Well we are less than 48 hours to Election Day 2020. I’m sure you, like many, are ready for some respite from such a political season.
As we enter in the final days and emerge out of the election I want to share six questions that I have sought to answer when it comes to casting my vote for politicians, four exhortations that I have for the church in America before and after the election, and a reminder that regardless of who is in power Christians must be ready to exercise their prophetic voice.
Six Questions to Answer Before Considering Who to Vote For
We’ve already had record number of votes recorded prior to November 3. So, these questions may be a little late to the party.
1. Who will govern in a way that honors our founding documents? The founding documents I’m referring to are the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Our Founding Fathers established what many refer to as the “American Experiment.” While our nation is far from perfect, it has over its history been a beacon of hope for other countries as it has sought to be an example of a free democracy.
But I want to go a little deeper, theologically. In my study of both the Old Testament and New Testament, when the people of God were exiles in a foreign land, they never sought to proactively change or transform the government in authority. This doesn’t mean they didn’t engage; nor does it mean they didn’t bring about transformation through the enactment of their faith. It simply means that they didn’t proactively try and change or transform the governments in which they resided. They sought to honor the structures that existed, and when those structures of government infringed upon their ultimate allegiance to God, they peacefully rebelled.
This is why I believe Christians in America should seek to understand the government as we seek to participate in forming a “more perfect union.” Justin Giboney, Michael Wear, and Chris Butler note the following in their book, Compassion and Conviction,
If we are to be effective citizens who steward our citizenship well, we must raise our civic literacy.
Taking the time to understand how the mechanisms of government work is basic due diligence that responsible citizens should feel an obligation to pursue.
To engage politics effectively, Christians should be familiar with primary constitutional principle and relationship between the state and the church.Compassion and Conviction, 21–38
Keep in my that if Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton could have different interpretations for the Constitution, Christians probably will too.
2. Who will govern in a way that will support the Scriptures’ view of the good life? I’m simply using the phrase “good life” in a manner that would reflect a flourishing nation. So what are some characteristics of the good life according to the Scriptures? Here’s a brief list that isn’t meant to be exhaustive:
- Justice, equality, and equity
- Access to Healthcare
- Just laws and proper enforcement
- Religious liberty
- Access to Education
- Protection of vulnerable and marginalized
- Personal responsibility
3. Who will be less of an obstacle to the church advancing her mission? I know some may object to this question as they think about Tertullian’s often quoted phrase, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” and how the church in places like China and the Middle East grows in light of oppressive government regimes. However, this is where I think Christians in America take for granted the blessing of not only being able to worship freely but to conduct mission freely. In other parts of the world believers do not have this opportunity.
Thomas Jefferson once noted, “I consider the government of the U.S. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with the religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.” In other words, Thomas Jefferson promoted religious liberty. The people we vote for should promote religious liberty as well.
4. Who will see faith-based institutions as a partner in the flourishing of America? This question may be similar to the previous one, but it is different. While I believe we should support candidates who believe in religious liberty, I also believe we should support candidates who see faith-based institutions as a partner in the flourishing of our society not a pest on our society.
Our first president saw the importance of religion on society. In his farewell address, Washington expressed
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
5. How does the candidate view, garner, and wield power? There has been a lot of focus around the character of the candidate in this election cycle. I think it is perfectly fair to assess the character of people running for public office. However, I think it is also fair to say, that everyone’s character—in some way—will disappoint us. And yes, some will have more glaring character issues than others. With that said, I want to suggest another area to assess a candidate through—and that is through power.
One’s view of power, how one garners power, and then how one exercises or wields power is the true test of one’s character. For believers we have someone who modeled how we should view, garner, and wield power, and that model is Jesus. There are at least five notable points regarding Jesus and power.
First, Jesus saw his power derived from his intimacy and submission to the Father. In other words, his view and exercises of power was under the authority of the Father. So, which candidate views his position of power as one under authority?
Second, Jesus rejected status and reputation. In other words, he had a posture of humility. So, which candidate expresses more humility. Does he need this position or does this position need them?
Third, Jesus’ use of power was defined by compassion. Jesus used his power in a way that lifted and elevated others. So, which candidate will use their position to elevate others?
Fourth, Jesus exercised his power in a non-coercive way. Jesus never forced people to believe or follow him. He allowed people to exercised freedom of choice based upon what they heard and seen.
Fifth, Jesus spoke truth and grace. He said what needed to be said but did so with grace. Much rhetoric today, especially political rhetoric, is devoid of both truth and grace. Political rhetoric is full of half-truths, lies, spins, and linguistic gymnastics. Yet, we should be looking for a candidate who to a great degree speaks with both truth and grace. We should be looking for a candidate who says what they mean and means what they say.
