Recently, I was commissioned to write an article for Summit Ministries on how Christians can engage thoughtfully with the political process. It was published largely as is on the official Summit website, but I wanted to share the original version with you readers. Enjoy, and join the conversation here or on Facebook!
As Christians, how now shall we engage with the political process? Here are five principles to guide your thinking as you prayerfully prepare to cast a vote.
1. Know where your identity lies.
If you are a Christian, your identity does not ultimately lie in your political affiliation, or even your citizenship. It ultimately lies in Christ. If we ground our identity in our political party, we become vulnerable to demagogues and mass manipulators who tickle our ears with what we want to hear. Our faith must inform our political engagement, not the other way around.
2. Do not be afraid to take a stand.
Some Christians mistakenly believe that there should be a sharp divide between the realm of the church and the realm of the state. If a pastor speaks his mind from the pulpit about a pressing moral issue that happens to have political ramifications, they believe he has crossed a line that should not be crossed. But this conflates taking a stand on a question of right versus wrong with making an official political endorsement. A pastor should certainly not turn his sermons into campaign advertisements, but he should not quarantine uncomfortable moral truths in a file labeled “politics” either.
3. Maintain clear priorities.
We are constantly told by other people where our voting priorities should lie. For Christians, some priorities will always be unpopular with the surrounding culture, particularly those that touch on life, death, or sexuality. Sadly, what should be non-negotiable for a Christian may become less so for the politicians in Washington who are supposed to represent our interests. As Christians, we should maintain an open mind on matters of comparatively minor importance, but on the essentials, we cannot allow our standards to be set for us. We must come to the polls with our own priorities firmly set in our minds, even if that leads us to leave parts of the ballot as blank as they were when we walked in.
4. Do not be swayed by peer pressure.
Peer pressure is powerful, and it is not limited to just one side of the political spectrum. One common refrain around voting season is that no matter how we feel about the candidate chosen to represent “our” side, we must always vote for the lesser of two evils. By this logic, a vote withheld or cast for an off-beat candidate is equivalent to a vote for “the other guy.” This is false, both mathematically and morally. The Christian voter is not duty-bound to endorse a candidate whose values do not align with his own. To withhold such an endorsement is not wasting one’s right to vote. On the contrary, it recognizes the power a vote carries.
5. Do not pin your soul to any man’s back.
Inevitably, there are leaders we look up to and trust now who will fail us badly in the future. It has happened in the past, and human nature shows no signs of changing. This is not to say that we must suddenly regard all those we admire with a jaded, cynical eye. But we would do well to heed the words of Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons: “I’ll not pin my soul to any man’s back, no, not the best man I know.” We must hold our loyalties with an open hand, prepared to release them if and when it emerges that they were misplaced.
If there was ever a time for Christians to be passionately and prayerfully engaged in the political process, the time is now. A passive, isolationist church is the last thing our country needs. Our country needs Christian voters who understand that bluster does not equal boldness, insults do not equal honesty, and arrogance does not equal strength. It also needs voters who understand that in the end, there can be only one leader and one savior of the world. If we look for that savior in Washington, we are looking in the wrong direction. In the end, there can be only one leader and one savior. If we look for that savior in Washington, we are looking in the wrong direction.