October 27, 2008
I’ve been surprised by the number of Christians who have given up on politics this year. “I don’t like either candidate, so I’m staying home,” I’ve heard all too often.
Okay, I get fed up with the vain posturing and empty promises of politicians as well. But, as I note in this month’s Christianity Today, voting is never an option—it’s both our civic duty and sacred duty. Voting is required of us as good citizens and as God’s agents for appointing leaders.
So how do we go about choosing the best candidate? Not by pulling a partisan lever—that’s knee-jerk ideology. Christians live by revealed truth, never captive to any party. The best place to go for wisdom is not the candidates’ websites, but the Bible.
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, for example, advised Moses to appoint as rulers “able men” who “fear God, men who are trustworthy and who hate a bribe.” The standard is competence and integrity.
Later, God ordered Samuel to pick Saul, who “shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” This passage reminds us of Paul’s teaching in Romans: Government’s role is to wield the sword to preserve order and restrain evil.
Today, God no longer chooses our leaders directly (although some of us wish He did, if only to avoid the two-year-long political campaigns). But we live in a democracy, so God entrusts us with the job of choosing leaders He will then anoint. Instead of a prophet, we are to commission leaders of competence, virtue, and character. That’s why not voting, or rejecting candidates because they’re not perfect on some biblical score sheet, is a dereliction of our trust.
Ultimately, in casting a vote, our judgment should be guided by what we perceive to be the common good. Our Founders understood this, which is why they used the term commonweal, or commonwealth for the state. But today’s politicians pander to special interests, as we saw this year with $18 billion in earmarks, paying off the special pleaders.
But God has a deep and abiding interest in all people being treated fairly. If God favors any “special interest,” it is the poor, the hungry, the prisoner—those with the least access to political power.
In the City of God, Augustine introduced us to the idea that we live in both the “City of God” and the “City of Man.” He reiterated Jesus’ teaching that while Christians live in the City of Man, we do not belong to it. We are like sojourners in a foreign country; our true home is in the City of God.
But Augustine also taught that we must assume the obligations of citizenship. Instead of doing our civic duty out of compulsion, the Christian does it gladly, out of obedience to God and love of neighbor.
Some of us are going to be jubilant over the outcome of the election, others bitterly disappointed. But remember, regardless of who wins, the City of God endures.
So on Election Day we should be the best of citizens, voting for the candidate best for all the people. And then, the next day, after indulging in your celebration (or pity party), get busy working to advance God’s Kingdom in this earthly society.