My cultural tribe is of the evangelical persuasion. And within my tribe there is an interesting and sometimes entertaining nomenclature related to the social life of the tribe. We say things that others who are not from within the tribe may fail to translate properly. For example when an evangelical says, “I echo that” it has nothing to do with shouting into valleys or performing a medical test. When we say, “She found Jesus!” we don’t imply that Jesus is the Waldo of the world and people try to find where He is, but rather we mean just the opposite in that the “she” was lost and Jesus found her. Yeah, it can be a bit confusing at times, especially in an election cycle.
It seems every four years (because let’s be honest, who gets excited about off-year elections) evangelicals begin ramping up with phrases such as “vote your conscience” or “vote biblically” or my favorite “it’s your obligation to vote.” Now everyone one of these in and of itself isn’t a wrong idea. I actually find myself sympathetic to all of them in some form. But the challenge Clan Evangelical faces is that most of these phrases are pre-loaded with a particular implied meaning. Thus when the expressions are used the implied translation is, “and by that we mean vote for the conservative Republican that espouses our social priorities since all other options are neither biblical nor conscionable.” In other words we all know what constitutes a truly “Christian” vote (insert wink and nod here), but let’s use ubiquitous words such as “conscience” and “biblical” as code for politically conservative voting.
Now believe it or not this is not where I find the problem. I do believe there are times where particular politicized issues reflect transcendent Christian virtues. But voting biblically (which should be concerned with matters far deeper than ideology alone) is not as simple as a matter of assessing platform or party. In fact I would venture to say that what might even be more critical than the platform of a candidate is the character they display. And when that is factored in you may find yourself in a biblical conundrum when a person with questionable character who advocates a more “biblical” platform is running against a person with stronger character and yet a weaker “biblical” platform. So then which is the more biblical vote, the vote for character or policy? Or to complicate it more, what happens if we find that both sides are a mix of biblical and unbiblical policy and character (also known as the Republicans and Democrats)? Should we want to claim that we are voting biblically when we know that our vote also empowers unbiblical priorities at times?
Perhaps toughest of all what happens when both candidates are unbiblical, but for different reasons? This is where we employ a new phrasing, “voting for the lessor of two evils.” Now for the record I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that voting for evil is biblical, even if it’s a lessor one. Yet I think this phrase occurs because we are told, “it’s your obligation to vote” implying that to refrain from voting is in and of itself more unbiblical than casting a ballot for Mr. Sinister to stop Mrs. Wicked.
Now there are some, in order to fulfill their binding obligation to vote but not wanting to vote for evil, stay with their model of voting based on their conscience and they write in a “really-quality-biblically-minded-totally-obscure-never-will-win-but-has-great-values” candidate only to be told by others how they threw away their vote and thus bare a repentant-worthy culpability in handing the country to Mrs. Wicked. I experienced this first hand when confronted by my fellow evangelicals for “throwing away my vote” in 2012 when I voted for JESUS in the Presidential election. It’s a weird experience when you vote JESUS and you’re told by fellow Christians that you sinned against the country and squandered your vote. It was there I found that within our evangelical jargon voting “biblically” according to “conscience” only counts if it’s also realistic and practical.
I could go on, but all of this illustrates the problem of exiles seeking to vote with a biblical conscience in Babylon – it’s not as clear-cut as it first seems.
- For some, voting biblically will mean looking at the personal character of a candidate more than their platform.
- For some, voting biblically will mean backing the platform of a particular party even if the person who represents it is lacking.
- For some, voting biblically will mean centering on just one single topic because they feel it’s a topic God is profoundly clear on such as life, poverty, peace or family.
- For some, voting biblically will mean casting a vote against a greater evil by invoking a lessor evil.
- For some, voting biblically will mean voting for someone who cannot win but who is honorable and thus they are honored to support them.
- For some, voting biblically will mean writing in JESUS as an act of prayer and offering to God asking that He might heal our culture.
