I notice a melancholy among some Christians I come in contact with. Another presidential election is upon us , and there is pervasive disappointment in the choices we are presented with. I am concerned about the melancholy, but I am glad for the disappointment.
Over the last few decades, Christians have put far too much confidence in princes, thinking that salvation could come through earthly potentates with a moralistic agenda. The campaign to promote such an idea has been effective. The “religious right” became a powerful voting block for whoever could harness and manipulate it. But time and again, the candidate Christians were told would be “their guy” turned out to be a disappointment.
There is good in this. Over the years I’ve watched as segments of the church spent their time, talents, and financial resources investing in four to eight years of an earthly prince’s reign, rather than investing themselves in the eternal Kingdom of the Prince of Peace. Idolatry and faithfulness are always revealed in the choices we make between the Creator- Redeemer and his Kingdom, or temporal passing things; in where we invest our time; in what occupies our thoughts; what we fill our minds with in what we read, what we watch, what we speak of.
I say again that this is all for the good, for the Church is being awakened from her slumber and beginning to realize that the passing powers of the kingdoms of the world will not save us. Christians, disillusioned by the statist and moralistic idolatry of a decade ago, are increasingly checking out of the political sector. They have gradually realized that the “holy nation” of Scripture is not the United States or any other earthly nation, but is in fact the church (1 Peter 2:9), and that all earthly powers are harnessed by God, but opposed to the reign of Christ (Ps. 2, “Babylon” in the book of Revelation), and will ultimately be destroyed by him (1 Cor. 15:4).
While I am pleased that the table of demons (an apt description of politics, don’t you think?) is no longer able to be so easily passed off as the table of the Lord, I’d like to encourage you that checking out of the political process is not the best response.
As God gave Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah privileged positions in worldly government, he has given us a similar privilege, not perhaps in political appointment, but in that we may vote our representatives in and out of office.
In doing so the church is not alone, for God has placed the church in the context of the world, and so our voices and our votes will not be the only ones. But the guiding principle for Christians should be “to do good to our fellow man” (cf. 1 Peter 4:19). Now undoubtedly the greatest good we can do for them is to preach the gospel to them, but the injunction of Scripture does not limit us to that, and in fact does not allow us to be limited to it. We are to give food and drink even to a hungry enemy (Prov. 25:21). Without the gospel, food and drink will be a fleeting blessing, but it will be a blessing nonetheless and we should not withhold it.
In the same way, we should not withhold the good of seeking to elect, in as far as it depends on us, people who will seek policies that we believe will bring blessing to others. Now this is not always easy to discern, and not only may Christians differ with non-Christians, but Christians may differ among themselves as to what constitutes a good course of policy action (often the choices are not between right and wrong, but between wise and unwise; and increasingly the question is one of character: a politician may say all the “right” things, but for good reasons or bad, people may not trust what he says).
As a Christian you have a calling to seek peace and pursue it, and to seek blessing even for those who will never receive Christ. And in the nation in which God has placed us, the privilege of political involvement implies the responsibility to it. Does this mean that every Christian must vote in every election? Not necessarily. But it does mean that a Christian should not state as a perennial principle, “I never vote.”
Let’s look at how this may apply using well-known figures from the past upon whom history has rendered its judgment, a judgment which for the sake our consideration will not be disputed. The figures we will use are Adolph Hitler, chancellor of Germany from 1933-45; Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union from 1941-53; Neville Chamberlain, Conservative Party Prime Minster of Great Britain from 1937-40; and Winston Churchill, Conservative Party Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1940-45 (and again in 1951-55).
Suppose the only political choices before us were Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. It is possible that a Christian may reason, “Hitler believes the Communists have caused the bad condition the nation has come to, and so do I, so I’m voting for Hitler. Besides, Stalin would outlaw churches. Hitler will allow them as long as they stay in line and serve the interests of the country.” It is also possible, however, that another Christian may reason, “I will not vote for either of these men. Both of them are evil and will do evil, and I cannot be a party to evil. Evil will come upon us one way or the other, but it will be without my participation, Just as I would refuse to choose whether to kill myself by cyanide or hanging, I will not vote if these men are my only choices.” Now suppose that the choices were Adolph Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. “Mr. Chamberlain is a little naïve and milquetoast, and I’m concerned with what he might do if we ever face a real crisis, but he’s a better choice than Hitler.” But what if these were the only major party-backed contenders, but there was another third-party choice, Winston Churchill? “I’m voting for Churchill!” someone may enthusiastically say. But votes for Churchill will take votes away from Chamberlain with the result that Hitler will win by plurality. If one lives in a state where all the electoral votes will go to Hitler anyway, it may make sense to make a statement by voting for Churchill. But if you live in a state where the race is too close to call, a vote for Churchill may be effectively a vote for Hitler.
So should a Christian just choose the lesser of two evils? My answer to that would be “never.” But are Chamberlain and Hitler both evils? Or would you be voting against an evil and biding time until a better “good” than Chamberlain came along?
Of course hindsight is 20/20. Who these men are and what they would do is known to us. In the present we have only impressions, evaluations, and information (or misinformation) on the candidates by which we may seek to do good for our fellow man by our involvement. I have spoken with Christians whose consciences will not allow them to vote this time around. I have spoken to Christians whose consciences will not allow them to vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee, but they do intend to vote for another person; I have spoken with others in other states who will vote for a third party only because there is no dispute who the electoral votes will go do and they wish to make a statement, but if their state were really in play they would vote for one of the major party nominees. I have spoken with Christians who will not vote for the Republican nominee because they do not like his ideas and/or do not trust him. I have spoken with Christians who will not vote for the Democratic nominee because they do not like his policy record.
These are the kinds of issues that face us as Christians in a country where we may elect our leaders, and I would encourage you that whatever you do, do it with prayer and for the good of your fellow man. Don’t simply “check out” because the political landscape is disappointing and discouraging. Be confident that through your involvement God’s will shall be done in this election and in our nation. What that may may be is yet to be seen, but we must seek good in what we do.
But above all, seek first his Kingdom which comes through no earthly power, but through the gospel of Christ. And guard against the idolatry of Babylon (the state). How can you know if your heart is drawn into idolatry in this realm? There are two strong indicators. First, if you would break or disrupt fellowship with a brother or sister in Christ because they have a different political position or support a different candidate than you do, your allegiance is to a Passing-away Power rather than to the Kingdom of God. Secondly, if the day after the election your candidates are the losers and you can’t get out of bed because of depression, that itself is a strong indication of idolatry, for no matter who is in the Whitehouse or the Senate, Jesus is still on the throne. To be depressed about earthly powers is to live as though he is not on the throne. (Someone recently noted, “Worry is the activity of someone who consistently envisions a future without Jesus.”)
A good friend of mine from another church is very politically active. When I knew him better, I knew that he worked hard for candidates and causes, but his life was punctuated by episodes of despair or depression. If his candidate lost, it would send him into a tailspin. If his candidate won, he would be riding high until the reality hit that the candidate was not who this man thought he was, which he said happened every single time. The last time I saw him he was more upbeat than I had ever seen him, and I asked him about it. He said, “You know, politics used to be my god, even though I called myself a Christian. But God was gracious to me, and I’ve finally come to realize that Christ alone is God. And so I still work at this stuff, doing all the good I can, in as far as I can see it and have any influence, but I leave the results to God. Whatever God ordains is right, and his will shall be done. Often that doesn’t look like what I had hoped for, but that only reminds me that I have no hope here.”
That’s a better approach than either idolatry of state or checking out.