6. Who will unite people rather than divide people? We’re a divided nation that’s in great need of healing. This is a tall order for any politician today—especially in this new age of identity politics. It isn’t enough for a politician to say they will govern on behalf of all Americans. Talk here can be cheap. Actions are the currency of talk in this case. Thus, who will govern as an American President, as an American Senator, as an American Congressman—someone who will enact policies that benefit the whole not just their political fold?
I realize that in answering these questions, no one politician will be a “perfect” candidate. I don’t expect them to be. We live in a fallen world and we live in pluralistic society where many who run for political office do not share a Christian worldview nor embody a Christian witness with their life. In addition, I don’t expect every Christian, in answering these questions, will conclude on supporting the same candidate. Nevertheless, these questions give us a framework for how we can think deeply and biblically about engaging in American democracy.
Four Exhortations to Christians Living in America
In light of the chaotic political season we are in and that the election is this coming Tuesday, I want to share three brief exhortations with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
First, don’t buy into the fear mongering in American politics.
Yes, both parties and politicians have completely different visions for America and thus the American people. Depending on who wins the election, almost half of the country will be disappointed, many being downright angry and resentful. Why? Because they will see a person who doesn’t represent the kind of America they envision.
Believers, we don’t buy fear, we live in faith. God is sovereign, not only over the world but over America. Nothing slips past him. Therefore, regardless of who occupies the White House we still have a King that sits high upon his throne.
Second, don’t participate in the demonization of the other political party or politician.
I’m all for healthy discussions, dialogues, and debates. I believe these are needed more than ever—but I am skeptical whether or not America (and most American politicians) has the maturity to do so. Again just watch the debate from last night. But the people I know who have the maturity to do so are believers who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
When we are filled with the Spirt of God, we exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we are filled with the Spirit of God, we are people who have the capacity and power to love all—including our political counterparts.
Imagine if the church tried to reach people far from God the way many Christians attempt to persuade people to change their minds politically. I don’t know if there would be another convert to Christianity! Therefore, regardless of your political views or affiliation, let us engage the other with love, humility, and truth—agreeing when possible and graciously pointing out differences when necessary.
Third, don’t get sucked into identity politics and thus the cultish religion of the Democratic or Republican Party.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t affiliate with a party. I’m just exhorting you to remember where your true allegiance and “religious” fidelity lies. As believers, our allegiance isn’t to a donkey or elephant, it is to the Lion of the tribe of Judah—the Lamb that was slain for the world. We must, therefore, avoid a syncretizing the Lion with the donkey or the Lion with the elephant. Doing so will always distort the purity of our faith.
Lesslie Newbigin expressed, “The sacralizing of politics, the total identification of a political goal with the wheel of God, always unleashes demonic powers.” (Foolishness to the Greeks, 116).
The reality is, if we start with identifying with our King before our party we will realize Jesus (in us) doesn’t always toe the party line.
You see, in the Kingdom of God, the church’s politic doesn’t come from Trump’s doctrine nor from the Biden-Sanders manifesto. The church’s politic comes from King Jesus and the kingdom he inaugurated and promises to, one day, consummate. Therefore, we embody the King and his kingdom in all spheres of life. And yes, the embodiment and enactment of our faith will affect our engagement in politics and policies.
Fourth, don’t neglect to pray for our country.
Our country needs our prayers. Our politicians need our prayers. So, let us not neglect this most sacred duty of lifting up our country and leaders to the one true God and King who sits upon his throne.
Embracing the Whistle of a Prophetic Voice
My boss and friend Ed Stetzer tweeted not too long ago:
The Christian’s role is not uncritical partisanship on some particular team. It is to be like an umpire, calling balls and strikes—to speak prophetically in the moment. That means at #DemConvention, #RepConvention, and in life. When you cannot critique, you’ve become co-opted. @edstetzerTweet
Part of what it means to be salt and light is courageously calling out politicians when we see them operating personally or politically (through political policy) outside the bounds of what it means to be a just society and a decent (civilized) person.
Effectively fulfilling our call as salt and light means that we should remain objective. In fact, to be an umpire you have to remain objective. You can’t be secretly cheering for one team. That’s why I think Tim Keller is exactly right—Christians do not fit well in either party. That is not to say that a Christian’s hierarchy of values would not impact how they vote. It does. However, I think our umpire role is essential to understand our prophetic posture, and at times our prophetic voice.
Regardless of who wins on Tuesday, Christians will need to have their prophetic whistle handy—for we may need to use it.
After the dust settles on Tuesday, there will be those who are elected and those who are not. The media will label them “winners” and “losers.” However, as Christians let us not get caught up in who “wins” or who “loses.” If so, we may be tempted to walk away from the election Tuesday in defeat or in victory—and either in arrogance or anger.
In closing, let us remind ourselves that we are already victorious, not because of who is or isn’t in the White House, the Senate, or the Congress but because our King died, was buried, rose from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God interceding for us. And that is why we are victorious and that is why we can be faithfully present (reflecting the glory of God in all spheres of life) in any land under any government.