We are about to elect a new president, while such elections are usually somewhat difficult and stressful, this election cycle seems to be particularly stressful, even more so for those of faith. I have had several people ask me what to do in this election in which both of the major candidates seem to them unqualified for the office. I am still (intentionally) undecided about who I will vote for, I wanted to write this before making a final decision so my own conclusions would not add unnecessary bias to what I believe is the right process for making a decision. The question, how do people of faith relate to the civil government is always a difficult and taxing question, yet, I think this year’s presidential campaign has brought it to a head.
CBS showed a poll last week which said 80% of those planning to vote for Trump are doing so not because they think he is a good candidate, but, because they fear Clinton in office. On the other side 62% of those supporting Clinton are only doing so because she is running against Trump and they fear him in office. What a sad state of affairs that first that we have chosen such poorly esteemed candidates and second that fear is the motivating factor for many people.
Many people in our country claim to be people of religious values and yet their religious values seem to be taking a back seat when it comes election time. In an election people seem to become non-religious pragmatists, voting for whichever candidate is more expedient. We are obligated to vote our consciences, we are required to ask which parties and which candidates best adhere to our understanding of what God expects us to be doing in the world. Many seem to look at voting as referendum against the other candidate and his or her party; yet, voting is a positive choice, it is saying that I side WITH this candidate. Since voting is a positive choice we must approach it from our ethical center.
If we say we hold to religious convictions then Jerry Falwell Jr. is wrong to say: “Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners.” (Falwell uses a logical fallacy in this statement trying to blur the line between using honest ethical decision making and Divine Judgment, which are two very different things). Such advice actually contradicts Deuteronomy 1:13 (as well as various passages from 1 &2 Timothy & Titus on church leadership) on how to choose leaders. After all, “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.” (Psalm 94:20-21). We are obligated to vote our Christian consciences, we are required to ask which parties and which candidates best adhere to our understanding of what God expects us to be doing in the world.
To begin with, we must ask ourselves what are the ethical principles which God expects me to live by and how do these play out in our larger social setting. Construct a list of core principles that you regard as God’s desire for humanity and then compare the candidates/parties stances on those issues. As I consider this idea these are the issues that I think are of the highest value:
- God expects us to hold life as sacred (Ps. 139:13-16)
- God expects us to care for the weak and poor (Pro. 14:31)
- God expects us to love our neighbors (Lev. 19:18)
- God expects us to take care of creation (Gen 1:26-31)
- God expects honesty and truthfulness (1 Pe. 3:10-12)
- God expects humility (James 4:6)
- God expects generosity (Heb. 13:16)
It is hard to expect that any person, or group of people, let alone politician or political party, to come out glowing next to such a standard. We cannot expect perfection, particularly in a society made up of so many differing and sometimes competing belief structures. However, we can expect candidates who adhere to many of these beliefs even if they prioritize them differently. Yet, I consider questions like:
- Does this party have a plan to care for the poor?
- Does this candidate seem to value human life?
- Does this party abuse the parts of creation it cares for?
- Is this candidate open and honest?
- Does this candidate say hurtful and/or degrading things about another person?
This is where it seems to breakdown for many believers, they want to participate in the election cycle, yet, for one or more of these reasons find themselves struggling to support a major candidate. Then they find themselves asking what do I do?
Some people and (sadly) some in authority come to the conclusion to support the candidate they proclaim as the lesser evil. They mistakenly believe that allowing the wrong candidate into office is the greatest evil. This is an attitude of fear and “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Tim. 1:7). We cannot be afraid that the worse candidate might win, we must be confident we are doing the right thing. A campaign that says “Anyone but____.” is not focused on the good it is focused inward and will ultimately end in evil. As C.S. Lewis so marvelously said, “I feel a strong desire to tell you- and I expect you to feel a strong desire to tell me- which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs- pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking about which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” Mere Christianity
Voting is inherently taking an ethical stand, your vote says you stand with the ethical standards of a candidate. Voting for one candidate makes little if any statement about how you feel about an opposing candidate. You must never worry about the other person getting elected, you must worry about how your candidate reflects on you. There are 50 or political parties in the U.S. and four or five will be represented on ballots this November (perhaps more), you do not have to settle. Yes, if you vote for some candidates you are more than likely going to be on the losing side. But, which is more important to win the election to hold strong to your conscience? If voting is a matter of responsibility and conscience, then, we each share the obligation to find a candidate whose values align with my own and vote FOR that individual and stop worrying about who gets elected. If my candidate does not win that simply proves that my values are not shared by a majority of people.
The Christian has one more responsibility to whomever is elected president, pray.
1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We must give honest and heartfelt prayer for the individual elected regardless of who it is and how we may feel about that individual personally.