An Ethic of Voting

Tomorrow is the day that we have midterm elections, and the political rhetoric is at a fever pitch.  The American public seems to be in an uproar over various issues (which is the BIG issue depends on political leanings) and, because the President is not up for re-election, the people will take their frustration out on members of Congress who are in his party.  Republicans smell blood in the water and have pulled out all the stops, and the bickering and slandering have reached new heights.

We need to be sure to cut through the malarkey and vote appropriately tomorrow.

George Washington wrote concerning soldiering, “When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen.” Likewise, though I am the pastor of a church I nevertheless have the right as a citizen to express my opinion and a duty to vote my conscience. So I thought I would explain my voting ethic to anyone who cares to read it.

The first part of that voting ethic must be the imperative that God has given every Christian to vote.  I think that a recent post in Relevant Magazine is absolutely spot-on in this regard.  Many young adult Christians are disillusioned with both major political parties, and as a result shy away from political discussion and even from voting.  That, to me, is a travesty and a shame.  God expects every Christian to live in obedience to His mandates in Romans 13:1-7, and that certainly includes voting for Americans. 

When I read the book of Nehemiah I read of the people of Israel struggling to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and then defending their homes and families with their lives.  It would have been unthinkable for those people to say that their effort didn’t matter, that they could stand by and allow others to bear the burden that they rightly shared.  Yes they sometimes were exhausted, or sick of the labor, or thought that it didn’t matter anyway.  And time and again I am reminded of the stirring speech that Nehemiah gave that day:

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

What a powerful and convicting reminder that we must remember the work that God has called us to and do it wholeheartedly.  I can’t help but think of the men and women who built America when I think along these lines, men like my grandpa who was wounded in the battle of Peleliu in the Pacific theater in WWII.  I know that he and others like him see our carelessness with and indifference to the amazing gift of self-governance that we have been given as the grave disrespect that it is.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “A right delayed [i.e. not exercised] is a right denied.”

With this in mind it is clear that Christians have a mandate to vote.  This is not optional; it is not a suggestion, any more than a summons to jury duty is a suggestion.  Failure to vote is, in my opinion, a failure to live in obedience to government and therefore a failure to obey what Jesus says.  And Luke 6:46 rings in my ears as I think about it.

Okay, so we MUST vote.  But how do we vote?  What makes our ethic of voting?  How do we take our faith into the voting booth with us?  The ultimate ethic of living, which should then extend to the ultimate ethic of voting, comes from the lips of Christ in Matthew 22:37-39:

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

My overriding ethic in voting is to glorify Jesus Christ with my life by loving God and loving people. Now clearly and certainly that priority will not line up with some, but like I said that is my overriding ethic of voting. You pick yours. I pick mine. I want my life to line up with the priorities of Jesus as clearly as I can. I will grow in my understanding of those priorities throughout life, but tomorrow I want to take every bit of understanding of Christ and every shred of desire to follow Him to the voting booth with me.

I am not a huge political activist and do not donate money to political causes. I donate at church and try to live for the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of man. I have no visions of transforming my society into a Christian nation; only people can be Christians.  Regardless, though, I am a follower of Christ who wants to glorify Him by voting for those people and those initiatives that best represent His desire for the people of America.  I am under no illusion that my view of issues is foolproof; I know that thinking, biblically-astute Christians will see some issues differently than I will.  That cannot lead me to indecision, however, because then my vote isn’t counted as I wait.  Instead, I must do my due diligence in every election and then make my vote count as best I can.

When there are initiatives on a ballot that are moral in nature, my first and last criterion of voting is this: which vote will glorify Christ more? Some ballot initiatives are amoral, and I vote whichever way makes best sense to me on those.  The moral ones, though, require moral distinctions and moral thoughts.  Not many initiatives focus on my ability to love God, but almost all of them deal with how I relate to people.  What is the loving decision?  How can I best love the people around me?  Not all love is gushy and lovey and nice, like Paul shows in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13.  But love must be my overriding ethic.

The same holds true of candidates.  Which candidate will do the best job of representing me and my desire to love God and love people?  That is where the rubber meets the road.  Again, not all candidates see issues the way I do, so aligning on some important issues tells me a lot about whether I think that candidate will do a good job.

So spend some time tonight reading through the ballot initiatives in your area.  Check in on your candidates and the issues that they believe are important.  Go to sites like votesmart to find information on candidates by assessing how like you they are in major issues.  Then get to the polls tomorrow!  And for anyone who didn’t get registered for this election, make sure this is the last election that you miss.

For the record I am not going to endorse candidates or issues on my blog; if you want to know my opinions, email me. 🙂

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