How Should a Christian Vote? (Voting Day Thoughts on Political Party Idolatry)

How Should a Christian Vote? (Voting Day Thoughts on Political Party Idolatry) November 4, 2014

IVotedWhen I step inside the voting booth today, I will be struggling with my conscience, juggling one set of moral priorities on one hand and another set of moral priorities on the other. I will be studying names of the candidates in both political parties, wishing that there was someone who took responsibility for all of “the least of these.” And I will be making my compromises as best I can, knowing that allegiance to Jesus as my Lord means I cannot have absolute loyalty to any one political party.

How do we vote as Christians? We consider how our vote would best care for our neighbor. And because we are Christ’s ambassadors, we consider how our vote might reflect on Christ. 

One thing we decidedly do NOT do is focus our vote around fleshly dynamics of power, domination, and entitlement. Pursuit of these sinful values have caused us to sometimes forget that government exists to serve our neighbor and have harmed Christian witness in the United States perhaps more than any other single thing.

First of all, putting our eyes on ourselves and our own agenda and our own power takes our eyes off of those whom we are called to serve. Christians, above all, should be known for our care of those in need. In fact, I would argue that one of the primary functions of government is to properly utilize power to help care for those who need help most. It exists to protect, shelter, and support those who need to be served.

Second of all, there is the matter of the idolatry of power at all cost. How did it come to be that a Savior whose greatest power was shown through the weakness of the cross is now represented by followers who believe they are entitled to power and control? Hear these words of Jesus:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

–Mark 10:42-45, NIV

Our Savior entered the world humbly (as the most powerless being of all: a helpless baby) and asks that His followers walk in His footsteps in the same manner. When Christians get intoxicated by political power (or any other kind of earthly power), we too easily lose our credibility before a watching world. We make the same mistake many Jewish people made at Jesus’ first coming: we expect a military hero who will give us a physical kingdom on earth. Like James and John, we jockey for important political positions. We don’t think we matter or are being given our “due” unless we are in power.

The unchurched look at the Church of Jesus Christ and say to themselves, “Those Christians are part of all of the cynical power-mongering that everybody else is doing. But they’re even worse because they pretend they aren’t that way. They’re judgmental, and they ignore their own faults. They never listen and spend all their time proclaiming how they are right.”

The Religious Right has often been criticized this way and such criticism is sometimes fair. But the Religious Left can be similarly misaligned. Both groups, Republicans and Democrats, begin to ally themselves so strongly with one political party that they begin to declare their absolute allegiance to that party. It almost always begins with good intentions: for example, the Left’s concern for the poor or the Right’s concern to protect the lives of the elderly and unborn. But power becomes intoxicating and instead of holding one’s political party accountable, most people begin to simply affirm it in everything it espouses, to declare their candidates fundamentally good and the opposition’s fundamentally evil, to refuse to break from party talking points, to ally themselves with evil tactics, to embrace rage when they don’t get their way. Once we start to make a political party the boss of us no matter what it espouses or does, we start moving away from the creed, “Jesus is Lord.”

I have sometimes registered with one party or another in order to have an influence on political primaries, but I no longer consider myself a Republican or a Democrat (or any other party, for that matter). I want my freedom to resist evil wherever it is found. And there is evil to be found in both political parties. I also want my freedom to support good wherever it is found. And it too is found in both political parties. There are no perfect votes or perfect solutions in a broken, sinful world, but I still try to do the best I can to vote in line with Biblical values. Biblical values mean concerning myself with all of what Scripture says about caring for my neighbor in society. For example, they include both the concern that society care for its poor (such as in Old Testament laws which required people to leave some of their food for the poor and needy) and that society care for the vulnerable gift of life (as in Psalm 139 which describes how God knits together a baby in its mother’s womb). One party is more concerned with the former, and one party is more concerned with the latter. God is concerned with both.

If you have chosen to register with like-minded people and join a political party, I understand that good can be done through that action as well. But there are perils of joining a political party too. If you do so, recognize that the insidious temptation to seek power at all costs will arise. And today, on voting day in particular, think about how you conduct yourself–in conversation, on social media, in your attitude. Resist getting too comfortable and self-satisfied and prideful in your political party. Recognize how easy it is to start believing every cynical political line fed to you. Recognize the temptation to demonize your opponents. Recognize that no candidate is as good as their best press (“the Messiah!”) or as bad as their worst (“the Antichrist!”). Stay in the Scriptures and let them form you. Realize that as time goes by, you’re going to have to be willing to make political allies unhappy when you refuse to declare either Republicans or Democrats as Lord. Be willing to make people angry when you declare Jesus alone is Lord.

