On November 6, 2012, every American citizen aged 18 and above will have the opportunity, and great privilege, to go to the polls and vote to express their preference on who should hold the highest office in the land: President of the United States (POTUS). Now, despite what most people may think, they will not actually vote for the individual whom they want to win. Oh, they will pull a lever or push a button or punch a card with a candidate’s name on it. But, actually, they will be voting for a small slate of “state electors” who will, in fact, cast ballots to decide which candidate the plurality (not necessarily a majority) of voters in their state favors. In this case, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee that the majority rules. In fact, of the 56 Presidential elections since 1789, eighteen winners did not get a majority of the national popular vote. Four did not even have a plurality of the votes.
In any case, given the facts and the dilemma they face with the candidates in this the 57th Presidential election (see Part 1), what are Christian citizens to do? In our last installment we explored the religious backgrounds of both President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. We showed how President Obama was greatly influenced by the radical concepts of Liberation Theology and how Mitt Romney was raised in and remains dedicated to the unorthodox doctrinal teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism).
In this installment we will look at what the Bible indicates we should do regardless of the choices we have in the public square. We will show how Christians should be active and concerned citizens of their country and how going to the polls is one important element of that responsibility.
There are, actually, four essential Biblical principles why Christians should actively participate in the political life of the nation.
1. The Bible calls Christian citizens to actively claim their citizenship in this world as well as citizenship in heaven.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. 1 Peter 2:11 – 12 (NASB)
In his first pastoral letter, the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians in Asia Minor facing difficult times. Pressure was mounting from political powers and the believers were anticipating the real possibility of persecution. Peter wanted them try and stay at peace with the powers that existed and so presented them several principles for Christian citizenship.
Peter first reminded them that they were “aliens & strangers” in the world. Their ultimate citizenship was in heaven. Meanwhile, they were part of a hostile pagan Gentile culture and he warned them not to fall prey to the lusts of the flesh (v. 11). Instead, he tells them to “keep your behavior excellent.” He wanted them to be beyond reproach in their personal and public activities so no one could bring a legitimate charge against them.
This principle remains today. Christians in this land are Americans, yes, but they cannot forget that they also have a dual citizenship. Though Americans love this country, their ultimate loyalty lies with God. They are first and foremost citizens of Heaven. As the Apostle Paul said, they are a “colony of heaven” (Phil 3:20).
Nonetheless believers are to care about their earthly society and the land where they live. Paul was a Roman citizen and often took advantage of his rights. For example, when he was charged with sedition, he demanded his right to appeal his case for judgment by the Emperor (Acts 25:11).
Christians have a dual citizenship of country and heaven and it is their responsibility to act appropriately in both. So how else is this true?
2. The Bible calls Christian citizens to work for good and just human authorities.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 1 Peter 2: 13 – 15 (NASB)
Peter further exhorted his readers to willingly “submit” to those in civil authority over them. These “institutions” included kings and governors (v. 13). The reason why? Because they were divinely instituted to punish evil doers and to protect good people from them (v. 14).
Unlike the society in which Peter and Paul lived, gratefully, Americans live in a free country where the people choose their leaders. And, even more so now than then, Christians, must obey the civil law. This is even the case when the laws seem trite or wrong. If they believe the government is wrong then they should work within the system to change the leaders and the laws.
But, you may ask, what about those times when the civil law and government is so bad that they trample on the rights of citizens, are unjust to the people they are supposed to protect, reward evil and evildoers, or demand that Christians act in ways not in accord with biblical teaching?
When the first English colonists came to America, they and their children were citizens (or subjects) of Great Britain and its king. As we know, however, in the 1700s, the colonists demanded that the British respect their rights to choose their leaders, make their own laws, and levy their own taxes. The continued British rejection of their demands eventually led to the Revolutionary War.
There may be times when Christians and other people of good will should intentionally and respectfully refuse to obey the civil authorities when those authorities continually deny freedom to their citizens. As the Declaration of Independence boldly states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
3. The Bible calls Christian citizens to bring Godly principles to bear in public life.
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. 1 Peter 2: 15 – 17 (NASB)
Peter told his readers that by doing right they would confound their enemies. Though they were at that time free from persecution, they were not to let that freedom become license to do wrong. As bondslaves of God they were free to do the right thing and bring glory to Him. So he told them to honor all people, love their brothers in Christ, and to honor the king and other civil authorities. By bringing godly principles to the public square they would influence it to do right.
This is even more true today. Since believers can actively participate in civil affairs it is important that they bring biblical values to society. Christians should, therefore, support those candidates at every level of government who best represent Christian ideals (even if they are not Christians).
As Jesus told his disciples:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:13 – 15 (NASB)
But there is one more, and perhaps the most important principle for the Christian to practice in this regard.
4. The Bible calls Christians to pray for the government and leaders.
I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior. 1 Timothy 2:1 – 4 (NASB)
Paul urged his friend Timothy to encourage believers to lift up their prayers for all people, including those in places of civil authority. He wanted them to enjoy peaceful lives where they could worship and study without hindrance. No matter what form the government may take or who is in control, Christ followers are, nonetheless, required to pray for their well-being and wisdom. Christians may also have to pray for their salvation.
In conclusion, yes, evangelical Christians face a dilemma in deciding who to vote for President in 2012. But as Christians, they are all called to be godly citizens of their nation (regardless of which one it is). To start with, they should register and vote in elections. There is an old saying that if you don’t vote, don’t complain. If you are a Christian and are not registered vote, shame on you! Every Christian should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Apathy is the greatest problem of all! The next national election will have tremendous implications for the future of America. Christians cannot afford to opt out of the process. They must deal with the dilemma!
© 2012 Tal Davis