Albert Mohler, the well-known conservative podcaster, began a recent episode of The Briefing noticing that voices on the political right and left agree on one thing—how crucial today’s midterm elections are in the United States.
First, he pointed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s magazine, Decision. It declares in all caps on its cover, “Why This Is the Most Important Election of Our Lifetime.”
Meanwhile, he noticed that Mother Jones, a bimonthly from the far left, said the same on its cover: “The Most Important Election of Our Lives.” The only graphic is an exclamation point.
Those seem like pretty high stakes for today’s elections. Are they that high?
Sizing Up the Stakes
I don’t have a clue. No one does. And I can’t imagine how anyone would presume to render history’s judgment on which is the most important election of our lifetimes, as if anyone could add up all the causes and effects of 80 years’ worth of elections and weigh those in the scales of justice, comparing the good and evil done.
But that’s how today’s political rhetoric goes. Rendering historic judgments always grabs attention. Turns heads. Gets clicks. Draws dollars. Mobilizes votes.
Trouble is, these kinds of exclamation points often hurt our civic discourse. The subtext of “Most Important in Our Lifetime” is “Yes, the other side really is that bad. Don’t trust them if they win.” It makes you fear and loathe the other side.
The Babylon Bee, a Christian parody site, captured these dynamics in a mock lead sentence: “A new study released Monday confirmed that every single election of your life is ‘the most important election of your lifetime,’ definitively proving that you need to get really worked up about each and every election that occurs during your time on earth.”
Believer’s Approach to the Ballot Box
I want to try a different approach here. No, I’m not going to tell you, “Today’s election is unimportant—don’t bother voting.” The election is important.
I’m not going to tell you you must vote. The Bible doesn’t say that.
I will say, as a way to love your neighbor and do justice, which are biblical imperatives, you should vote if you can. In a democracy, rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s involves voting.
The question is, how should you vote today? The adverbs of how we do something are always important for the Christian.
1. Vote Thankfully
Thank God we live in a country where we can vote. Few people in the history of the world have been able to participate in the decisions of their government. That’s a good gift from God.
As you go to the polls, thank God for the opportunity.
2. Vote Righteously
Governments exist to do justice (see Gen. 9:5–6; Rom. 13:1–7). “By justice a king builds up the land” (Prov. 29:4). That’s the government’s job: to do justice.
What is justice? In Scripture, doing justice means rendering judgment in accordance with God’s righteousness. That’s what I mean when I say vote righteously. When you step into the ballot box, choose righteousness. Choose justice.
Justice requires different things in different domains of life. For the government, doing justice means making laws and applying laws in a way that best upholds people as created in God’s image. “Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed, for man was made in God’s image” (Gen. 9:6).
So when you vote, ask yourself, which of these two candidates holds positions that affirm all people as God-imagers? And will these propositions on my ballot help or hurt people’s ability to live as God-imagers? I’m not saying this is the only grid you should use, but it is a primary grid.
As you go to the polls, ask God to help you choose justice and righteousness.
3. Vote Strategically
Figuring out which candidates and positions better affirm people as God-imagers is not easy. We need God’s wisdom to vote wisely and strategically. Listen to the people’s response after King Solomon solved his infamous two-prostitutes-and-a-baby dilemma: “And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice” (1 Kings 3:28). Both women claimed the baby was hers. Solomon wanted a just outcome. For that he needed wisdom, which God richly gave.
American Christians today have their own baby dilemma. One party claims to care for babies in the womb. Another party claims to care about babies at the border. I assume all Christians should care about babies in both locations. What we need, then, is wisdom. For instance, I’ve heard some say that the two sides simply cancel each other out, leaving us free to choose either. That strikes me as shoddy moral reasoning, based on sheer numbers alone. Also, do we have the freedom to ignore either side? Not all political claims are legitimate, and not all moral claims are equally weighty. But like Solomon, we depend on God to reason our way through these kinds of arguments. And so it is with a hundred other issues we could raise.
As you go to the poll, ask God to give you wisdom.
4. Vote Evangelistically
By voting evangelistically, I mean two things. First, choose candidates and positions that won’t prevent the church from doing its Great Commission work. God establishes governments, ultimately, so that his plan of redemption can unfold. Genesis 9 (the creation of government) comes before Genesis 12 (the call of Abraham) for a reason. To put it another way, churches ordinarily depend on the work of governments in order to do their work. That’s why Paul says to pray for kings and all those in authority—because God wants everyone to get saved (1 Tim. 2:3–4; see also Acts 17:26–27).
Second, be mindful of your witness among colleagues and neighbors. This has less to do with how you vote and more to do with how you talk about it. Do you really need to tell everyone what you think? When you do speak, remember your call to share Christ with your colleagues and neighbors.
5. Vote Ecclesiologically
Okay, that’s an awkward way of putting it. Maybe I’m trying too hard to stick with adverbs? What I mean is, vote while remembering the unity you want to share at the Lord’s Table with other believers. Brothers and sisters in Christ might disagree with how you voted. They might share the same goals but have different opinions on the tactics. Remember that you’re not an apostle with the spirit of revelation. You don’t have a direct line to Jesus on political tactics.
Even if you’re right in all your judgments (I think I’m right in mine!), remember Paul’s words in Romans 14 about forbearing with those who are weak and not passing judgment. Also remember, the Pharisees were sure they were right in their moral and political judgments as well.
6. Vote with a Loose Grip
Forget the adverbs. Today’s election is not the most important election in our lifetime. God’s election of us was more important. Our decision to become Christians was more important. Even our votes on whom to receive as church members—symbolically at least—are more important, as Russell Moore so often observes. We’re not going to bring heaven to earth in this or any other election. So keep a loose grip on it, at least compared to your grip on the gospel.
I’m not saying this election has nothing to do with the gospel. Justification and justice are inextricably tied together. Their relationship is nothing more or less than the relationship between faith and obedience. The justified will pursue justice.
Further, I recognize how easy it could be for someone like me who has enjoyed economic, social, and political privileges all of my life to point flippantly to our hope being in the gospel, using that as an excuse to neglect the Bible’s concern for justice.
Still, apart from the hope of heaven, I have no message of hope to offer. I cannot promise hope in this election or in this present world.
So, friend, keep a loose earthly grip on today’s election and a firm, stronger-than-death grip on the hope of heaven. Jesus will win. The gates of hell won’t overcome the church. Isn’t that a sweet relief, no matter what the final word is tonight when the newscast ends?
- 20 Quotes from Jonathan Leeman on Rethinking Faith and Politics (Matt Smethurst)