How should a Christian vote in the upcoming election? To some the answer seems obvious, to others not so much. The Bible was written in a time when people did not participate in choosing their governing officials or have a say in their laws. There are no explicit verses telling us how to exercise this privilege, but there are principles that can help us.
I offer the following thoughts both for those who have made up their minds and those still struggling to do so. If your mind is made up, it can’t hurt to re-examine your decision. A good decision will always stand up to scrutiny. If you’re still trying to decide who is worthy of your vote, maybe the following thoughts will help.
How does a particular candidate treat others? What impact will their policies have on everyone? The temptation is to think only in terms of how a particular candidate will improve life for ourselves, yet it seems clear to me that the way of Jesus is to consider the needs of others at least as much as I consider my own needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, a set of Jesus’ teachings that are widely regarded as foundational to all His teachings, there is a well-known verse considered by some to sum up all that Jesus was saying. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12) There are numerous other verses in scripture that support this approach to life. Chief among them would be the second of the two great commandments where Jesus said loving others as much as we love ourselves was a requirement for us to live into who God created us to be. (Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-38, c.f. Leviticus 19:18)
How does a candidate wield power? This is particularly important when it comes to the President of the United States. The most powerful human to ever walk the planet was Jesus, and I can find no evidence he ever forced himself or his teaching on anyone. He did not exercise any kind of power over others to advance his own agenda. When he exercised power, it was for the benefit of others. Our elected officials need to be motivated more about the difference that can made in the lives of others than they are by their own desire for power.
Who a person is defines the what, the why, and the how of the things they undertake. None of us can escape our character. We either bring dignity, honor, respect, and integrity to what we do, to ourselves and to others, or we don’t. Our character determines the degree to which we can be trusted. Trust is the currency of all relationships, especially for leaders. Without trust, nothing of substance can be achieved.
The bible tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) When the bible talks about heart, it’s often talking about character. What does a candidate’s actions and words tell you about their character? Is their character worthy of the office they seek?
Morality cannot be legislated, yet all law acknowledges an understanding of right and wrong. Followers of Jesus Christ make a fatal mistake when we boil our lives down to a list of do’s and don’ts. Life with God is about so much more than a list of rules to follow. At the same time it’s also fatal to fail to not recognize God calls some things right and other wrong. As a follower of Jesus Christ I don’t want to force my beliefs about right and wrong on anyone, but as a member of a democracy, I have a right to advocate for those beliefs and to vote for candidates who will undergird those beliefs.
Morality is not the only, nor the supreme lens through which we look when making a decision about who gets our vote. In the New Testament there was a group of people who went to elaborate lengths to define and codify what was right and what was wrong, what should be done and what shouldn’t. No group drew sharper criticism from Jesus than this group. He called them blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes. And while it was not the only reason, a primary reason why Jesus criticized them was their focus on morality without taking into account compassion, mercy, justice and love. We need to be careful of using morality as the only lens through which we see our candidates.
You may be hoping I am going to conclude by advocating for a particular candidate. I won’t. Since Jesus is not running for president, every candidate we have will fall short. I also have to consider well meaning people can take into account everything I’ve said and come to differing conclusions. Instead of advocating for a particular candidate I am advocating for two things.
1. I am advocating for thoughtfulness. Too often we vote for a particular candidate of a particular party without giving thought to whether or not that candidate really represents all, or as much as possible, of what we hold to be true and important. We boil things down to one, maybe two perspectives, and make our decision very narrowly. I find that dangerous.
2. I am advocating that we not demonize and belittle those who see things differently than we see them. If anything we need to listen to those who see things differently than we do so that we might learn. If we only listen to those with whom we already agree, nothing new ever gets introduced. Listening to those with whom we disagree does not mean we agree with or accept their point of view, but it does acknowledge that there is still more we can learn. Truth never fears being questioned. If it is truth, it will withstand any question. We will either learn something new and correct our point of view, or our convictions will be deepened for having withstood the scrutiny of another point of view.