How should a Christian vote? This should be a difficult question. We need to apply our hearts and minds to develop an understanding of how our citizenship in the Kingdom of God informs our citizenship in this country. This is the final installment in my series, How a Christian Should Vote. I have not told you which candidate or party to vote for, and I won’t. I have not given you a chart with simplified rubrics for which candidate or party checks the most “Christian” boxes, and I won’t. I have sought to complicate the issue of voting for Christians, while also providing tools for thinking through our rights and responsibilities as voters. I hope you are beginning to feel more equipped to make the decision faithfully, with a better understanding of the relationship between Kingdom and Country.
There are three complex, highly nuanced steps to how a Christian should vote.
Step 1: Understand the Kingdom of God. I examined Step 1 here. It’s foundational, so read it first.
Step 2: Determine how the Kingdom of God should influence the country. I started exploring Step 2 with two Separatist approaches, followed by two Separationist approaches, then an examination of Limited Partisan Compatibility, and finally three approaches to Christianization.
Step 3: Make your decision. We have reached step three. As of writing, we are days away from November 3rd, 2020. Although millions of voters have already cast their ballots in this historically contentious and pandemic-fraught election season, we continue to think carefully about the relationship between our Christian faith and our participation in the electoral process.
Seek the Kingdom
First and foremost, we must return to our citizenship in heaven. We must repeatedly and intentionally seek Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, through prayer, worship, and Scripture. If the Holy Spirit is not alive in us, renewing our minds, enabling us to love God and neighbor, then there is no reason to think that we will be able to engage the political sphere faithfully. We must be clear about the values and convictions of the Kingdom and how they contrast with the values and convictions of the United States and its political parties. If we struggle to differentiate the Kingdom of God from the country, we have fallen into error, for there are far more differences between Kingdom and country than there are similarities.
The Kingdom of God is eternal; the United States is temporal. The Kingdom of God is universal; the United States has geo-political and social boundaries. Freedom in the Kingdom of God is freedom from sin and freedom for others; freedom in the United States is individual autonomy and freedom to pursue one’s own happiness. Power in the Kingdom of God is demonstrated through sacrificial love; power in the United States is demonstrated through the ability to impose one’s will on others. Justice in the Kingdom of God is restorative; justice in the United States is retributive. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God must be absolute; our allegiance to the United States must be conditional. These contrasts reinforce the truth that the United States never was, is not now, and will not become the Kingdom of God. And yet we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Kingdom of God is not threatened by the United States’ political policies or cultural shifts. It is absurd to think that the Christian Church could be threatened or destroyed by any political movement. But Christian witness in the United States is influenced by the real or perceived political priorities of Christian people, and we should take that seriously.
Lean into Nuance
Our brains rebel against nuance. It takes more mental and emotional energy to hold ideas in tension, to navigate between extremes, to differentiate between shades of grey. But nuanced thinking is required if Christians are going to engage the political sphere without irreparably damaging our faith. In the preceding posts I outlined 9 ways Christians can approach political engagement, some of which I considered appropriate options, and some of which I discarded as inherently out of step with Christian faithfulness. If you need to refresh your memory, links to each of the “Step 2” posts are included above.
These models of engagement are useful guidelines, but to simply select one of these options and strictly adhere to it would be deceptively easy. The complexity of faith and politics calls for an even more nuanced approach, drawing together the most faithful elements of several models of engagement in a way that allows us to set our eyes on the Kingdom of God while participating in the American political process. For example, I believe the prophetic model should inform all Christian engagement in politics, although it will look different depending on the issues of the day and the platforms of influence on which each Christian stands. On the other hand, I believe Christian nationalism runs contrary to Christian faithfulness. While including the prophetic and rejecting the nationalist, Christians have options and freedom to carefully consider the extent of separation or the degree of partisanship that seems in step with our convictions. We will not all agree on these points, but we should be able to respect one another’s perspectives.
Love Your Neighbor
The command to love our neighbor as we love ourselves is also a command to consider the impact of policies on our neighbors as if the policies were impacting us directly. There is no candidate or party whose policies won’t harm some of our neighbors while helping others. It is easy to choose a few issues, form a strong opinion rooted in Christian conviction, then revert to those few issues when other topics call into question our love of neighbor. Christ has not commanded us to have firm convictions about one or two issues to the neglect of all others. The command to love our neighbor does not elevate some neighbors over others on the basis of their age or innocence or place of birth. Policies have consequences for our neighbors, and we need to consider as many policies and their consequences as we possibly can. Then we must accept responsibility for the fact that by voting we contribute to some harms, and we should do everything in our power to mitigate those harms.
What issues do you consider obvious, absolute, non-negotiable, cut and dry? Absolutes are easy. It is so simple to say “I could never support a candidate who . . .” It is easy to deny gray area, to refuse to consider all the ramifications of our choices, to baptize our positions with Bible verses then vilify whoever disagrees with us. It is so very easy. But following Christ is not easy. Love of neighbor is not easy. Is it possible we regard some issues as black-and-white only because we refuse to look for the shades of gray? We can hold our positions while being aware of their complexity. We can place conditions or limitations on the circumstances in which our positions should be legislated. But we cannot love God and neighbor while trafficking in extremes, exaggerations, misinformation, fearmongering, and willful ignorance.
Voting can lead us to rejoice in prayer. We can thank God for the opportunity to influence the country we live in. We can rejoice in the freedoms we enjoy and benefits of free and fair elections. We can rejoice in the improvements that can come from policies and the security we can experience from living in a democratic society.
Voting can lead us to lament in prayer. We can lament the ways America does and will continue to fall short of God’s good and perfect will. We can lament division, violence, and fear that disrupt the electoral process. We can lament that fact that injustice persists and shifts. We can lament the harm that our leaders’ decisions will inevitably cause for some of our neighbors.
Voting can lead us to confess in prayer. We can confess our idolatry in tying ourselves too closely to a party or candidate. We can confess our indifference toward those who might be harmed or frightened by the policies we support. We can confess our ignorance of some of our candidates’ positions and their ramification. We can confess that in choosing to elevate some issues, we give our tacit approval to others. We confess and ask God to search our hearts and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.
Voting can lead us to unite in prayer. Elections highlight the undercurrent of division that foment among the body of Christ. May the end of this long and brutal election season lead us to unite in prayer as one body of Christ, to reaffirm our whole-hearted and single-minded commitment to Jesus Christ, and begin the hard work of rebuilding the bridges we’ve burned along the way.
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