- For some, voting biblically will mean not voting at all because they feel to vote is to endorse and to endorse is to give approval to that which they do not approve of.
- For most, more than one of these methods will be employed in an election cycle as their options thin out and thus their biblical vote adapts.
And I would say that all of these are legitimate ways in which Christians can properly vote with a biblical conscience since the Christian conscience is not a one size fits all. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul faces this very problem and asks, “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” Indeed! How Scripture, Spirit, context and conscience collide in regard to culture can have different outcomes for different Christians and yet each still remains biblical in their orientation.
However what is not biblical is when our vote is motivated by fear, greed, anger, bigotry, idolatry, guilt or power. Thus it’s equally possible to vote for the most biblical platform in the most unbiblical way. For to be truly biblical in our earthly citizenship is to remember that we must be loyal to a greater eternal citizenship. This world should receive from us primarily gospel, grace, service and love of neighbor and enemy alike because we know the systems of this world are frail, broken, unreliable and ultimately doomed to judgment. Therefore where we have the opportunity to be most biblical in our personal vote is in our awareness of and confidence in the truth that God is sovereign over the affairs of humanity in the collective electorate. The consistent narrative of the Bible is that God alone “removes kings and sets up kings” for a larger sovereign purpose. In this way, to vote most biblically is to cast a ballot with confident joy in His provision and then respond with courageous contentment regardless of the outcome. Or as Paul put it in Philippians 4,
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
To vote biblically is ultimately to vote unto the glory of God without relegating our hopes, fears or faith to the politics of man.
 Here is a list of passages that shows God Himself is ultimately the one who sets up the kings of the world. Daniel 2:20-22; 37, 4:13-17; 25-26; 31-32, 5:21, John 19:10-11, Luke 4:5-8, Romans 9:17; 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Revelation 17:17.
5 thoughts on “The Problem Of Voting “Biblically” In Babylon”
One of your best Matt! A good reminder that a “clean” conscience regarding temporal things, is possible for those with different opinions.
Great post Matt! So, I am definitely on board with all of the bullet points you identify, but the one thing I would add is that ultimately to vote biblically is to cast your vote in such a way to influence the government to operate in the way that God intends for government to operate. I contend that it is clear from scripture – e.g. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 – that God’s intention for government is to be the sole executor of God’s delegated authority to establish justice through coercion here on earth. Sadly, it is my experience that teaching on this topic and it’s application to civic engagement is mostly absent in evangelical churches.
So the consequence of this is that you get evangelicals voting with priorities such as say being opposed to the death penalty, or being in favor of “justice” with a qualifier – so like racial-justice, or economic-justice or social-justice where the “justice” desired is not justice in any sense that biblically recognizable, or for the government to do the benevolence work that the Church is commanded to. Or on the flip side you have people voting for the government to teach Christian education priorities in schools, or to insist on the display of the 10 commandments, or to criminalize sins for which there is no biblical case to do so (e.g. alcohol, probably most drugs).
And each of these things is based on an unbiblical view of the manner in which God has delegated his authority in various areas to either the church or the state or individuals. So, once these things are sorted out, then I think it’s really easy to reconcile many approaches to voting that have the same ultimate goals. So, one might vote for a candidate they think is most likely to govern in the way that God intends. Another might vote along party lines for the party they think most likely to move the government in the way God intends. Another might abstain from voting, or write-in, or vote for someone who cannot win to send a message that would move the parties’, or the candidates’ governing principles in the direction that God intends, and all these would easily fall within the realm of biblical voting.
Sadly, it seems too common to me that evangelicals buy into modern unbiblical ideas of what government ought to (and can) do, or what justice actually is, and in allowing these ideas to shape their voting strategies, do violence to the stated reasons for which God has established governments (and the Church) here on earth.
At any rate, I very much appreciate your engagement on this. Thanks for the post Matt!
I always chuckled a bit hearing pastors urge me to vote because “we need more Christians voting!” Knowing they mean we need more Republicans voting and if they knew I was a Democrat that they wouldn’t be urging me quote so much