Consider this: What would it look like if every Christian in America just stopped posting partisan rants on their Facebook page? What would it look like if we stopped writing partisan books, making partisan movies, appearing on split-screen pundit shows? What if we stopped demanding our “rights” and starting trusting God to work in people’s hearts as we humbly serve them and share the story of how God saved each of us (just another poor miserable sinner)? I think the world would be shocked by such an approach. It might take a while for people to notice; the world is awfully used to us Christians being one of the loudest, angriest voices in the news. But I wonder if they would be hungry to see what has changed our lives. I wonder if it could even bring revival. But even if it didn’t, at least we could know that we were walking faithfully before God, declaring that He alone is Lord.

How do you balance the different ways to serve your neighbor with the competing interests of political parties? How do you consider how to vote as a Christian?

photo credit: ©HTO3 via photopin cc

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  • Missindeedy

    Rebecca, you write of important truths for people who call themselves Christians to cling to – serving as Christ served, and aligning with no one but Him. I would ask you to clarify one point. Is there no place for Christians as Pundits? And, if not, I’d follow that with – Is there any way for rhetoric to be both Christ derived and in the Scriptures so that it continues to form thinking and acting?

    This was a great post to consider!

  • Lark62

    I find the focus on “life in the womb” to be a smokescreen. Most anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive talk moves pretty quickly to sl#t shaming. The vast majority of anti-abortion talk actually seems to be more about controlling women’s sexuality and less about concern with human life.

    It seems to me that a true focus on life would begin with people who have already been born. A true focus on the value of human life would not include gloating over closing clinics that provide cancer screening and other basic health services to poor women. A true focus on the value of human life would ensure that no women ever needs to resort to a back-alley abortion. A true value on human life would ensure that every child is born to parents with the emotional, financial and personal resources to properly care for that child. A true value on human life would aggressively promote birth control to prevent unwanted pregnancies rather than shaming women for having a normal sex life.

    I respect that some people believe that somehow god magically inserts a soul into the egg at the very moment of conception. Likewise, it would be valuable for christians to respect the fact that many non-christians do not share this belief, and do not impart a non-viable embryo, zygote or fetus with a value that exceeds that the human being carrying that future person.

  • Christian charity is voluntary not coerced. Voting in favor of candidates who support policies to tax your neighbor in order to benefit others is neither Christian nor charitable!

  • I understand that argument and used to believe it too. But I have a little bit of healthy skepticism toward it these days. Because all people are sinful, including Christians, the sinful nature is not going to sufficiently motivate us to care for our neighbor to the extent that they need it. So, one possible solution is compulsory tax by which we all care for our neighbor. It’s worth noting that even in the OT, God commanded his people to leave some of their fields for the poor. This was compulsory tax. But it was a means by which society could help pay for the needs of the poor. There are no perfect solutions, and I agree that sometimes government does more harm than good, but I think it would help if we stop for a moment and have a bit of skepticism and curiosity toward our own position and simply ask: what will help my neighbor who is in need most? Maybe you end up arriving at a more Republican philosophy. Or perhaps it will be a Democrat or Libertarian philosophy. I think that’s totally cool if the reason you got there is service to your neighbor.

  • It would help if we defined what we mean by pundits. I hear that as a very negative word, but perhaps that’s not how it’s meant.

    Is there a place for careful, thoughtful, respectful articulation of viewpoint? Sure. Is there a place for Christians who hold a specific political position and want to articulate it publicly? Sure, as long as they don’t baptize their party as the only possible way to be a Christian, and as long as they don’t engage in evil tactics like lying, hateful speech, relegating their opponent to being the devil and their candidate to being an angel. I think it’s less about the position and more about the attitude one has toward others in the midst of that.

  • Thank you for commenting. I don’t think opposing abortion has to have anything at all to do with faith. The invention of the ultrasound makes clear what we are doing in abortion. There are actually pro-life atheist groups who articulate their opposition to abortion entirely outside a soul/theist argument. One that I just visited online made the argument that since this is all there is, that human life is precious and therefore ought to be protected. Seems to make some logical sense from that point of view.

  • Also, I agree that I want women to have health services (not talking about abortion, but about those services that we all can agree on). However, I think Planned Parenthood is so entwined with abortion that they are not the appropriate venue for the gov’t to fund for this. I support the Affordable Care Act and hope it helps a lot of women care for their health. And I would support any other measure that would provide health care for women, including birth control, but not abortion.

