In this post, the last in this series, I want to take the principles we talked about in the last post and see how they might be practically applied. I will certainly not attempt to tell you who to vote for, but I will take a look at various voting strategies employed by Christians, and attempt to briefly evaluate them. This post is very much built upon the ideas of the last one and assumes you are familiar with them, so you should really read that post first.

I’ll go ahead and tip my hand at the beginning: I don’t think there is a single, correct Christian voting strategy. If there were, Scripture would teach it to us. Instead, Scripture gives us an abundance of biblical principles and it is a matter of wisdom and conscience as to how best to apply those principles in a voting booth. As long as Christians are doing their best to operate as citizens of God’s kingdom in all things—including voting—I think this is a clear Romans 14 issue.

Having said that, I do think it is worth reflecting on the wisdom of various voting strategies, and that is what this post is about. As with the post on biblical principles, this post will not be exhaustive, and I am sure there are other Christian voting strategies that I will overlook, but I believe this is still a helpful exercise. For each voting perspective, I will offer what I see as worthy of praise about it, but also, what gives me pause about fully endorsing it. Furthermore, there are a couple of strategies I hear from Christians that I don’t actually believe meet the litmus test of “operating as citizens of God’s kingdom” and, thus, need to be rejected. I’ll talk about those last.

Abstaining from Voting

As we discussed in the last post, Christians declare that Jesus is Lord, which is a political claim. Furthermore, Christians are, first and foremost, citizens of God’s kingdom, and owe their primary allegiance to that kingdom rather than to earthly kingdoms or nations. With those perspectives firmly in mind, some Christians abstain from voting altogether. In Churches of Christ, this perspective was perhaps best represented by David Lipscomb, the longtime Gospel Advocate editor and a major leader in Southern churches in the decades following the Civil War. Lipscomb was a pacifist who didn’t think Christians should serve in the military or even vote.

  • Praise: Honestly, there’s a lot about this view that is appealing to me. Since I believe that the Bible teaches that earthly kingdoms are different versions of Babylon under the influence of “the ruler of this world”, it makes a lot of sense to me to keep politics and voting at arm’s length. Everytime I hear a Christian (from one political persuasion or the other) encourage fellow believers to “choose the lesser evil”, this is driven home to me again: as a Christian, I’m not supposed to choose evil at all, in greater or lesser varieties! Instead, this perspective allows you to wash your hands of the entire process.[1]
  • Pause: This strategy can easily come across as indifferent to the problems and issues of the world and the suffering of others. People with this apolitical perspective can also sometimes be judgmental toward those who do engage with the political process.

Ultimately, Scripture never demands that followers of God be actively involved in world politics, and there are other ways (and I would say, better ways) in which we can “seek the welfare of our cities” besides the voting booth. As long as those who abstain from voting do not judge fellow Christians who are politically active,[2] I think this is a legitimate political strategy.

Protecting the Least of These

A key biblical principle for followers of Jesus is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, and Jesus extends this particularly to the “least of these”: people who, for a variety of reasons, find themselves on the margins of society and unable to speak up for themselves. I have heard from Christians who employ this strategy and actually vote against their own best interests to instead seek to benefit those who are struggling and who, for whatever reason, are lacking in political voice or representation.

  • Praise: The desire to protect and help the least of these is certainly praiseworthy: Jesus says that when we do this, it is as if we are protecting and helping Jesus Himself! Furthermore, the willingness to ignore one’s own self-interests in order to help others is close to the heart of the gospel.
  • Pause: The least of these is not a monolithic group; what do you do when the needs and interests of different oppressed groups come in conflict with one another?  For example, two “least of these” groups are the poor and the unborn. Unfortunately, the political party that pays most attention (or, at least, lip service) to the poor is also pretty unconcerned with the rights of unborn infants (the opposite argument could be made as well). Also, how do you determine what is in the best interest of a given group?[3] For example, I know religious conservatives and religious liberals who both care about the poor and want to help them, but are widely divided in their views of how best to do that.

Despite my own struggles to discern how to apply this strategy consistently, I want to affirm the importance of its central value. I would hope that Christians would always be concerned with protecting the least of these, even if we disagree over how to do that.

