Sacred Space: The Church Shouldn't Make Voting Easy

Every Friday in Sacred Space, Brad Williams explores the place of popular culture in the local church.

Every year around election time, I inevitably get asked about who I am going to vote for. I enjoy it when people ask me that, but I am also  cautious about how I answer that question. I am a man like everyone else, but I am also the pastor of a church. I do not want my opinion to get confused with the opinion of the church, and I do not want my thoughts on the matter to make it easy on the one asking the question.

I do not believe that it is the job of the church to tell someone how to vote. That’s too easy, and it is terrible discipleship. The goal of the church is to make people good disciples of Jesus Christ, and election time presents us with an opportunity to help people be better disciples by thinking through difficult choices. This primary presents us with a humdinger of an opportunity to do just that.

Think of how complicated this is for an evangelical “moral” voter. We have in one corner Mitt Romney. He has a reputation as a bit of a RINO, and he makes himself sound conservative enough to be appealing. Also, Mitt is a Mormon. Evangelicals rightly wonder about the implications of electing a man to office from a religion they consider a cult. But then, on the other side, you have the serial adulterer Newt Gingrich. He is a smart man, and he seems to pass the conservative muster, and he’s a converted Roman Catholic. While that’s not evangelical, it is more acceptable than Mormonism. But this is the guy that left a wife dying of cancer to marry a woman who he would later cheat on for six years and leave for a third wife. What makes a man more untrustworthy, two divorces or one heresy? Do we have to choose between adultery and Mormonism?

It’s at this difficult place that people come to me and ask how I will vote. Whatever their quandary may be, they want to know how the pastor has it worked out so they might vote “correctly.” That’s not fair to me or them. It’s like going to school having barely prepared for a test, and then looking over at my paper when you get flummoxed to copy my answer. Everyone ought to have to agonize over the choices before they cast their vote. That isn’t simply for the sake of the agony, but through the process of personally prioritizing what is important to us as a human being who is a Christian, we become better disciples.

That’s why the church ought not say, “Vote for Candidate X.” I do not believe that there is always a correct choice in the voting booth. Even if we elected a born-again evangelical who could bring goodwill like Billy Graham, he might be a bad President. Jesus is not running this term, so the decision is hard.

So what ought we to expect from our church and its leadership with regard to politics? Let them be versed in the issues, and let them give their opinions with the caveats galore. When I tell someone how I will vote, I tell them why. It is normally due to prioritization  of the issues, and frankly, those will differ between even the closest brothers. And make sure you let them know that there really is no right answer. This is a fallen world, and we are a frail people. Even the President is subject to our follies.

Besides, we’re waiting for a King to appear. These Presidents are just there to maintain order until Christ returns. That is the focus of the church, to declare to others that a King is coming who will rule the world in justice and equity.

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  • http://robfaircloth.com Rob Faircloth

    I agree that pastors should not say so easily “vote for Mr. X”, largely because I would not be on record as supporting or promoting the shortcomings that inevitably appear later. But the main reason is that believers are called to ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds’, and, as you say, training our members to think through the political voting process is just that.

  • http://www.diannaeanderson.net Dianna

    Just a nitpicky thing, Brad: “evangelical ‘moral’ voter” should probably just be conservative. The way it’s currently written implies that a moral voter only votes on the Republican side, and that a vote for Obama would be immoral. I know that’s probably not what you meant, but I dislike the way that evangelical voters seem to think they have a monopoly on the moral candidates, and I see a bit of that seeping through here.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Dianna,

    That’s why I used the “air” quotes. The media labelled S. Carolina as a “Morals Voter” state for Republicans. I can’t do the finger quotes over the internet. Alas.

    To expand your thought though, I think that a vote for President Obama could be immoral, or a vote for one of the Republican candidates could be immoral. But we ought to make those arguments over the issues, not just because he is a Democrat or Republican.