  • Please don’t use government coercion of your neighbor in an attempt to satisfy your Christian duty. The U.S. is not Israel, and government should not be our God. Government programs increase poverty, not reduce it. Every government program that addresses poverty has only increased dependency and destroyed those caught in its web. Christian compassion is direct and personal, not indirect and governmental. The church provides compassion in the name of Christ, the government never does.

  • I don’t disagree that sometimes government makes things worse. I think the conservative philosophy offers a helpful corrective in this way so that in our use of government, we don’t idolize it.

    But I disagree that government always makes things worse. And I disagree that taxing people and utilizing at least some government programs is idolizing government. That’s like saying receiving CPR is idolizing the emergency care worker. As long as we thank God for how He provides for us, it is not creating an idol. He uses human structures to care for a broken world.

    Why can’t we do both (taxes and charity)? Also, I don’t think charities can provide the complete picture. Government can help care for those that we might miss. I agree that personal care is best, but I also know that the sinful nature being what it is, we need the Law to compel us to do what is right.

  • Sounds like social justice/Marxism to me. But I suppose you will tell me that is what the Bible teaches us. I think the 8th, 9th, and 10th commandments are rather useless in our day, don’t you? Let’s use government to institutionalize theft, greed, and envy by force of law. Who needs charity?

  • Lark62

    Question: is the “intertwining” reality or a result of the campaign against abortion?

    My impression is that it is not reality. (I assume I know the answer but honestly haven’t researched it.) And there are no other clinics stepping into the vacuum when planned parenthood closes, especially in the short term.

  • Lark62

    My favorite quote: “If two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” 🙂 Thanks for welcoming other views.

    Yes, there are a few atheist opponents of abortion. But that doesn’t change the fact that most opponents of abortion are religion based. I do not believe that a non viable fetus is a human life. And I dread a return to coat hanger days. Women with husbands and children and jobs have value.

    Full disclosure – I have a family member who had abortion in her bedroom in the 1940s. The dentist who lived down the street was thankfully competent. I would not exist otherwise.

  • Daryl Wheeler

    I generally avoid comments on blogs, but so far at least
    this seems to be a civil discussion.
    This is a subject that I often wrestle with. In the interest of full disclosure I will admit upfront to being a paleo-con, however that generally puts me at odds with both parties on various issues and I desperately want a “None of the above.” choice in most elections. I just have some random thoughts.

    I’m no theologian, but of course Israel was a theocracy and
    in the OT God gave them both religious and civil law in combination. If I use the idea that God told the Israelites
    to leave part of their crop to feed the poor as justification for voting for the party who tax others to support their various welfare causes am I not imposing my religious beliefs on others?
    My Libertarian friends would say I am and my atheist Libertarian friends would loudly say so.

    If my responsibility as a Christian is to love my neighbor and to love them means to want what is best for them can I justify voting for an party that promotes programs that at least in my opinion make them dependent on the government? Is that what is best for them?

    On the other hand can I vote for a party who tends to promote “corporate welfare” that props up large corporations that have little or no interest in the welfare of their employees (or anyone else for that matter) simply because they pay lip service to culturally conservative ideas like abortion even though they have done precious little in the decades since Roe v Wade to stop it.

    One party would enslave us to big government the other to big business and in truth each needs the other to survive. I hold my nose and vote, but like I said I really want a “None of the Above.” option.

  • Daryl Wheeler

    There are valid natural law arguments against abortion that do not involve religion. If the intentional taking of an innocent human life is murder, then abortion is murder. For it not to be murder, then either the life taken has to not be innocent or not be human. If you argue that the fetus is not a life or not human then it is incumbent on you to provide an argument for when it becomes alive or human.

    The problem always becomes that any attempt to define when life begins if not at conception has no logical stopping point. The ethical arguments for post birth abortion are already well underway and are simply a logical extension of the arguments for pre-birth abortion.

  • I so hear you!

  • Wow. This points out that so often there are stories behind our most deeply-held views. Yes, I agree it is healthy to have people come at things from different perspectives.