Religious Freedom

The practice of Christianity and obedience to the Great Commission (preaching Jesus to people throughout the world and making disciples) is greatly aided by religious freedoms that we sometimes take for granted in the United States. However, we appear to be living at a hinge of history: the US, like countries in Western Europe, is increasingly a post-Christian society, and with that comes a loss of the privileged position that Christianity has so long enjoyed in the West.[4] In response to that reality, a prevailing political strategy for many Christians is to vote in such a way that religious freedom is upheld.

  • Praise: I really enjoy religious freedom. There are believers in many parts of the globe who are persecuted for exercising their Christian beliefs and who pray for the freedoms that we enjoy and often take for granted. Although we can see times in the history of Christianity where persecution brought about the spread of the faith and the refining of the church, it seems clear to me that spreading the Gospel is more easily done when governing authorities are not antagonistic to those efforts.
  • Pause: I am concerned that the strategy of seeking religious freedom can sometimes make Christians too cozy to human governments and to place their trust in them rather than in God. For example, the Trump administration has been very friendly toward Christian groups, but this benevolence has led to many Christians being hesitant to critique other aspects of the administration that are decidedly unChristian. Furthermore, this perspective easily leans into fear: what will happen if a different administration comes and takes away all of our religious freedoms? Christians are not to be fearful people, however, and we are to place our confidence in the provision and care of our Heavenly Father: if He be for us, who can be against us?

Religious freedom is important (though not essential) to the mission of God, and is, therefore, worth pursuing. But let us not do so in isolation of other biblical principles, and, from a kingdom perspective, let us make sure that we are actually taking advantage of our religious freedoms to be about God’s business of evangelizing the world, rather than just basking in the comfort of a privileged status in society.

Good for the Most People

Recently, I have repeatedly heard Christians (on both sides of the American political spectrum) urge others to “vote for policies rather than personalities” or to focus on the total vision of a political party rather than the specific shortcomings of that party’s chief representative. People using this line of argumentation (in addition to acknowledging the basic indefensibility of their chosen candidate) are really arguing for a form of utilitarianism: which candidate or party will enact policies that will bring about the most good for the most people?

  • Praise: This strategy, with its desire to look at the big picture and bring blessing to as many people as possible, can easily reflect the biblical principles of seeking the welfare of the communities in which we live and striving to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
  • Pause: Policies that seek what is best for most people can easily lead to an environment of majority rule where the wealthy and powerful are benefitted while the least of these (see above) are marginalized and ignored. For example, severely disabled individuals represent an extreme minority in our society that presents a massive economic burden to those who are healthy. From a purely utilitarian perspective, it makes no sense to provide care for individuals in this category.

It seems self-evident that good governments should seek to bless as many people as they can, and this is a value that Christians should be able to get behind. It is essential, however, that this value be balanced with special concern for the least of these (a special concern that Jesus commands) rather than taken to utilitarian extremes.

Kingdom Principles

A central biblical teaching is that we are to glorify God in all that we do, with all the talents that we have, and in all the opportunities that we are given. In ways that have not been possible in many nations throughout history, Christians in the United States are given a political voice, and proponents of this strategy argue that Christians should use their political voice to reflect kingdom principles. In some ways, this strategy is related to the utilitarian strategy above, but more specifically holds that kingdom principles reflect the wisdom that God built into the very fabric of the universe, and that we, as a society, will be blessed when we uphold them. Imagine: in a society that held to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, murder, rape, and poverty would be no more! It is to our own detriment to ignore God’s instruction and seek to go our own way.

  • Praise: Obviously, those who walk in the way of the Lord will be blessed. When given the opportunity to reinforce kingdom values, it seems wise and appropriate for Christians to do so.
  • Pause: If we are not careful, however, this strategy can easily devolve into waging culture wars (see below), where we see our primary kingdom mission as “winning our nation back for God” through political power. We must remember that, while earthly nations are blessed when they follow godly principles, they will not consistently and ultimately do this because they are inherent rivals to God’s kingdom and His governance.

By all means, may Christian voters reflect kingdom principles with our vote. But as we do this, let us remember that all we are really doing is slowing down the decline and decay that inevitably comes to human nations, and that this is not the mission that Jesus left to His disciples.

There are two voting strategies I have heard Christians use that I think must be rejected as Christian strategies:

Waging Culture Wars

As I mentioned above, I think it is good and appropriate for Christians to reflect kingdom values with our political voice when given the opporutnity, but attempts to win culture wars so that we can “win our nation back for God” are misguided and, I believe, antibiblical.

