How Should We Then Vote?

Perhaps like you, I have thought (and continue to think) a lot about the 2016 general election. What principles from Scripture or at least in accord with Scripture should guide what I do this November 8?

Unlike our first-century spiritual ancestors living in the Roman Empire, we American Christians have the privilege of influencing our civil government. This government is an institution that Romans 13:1-7 says is a servant appointed by God – by our God, the only true God, not by the Roman pantheon or even ultimately by citizens and voters. God’s good design for government is to bring justice and order for those living under its rule, both Christians and non-Christians. We are privileged not only to pray for civil authorities as Paul commands (1 Timothy 2:2), but in the United States, also to cast votes for authorities of our choosing and communicate feedback to them as they serve in office.

As we consider how to evaluate candidates and cast votes, it is clarifying to remember the guiding principle for all our actions regarding others: Love neighbor as self. Accordingly, the question to answer first and last in the realm of politics is: What political positions and actions (or inaction) will benefit my neighbor most, given the options God has made available?

Let’s now review the options before us, and how we should evaluate them.

First, should I vote or abstain from voting? By abstaining from voting, I imply that others are in a better position to evaluate and elect the right candidate to an open seat. This may be true! But given our legal privilege, would it not be better stewardship to research, pray, consider, and participate by my vote? Someone will be elected, so why not be an informed influence for good?

Second, should I vote for a candidate on the ballot or to write in a candidate of my preference? Making this choice depends on what kind of good I am trying to accomplish: Knowing that my ideal-but-unknown write-in candidate will almost certainly not be elected, do I believe that making a positive “statement” about my write-in is a more fruitful purpose for my vote than influencing support for a less-than-ideal candidate on the ballot who has reasonable potential to win? If I am persuaded so, I should write in my favorite candidate, assuming that the “statement” I am trying to make through my write-in vote will ultimately be disclosed to the public somehow.

Finally, if I will be voting for a candidate on the ballot, which one should I choose? As with the write-in, I could select a particular party, candidate, or position represented in order make a “statement,” or to attract popular momentum for a minority viewpoint, rather than to function as a decisive vote in a contest between two popular candidates. 

On the other hand, I may believe my vote can make a decisive difference in a close race between two major-party candidates; I may believe I would do greater good by voting for a Democrat or a Republican over an otherwise preferable third-party candidate, since most contests are won by a candidate from one of the two major parties. In this case I should ask myself, Which of the two options available would provide more benefit for (which may boil down to: would do less harm to) to my neighbor? 

I cannot choose a perfect candidate – God has not provided that possibility – and I may not even have the option of selecting a desirable candidate for a particular office, but I may discern that selecting one major-party candidate over the other major-party candidate is a more loving choice for the good of the nation, state, or town. If so, I should vote accordingly.

Participating in our representative democracy in a way that honors God and neighbor requires us to be students of Scripture. I need to ask and answer for myself, What does God define as good – not merely for Christians, but for everyone? How can I advocate for positions and act politically to facilitate and defend that which is good – not merely what is agreeable to Christians, but beneficial to the public at large, in keeping with what the one true God defines as “beneficial”?

Participating faithfully in our representative democracy requires us to be students not only of Scripture, but also of our world. The Bible is sufficient as God’s infallible, authoritative revelation, but it does not tell us, for example, what our tax rates should be or whether our government should have a central bank. For evaluating such positions, God offers us the wisdom we need as we seek him (James 1:5). Significantly, the Bible also points us to wisdom God provides from sources outside of the Bible; even Moses was educated in all the wisdom of Egyptians (Acts 7:22). Certainly, however, wisdom that is truly of God will never contradict God’s written word.

We so often wrap up our identity in politics. “My parents were Republicans/Democrats, and belonging to this party or viewpoint is a defining aspect of who I am,” many of us subconsciously think. But when our identity is found in Christ, we are willing to repudiate all other loyalties in order to please him. 

We please him by doing good to our neighbor, as Christ defines “good.” It is important to realize that our neighbor may be too spiritually darkened to appreciate what is actually good for him or for society at large. If God has given us grace to know good from evil, should we not seek to use such understanding to our neighbor’s benefit as we make our political choices?

What should I do on November 8? As I consider 

  • The voting options God has permitted to be available on the ballot and off the ballot, 
  • My understanding of what God calls good and evil for all times, people, and places, and
  • The role of government as it is described in Romans 13:1-7, 

I must ask myself, “How can I use the privilege of political involvement as an act of love?” 

Such is the question facing each adult American Christian on November 8. God is willing and able to give us the wisdom we need as we earnestly seek it, maintaining our trust in him (Proverbs 2), and leaving the result in his good hands.