  • There’s some misinformation about Planned Parenthood. One thing that kept flying around was that they did mammograms. But they don’t. I’ve gotten some helpful info from a former PP clinic manager named Abby Johnson who is now pro-life. Some of the things she talks about that went on behind the scenes are disturbing. Her experience was that PP was very intertwined with abortion. She has a website and Facebook if you’re interested. Also, a book called Unplanned. It’s really worth a read even if it doesn’t convince you at the end. One thing I’ve appreciated about Abby is that she actually came out and said she will work with anybody who is pro-life, and she thinks it’s ridiculous that some Christian pro-lifers won’t work with atheist pro-lifers.

    Here’s Abby’s list of things PP does NOT provide:

    Full disclosure: she is Catholic, so I think she is against birth control. I’m not, but I appreciate her perspective as someone who was once on the inside. She also tends to show a lot of grace and to give Christians a lecture when they are being jerks. She’s not perfect, but I’ve appreciated her. She provides a helpful corrective to PP talking points that deserves consideration.

  • I think we’re gonna have to agree to disagree, Barry.

  • One other comment: no, we are definitely not a theocracy. However, I find that often people argue from Scripture as if Scripture itself teaches Republican economics. Actually, it’s pretty apolitical. It’s just, love God and care for your neighbor. But I argued from Scripture because of those who do the same for their point of view. At the very least, we ought to mandate every Christian gives a tithe, eh?;-) (I’m kind of kidding…) But even Jesus paid his taxes. He did get the money from a fish, but… He told us to pay to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God.

  • Lark62

    I don’t know what you mean by post birth abortion. If it is infanticide, we have no disagreement there.

    You are exactly right that the basic question is when does human life begin. I think we need to respect that this is unknowable, despite very strong beliefs. A person is not a murderer because they place more value in a living woman than in a non viable fetus. The belief that every child should be born to parents able to care for him is also a moral view.

    I disagree that I must know the exact moment a fetus becomes a person. Night is not day. An acorn is not an oak tree. Yet I can’t identity the moment the switch occurs.

    For myself, if I didn’t exist I wouldn’t exist. And I wouldn’t know the diffference. I would not have wanted my mother to risk her life or her health or the financial security of my siblings to bring me into the world. I then wouldn’t have existed – no different from the 6 million or so others that lost out because my egg got there first.

    I do not ask you to agree. But please understand that I reached my support for abortion on moral considerations.

  • Lark62

    Government programs do not increase poverty. That is a lie told by people who need an excuse to dislike policies that help the poor.

  • Lark62

    Christian charity is up to christians.

    We do not have a christian government, but a secular government. Our government does much for the common good. I don’t drive on interstate highways in Florida because I’ve never been there. My vegan sibling doesn’t benefit from usda meat inspections. I don’t have ebola, so should my tax dollars be used to research how to safely care for ebola patients and find a cure? It is the role of government to protect the common good. Where to draw the line should be a product of respectful discourse.

    Ensuring all children have food and
    an education is essential, in my opinion.

    In my opinion, the biggest problem with welfare programs is the fact that people working full time for major corporations need government support for food and shelter. If I am going to subsidize Walmart or McDonalds I’ll do it by shopping there not by using government funds to augment their low wages. Minimum wage laws shift the burden of paying people to the corporation where it belongs.

  • If you pay (reward) people for having out-of-wedlock children, being unemployed, etc., it’s amazing, but you only get more of it. Just look at the statistics.

  • Lark62

    I also am glad for a place where people with strong disagreements can actually talk about things.

    Thanks to Eisenhower and his experience as a general, the government built what is arguably the best highway system in the world. FDR put people to work during the depression, and we still benefit from permanent improvements to national parks.

    If one looks at the government not as that big ugly thing over there but as what we do collectively to improve our nation and help each other, does that help? And given that outlook, what is the best way to help people who work full time but still can’t pay rent and feed their kids?

  • Thanks for the exchange. Christians should not use Scripture to bolster anti-Christian social programs that only grow contempt for the God of the Bible and dependency on an ever larger government. Government is not the solution, it’s the problem. Only about ten cents of every tax dollar for social welfare programs actually reaches the poor. It’s lunacy. The real beneficiaries of government largess are government employees who produce nothing but more deficits. But I guess that’s what Hillary means when she says that “corporations don’t create jobs (i.e., only government does)”.

  • Lark62

    Dr. Ben Carson shares your view. He is an African American surgeon, now quite successful and well known. His mother received government assistance when he was young. He says no one should get govt assistance. Ugh.

    The truth is in between. We somehow need to balance caring for those without food while ensuring that there is a way up and out. I don’t know the answer. But as a first step, we have to stop subsidizing corporations by allowing them to pay such low wages that their employees need food stamps to survive.

