will hold to the outward form of our religion, but reject its real power. Keep away from such people” (2 Tim. 3:1-5 GNB).

Also, avoid voting for them.

5. Thou shalt obtain decision-making information from multiple sources.

Whether it’s MSNBC, CNN or FOX, TV news is a medium of disconnected images. Postman calls the result disinformation that “creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”[2]

Even Before Everything Changed (BEC) with the pandemic and economic meltdown, I knew a household that was tuned to one cable news network 15 hours a day. During those 15 hours fresh fears were concocted, coddled, and proclaimed. Finally, the family decided to limit their news viewing. The point is: It does not matter which network they were watching. Two hours a day is too much.

The Week magazine features pithy contrasting ideas and international memes and viewpoints. If you watch TV news you may battle confirmation bias by clicking the “other” stations — yes, including PBS and BBC — not to criticize but to honestly examine differing perspectives. If you’re on digital platforms make certain you frequently go outside the “input bubble” that’s being created on you, and be aware that your information avenues are being bought and sold.

In Culture Wars, sociologist James Davison Hunter observes that conservatives see freedom in economic terms (tax cuts) and justice in social terms (moral standards), while liberals see freedom in social terms (human rights) and justice in economic terms (minimum wage, equal pay). Linguists also note the framing language. For example, everyone is for “lower taxes,” yet everybody supports “responsible citizenship.” Which one do you support? The aim of the game hinges on the name of the frame.

Christians see life and Scripture primarily through the lens of the living Word, who constantly challenges His disciples to be unafraid and to look beyond their worldview. (See Matt. 6:25; 8:26; 12:7; 28:10; Mark 5:36; 9:35; 12:43; Luke 4:21; 5:10; 9:55; 24:27; John 14:1, 27; 16:12; 20:21.)

Jesus also assures, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). This guided tour is rarely a quick trip.

6. Thou shalt be willing to change thy mind.

Such a change isn’t flip-flopping; it’s called education. We should grant the same freedom for political players.

In a public speaking class I taught at Union College, one student delivered a persuasive talk on climate change. His premise was plain: Climate change is a hoax. During question-and-answer time I asked, “What evidence would make you believe you were wrong about this?”

He thought for a moment. “Nothing.”

I tried to mask my astonishment. “Well,” I said at last, “thank you for an honest answer. So much for open-mindedness, huh?”

He smiled grimly. “Yep.”

That resonant question is one I have wrestled with myself: At what point would I change my mind on any subject? It’s a question to ponder, because we all need some humility. Naming a functional tipping point helps us to remain fluid, to concede that something does exist on the other side of our present conviction.

7. Thou shalt not be a generalizing, one-issue voter.

Voting issues are multi-faceted. For example, pro-life actually includes nutrition, housing, pollution, war, prescription drugs, adoption, racism, and eldercare. Otherwise, pro-life is merely pro-birth.

Jesus announced His public ministry to “preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18). He was speaking to helping people spiritually, physically, and mentally through discipleship, healing, and education. That’s why Seventh-day Adventist Christians focus on churches, hospitals, and schools.

During the past year I’ve heard people declare that their U.S. presidential vote is based on one issue only: “Climate change.” “The economy.” “Abortion.” “Universal healthcare.” “Civil rights.” These choices are definitely more than tomato/tomahto; important distinctions emerge. But we don’t have to pick one and ignore the others.[3]

Clarify. Prioritize. Include more than one item from the menu.

8. Thou shalt not vote only for thy own interests.

As Christians we are called to stand up for the vulnerable, to be a voice for the voiceless. With love we speak truth to power (Eph. 4:15). 

Poor people are not peripheral to God. They are central. More than 2,000 Bible verses point out the sacred duty to protect and uphold those of us who are poor. Policies and budgets ought to seek the common good, though the means to efficacy may differ. This “common good” pursuit is aimed especially at people on life’s margins, no matter their age, race, beliefs, wealth, nationality, or orientation (Isa. 10:1, 2). As “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), we love all inhabitants of the same world.

Voting primarily for our own bank accounts is a tragedy. We cannot serve both money and Jesus (Matt. 6:24). With defiant optimism and by God’s grace, we do not conform to a grasping culture (Rom. 12:2). Like the meek and mighty Shepherd, we serve with compassion and courage.

Jesus always came down on the side of real people rather than systems. Which candidate is treating the populace as loved individuals, not data points or conduits to power?

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you [voted] for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you [voted] for me’” (Matt. 25:40, NIV).

9. Thou shalt truly love thine enemies.

At the most recent U.S. State of the Union address we saw partisanship on stark display from start (not shaking hands) to finish (ripping up speech). In addition to the commandment “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44) — as much a commandment as the original Ten — Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9, NRSV). God’s children, though, should not act as infants. Childlike does not mean childish.

So, find at least one thing on which you can agree with the opposing side and part as friends. The two churches where I serve as pastor welcome believers of every hue on the political spectrum, yet we work together as one. As distasteful and destructive as “that side” often appears, followers of Jesus do not react with dismissive rancor. Crossing the aisle remains a noble enterprise in government and in church.

By the way, Jesus did not say to Christians, “Like your enemies.” We don’t have to like people or their words or acts. Jesus does call us to love everyone as He does — to treat all people with grace and dignity, as beings made in the image of God. Christ calls us to a comprehensive civility.

History reverberates with stories of gracious inclusion. While hanging on the Cross, Jesus prayed for the very people who had Him crucified (Luke 23:34).

Following the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered the military band to play “Dixie.” Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu, strove to protect and serve Muslims. Eleanor Roosevelt refused to fear anybody, thus birthing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nelson Mandela involved his former captors in restructuring South Africa. Democrats and Republicans joined together (at least once) to pass funding to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

All were determined to cross the aisle, to keep their heart and hands open for the better promises of hope, peace, and love.

10. Thou shalt vote each moment of every day.

Our ultimate allegiance extends to no candidate, party, or country but to Jesus of Nazareth. How we live each day is in itself an act of voting (Col. 3:23). Each moment is a precinct gathering with God. Conscience, context, and the Bible provide our best, most accessible voting guides.

The ballot box of daily living confirms our status as liberated, teachable, grace-filled citizens of the New Earth. Everything matters. Each thought and every action, all day long, channels to one choice.

Follower of Jesus?

[   ] Check

 

Notes & References:

[1] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985), pp. 92, 93.

[2] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985), p. 107.

[3] As evidence that headlined issues may dramatically change and profoundly deepen, since the original writing of this article the COVID-19 volcano erupted in the U.S. and the Black Lives Matter movement blossomed.

 

Chris Blake is lead pastor for the San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay Seventh-day Adventist Churches. He is professor emeritus of English and communication at Union College and the author of hundreds of articles and many books.

Photo by Tiffany Tertipes on Unsplash

 

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