Such attempts are rooted in a failure to properly distinguish between the United States and the Kingdom of God. Remember, if we want a biblical parallel for the US, it’s not Israel; it’s Babylon, so it should not surprise us that the nation in which we live doesn’t look like the Kingdom of God, because it is fundamentally not that. As Christians, our task is not to remake the kingdoms of this world into the Kingdom of God, but rather, to call people out of the world and into the Kingdom of God.

On a related note, this strategy also fails to take into account that the means that Jesus gave His disciples to influence the world was the leaven of our personal examples as salt and light in a dark and decaying world; it was not coercive political power. There are many examples throughout history of Christian authorities using their power in an attempt to force those around them to be Christian; this is not what Jesus told His followers to do, and it doesn’t work.

Kingdom Disengagement

I mentioned earlier that the inherent tension between God’s kingdom and earthly nations makes disengagement from earthly politics appealing to me (although I have not, yet, truly adopted that strategy). I do not understand, however, what I occasionally hear from Christians that seems to stem from the opposite motivation.

This is sometimes hinted at when someone makes the claim that “we are electing a president, not a preacher/pastor/Pope.” This statement generally is meant to suggest that we shouldn’t expect political candidates to be especially virtuous, but more subtly, it suggests the impropriety of comingling Christian virtues with politics in general.

I heard it more flatly stated recently (by a preacher of all people!): “The vote is not a religious action, it is a civil action.”

I was floored. Although this gentleman correctly discerned the difference between faith and politics, the Kingdom of God and the United States of America, he incorrectly concluded that this difference meant that his faith and his citizenship in God’s kingdom had no bearing on his actions as a US citizen! Effectively, his allegiance to King Jesus and His principles waited patiently outside the voting booth.

Truly, there is no place for this sort of compartmentalization in our lives. On the contrary, our entire lives are to be a living sacrifice, which leaves no place for certain areas of life where we are free to disregard kingdom principles in favor of other concerns and desires.

As you can see, I don’t actually believe that any of the voting strategies used by Christians are foolproof. With the exception of the two strategies I rejected at the end, I believe all of them have strengths, but, alongside those strengths, also possess other characteristics that bring me pause. Reflecting on these different strategies for the last few weeks has helped me to see that I use a combination of them in my own approach to voting, but that, too, requires wisdom and discernment.

I will close this post by echoing something I said at the beginning. I truly believe that voting is an area of Christian freedom. As in many areas of life, we are not given explicit biblical instructions on how (or whether) to vote. Instead, we are given a variety of biblical principles and, with wisdom and discernment, in accordance with the dictates of our conscience, and as citizens of God’s kingdom, we must seek to apply those principles as we vote (or not vote).

In this series, I have not tried to tell you which candidate you should vote for. I have, however, tried to reflect on how we should vote as Christians. The reality is that Scripture provides us with an abundance of principles that should influence the way we approach earthly politics, but how we apply those principles still comes down to discernment.

May God grant us wisdom as we seek to discern His will, humility as we recognize our own limitations in doing so, and a lack of judgment for fellow believers who arrive at different conclusions.

Read the entire series:

[1] This may be a good time to quickly refute claims such as, “Not voting is the same as voting for _________.” That is nonsense. A non-vote is quite literally not the same as a vote. Although this post is not about third party voting, the same response could be given to those who claim, “A vote for a third party is the same as voting for ___________.” Again, that is nonsense, and it is largely this sort of uncreative (and manipulative) thinking that keeps our country locked in unproductive, binary choices.

[2] As mentioned in the last post, we have positive biblical examples of people like Daniel, Esther, and Joseph who faithfully served God through their political positions. With this being the case, I do not believe it is justified to categorize voting as an inherently inappropriate action for God’s people.

[3] Some would suggest that my question—how do you determine what is in the best interest of a given group—is stupid: just ask them! I don’t think it is that simple, however. After all, I routinely do not know what is best for me. I don’t think that is because I am particularly unwise or unintelligent, but because I am human. Scripture is pretty clear that we are not reliable when it comes to knowing what is best for us.

[4] From where I sit, this seems like an unquestionable reality. You don’t have to be an alarmist who sees the spectre of persecution lurking everywhere to notice significant cultural shifts in how Christianity and certain Christian beliefs are perceived, especially in the fields of higher education, politics, and business. For example, the level of scrutiny that a Supreme Court Justice nominee recently received for her religious beliefs would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.