  • Yes, we must use the government to force corporations to be more Christ-like. That will certainly succeed. Let’s all support totalitarian government to solve our social problems. But in the end you may not like what you get.

  • Lark62

    I can’t fight your straw man of my comments. If you’d like to discuss what I actually said, let me know. Cheers.

  • Lark62

    I agree. I also think in the current political climate we have become too focused on destroying the opposition and not focused enough on rational conversation on the role of government.

    Example – I think free, well maintained, government funded highways are among the best things we’ve ever done. These fuel our economy and our way of life.

    My state had recently become enamored with toll roads operated by the private sector. “They are more fair.” The company is allowed to recover costs from violators. A small fine and admin costs not to exceed $1000 per violation. A driver’s auto pay failed. He recieved a bill for ten days (20 trips) which he paid and he updated his credit card information. He then received a statement from the toll operator for $22,000 – 20 fines and 20 $1000 admin fees. For an expired credit card. He went to court and eventually “only” had to pay $2500. This has happened to a number of people and many people won’t use those roads.

    There is proper place for government activities for the common good. Privitization isn’t always a great thing.

    There are so many areas where we need government to support general welfare. The FDA was created 100 years ago in response to such things as bakers adding sawdust to loaves of bread. Building codes prevent horrific disastors.

    We won’t always agree on where to draw the line, but rational debate, compromise and acknowledgement that the government does have a role are essential.

  • Oh, I thought you were proposing to use the force of law to accomplish your idea of charity or social justice. Was I wrong?

  • Lark62

    I was proposing a discussion where people listen to each other respectfully and consider other points of view.

  • Yes, but please don’t confuse a direct and forceful response with lack of respect. Just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I haven’t considered other points of view. I’ve spent lifetime considering other points of view. Just thought I would share mine. All the best to you and your fellow bloggers. I’m signing off on this particular discussion.

  • Good stuff here. I think strong either/other distinctions in party politics and vilifying the other side really break down our government and general civility. I’m a pragmatist who wants to look at problems and try stuff to find solutions, even if it is an ideologically pure solution. Let’s face it, conservatives have some really good points. So do liberals. I wish we could stop hating each other and work together.

    And that is completely and totally nuts about the toll roads! Is that in Illinois? That sounds like a thing that would be in Illinois.

  • Daryl Wheeler

    Lark62, first let me assure you that I am not questioning
    your morality or even the morality of your position on abortion. While I disagree with you on abortion, I do
    understand your arguments. While I don’t question your morality this is not really about personal morality, but rather about what a society as a whole allows or doesn’t allow. That is, when the civil authorities will use or not use their sword to control a behavior or action an in my opinion that makes it a more complicated and of necessity a more precise undertaking.

    Your point about acorns and oak trees is well taken and for you and me as individuals it doesn’t matter much if we agree about the precise moment an acorn becomes an oak tree or dark becomes light. In fact such things can make for enjoyable after dinner conversation, rather like how many angels can sit on the head of a pin. However if destroying acorns is allowed by the state, but oak trees must be preserved and some in society have a vested interest in destroying acorns, but destroying oak trees is punished severely, then we need to agree exactly and as precisely as possible when an acorn ceases being an acorn and becomes an oak tree. The same thing applies to darkness becoming light. If something is allowed to occur in the dark, but not in the light than again we must agree when the transition takes place.

    Any of these matters i.e. dark to light, acorn to oak or
    when life begins may, in fact be unknowable, but we as a society have to agree on some determination if we are going to use the distinction.

    You seem to want to use viability, however “viability” is an
    ambiguous term and any attempt at definition seems to fail. The term seems to become increasingly ambiguous with the advances in medicine and technology to the point that in some instances a first trimester fetus is as “viable” as a full term newborn. It is because of this ambiguity that I question the practicality (not the morality) of your position when it comes to society as a whole.

    To illustrate this I would offer “post birth” or “after
    birth” abortion which is what medical ethicists now call what you or I would call infanticide or murder. Rather than rehash their arguments I am going to attempt to include a link to the article “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” in the Journal of Medical Ethics. If the link doesn’t work, you can Google the title of the article and find it quite easily. The reason I am posting this is because they use almost your exact same
    arguments to argue for after-birth abortion.

    The argument that a fetus is not a human with rights is, for lack of a better term, a slippery slope. I have read a lot on this, but I have never seen a solution to this
    problem. Maybe you have one.