The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Voting

Politics From A Christian Perspective: Voting Strategies

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.

After the Election: A Plea for Christians

So there’s an election tomorrow; you may have heard something about it. Actually, if you’re like most people, you have probably heard so much about it that you don’t want to read another word. And I understand that—I actually wrote a good blog post about the election a few weeks ago (at least, thought it was good), but I didn’t even publish it, because who needed to read yet another person’s opinion about what the right thing to do in this election is?

So I want to be clear: this post is not about the election. It is a plea for Christians on what I think we should do moving forward, after the election is over and the dust has settled. Related to that, I am not a political scientist, or a lobbyist, or a pundit, so I am not going to presume to give you my opinion on a host of political topics. I am, however, a minister and a student of the Bible, and so I will frame this post from a biblical and moral perspective.

Elections can sometimes deceive us into thinking that we are making a real difference in the world with the way we vote, or that a Presidential election is of the utmost importance. But I want to push back on that a bit: from a Christian perspective, we are called to do a lot more than just vote, and we should have higher priorities than who the President of the United States is.

To Trump Supporters

People chose to support Donald Trump for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so ultimately because you are vehemently opposed to abortion and couldn’t bring yourself to support Hillary Clinton (who is not only pro-choice but seems to be shockingly comfortable with virtually any abortion under any condition): I get where you’re coming from. Abortion is one of the great evils of American history; it is genocide against our own children. I absolutely abhor it.

But here’s the important thing that I really want you to hear: if you truly are opposed to abortion, please don’t think that simply by voting for Donald Trump (or any political candidate) that you are somehow doing your part to stop it.

If Christians are serious about opposing abortion (and we should be) it’s time to put our money (or time) where our mouth (or vote) is:

  • Adoption: The issue of abortion is part of a larger issue of children not being desired, and thus, is intrinsically related to the issue of adoption. My wife and I went through an embryo adoption process, and for me personally, my strong feelings about abortion were what convicted me about this being my calling to do more than just cast a vote. Adoption is a long, strenuous, and expensive process, but the reality is that there are children out there who need homes, and Christians are called to meet that need!
  • Support Others’ Adoptions: For a variety of reasons, it is simply not feasible for all Christians to adopt. But it is feasible for all Christians to support the adoptions of others! This can be done by making direct donations to families you know who are adopting (after all, it is expensive), by volunteering respite care or occasional babysitting to families with adoptive children, or by donating to adoption agencies directly to help defray some of the costs for adopting families (of particular interest for many of my readers, here is an adoption agency affiliated with Churches of Christ). P.S. If you are reading this and are in the process of adopting right now, if you will contact me I will be happy to share information on how people can make donations in support of your adoption.
  • Support Crisis Pregnancy Centers: Many times, abortions happen because young single women are frightened and feel like they have no other options. Crisis pregnancy centers help to educate and provide other options, generally free of charge. In Northwest Arkansas, Loving Choices is one of these centers, and you can support their great work by volunteering or making financial contributions.
  • Support Maternity Homes: Also called homes for unwed mothers, these groups work to provide a safe environment for girls under the age of 18 and help them plan for their futures. Compassion House is a maternity home in Northwest Arkansas, and can also be supported through volunteering or donations.

I think it is appropriate to use your political voice to oppose the heinous practice of abortion, but the reality is  that in our current political climate, this by itself accomplishes very little. Christians, we must do more! By no means is this an exhaustive list, but these are some practical ways in which Christians can do more than just vote.

To Hillary Supporters

People chose to support Hillary Clinton for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so ultimately because you were so scandalized by the sorts of things Donald Trump said about immigrants, certain ethnic groups and (especially) women, and couldn’t bring yourself to vote for a person who could say such deplorable things: I get where you’re coming from. We have significant problems with xenophobia, racism, and the objectification of women in our society, and these are things that Christians must fight against.

But here’s the important thing that I really want you to hear: if you truly are opposed to xenophobia, racism, or the objectification of women, please don’t think that simply by voting for Hillary Clinton (or any political candidate) that you are somehow doing your part to stop those things.

If Christians are serious about opposing xenophobia/racism/objectifying women (and we should be) it’s time we actually stood up to fight against these things:

  • Xenophobia: The melting pot nature of the United States is an early and somewhat unique characteristic of our country. I believe it to be one of our great strengths, and in some ways even a small foretaste of what heaven will be like, a great multitude “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7.9). To the degree that you have immigrants in your community, make an effort to be in contact with and get to know them. Patronize their businesses. And be quick to speak against comments or jokes which denigrate immigrants (especially if they are made by other Christians).
  • Racism: In many ways, this is a related issue but is in some ways more deep-seated because of the long history of race-based slavery in the United States. I am not naive enough to suggest that I know the perfect solution to this problem, but at the very least, it has to begin with us getting to know people of different races and respecting them enough to listen to their experiences, try to empathize, and admit that perhaps we genuinely don’t know what it is like to be a person of color. And of course, be quick to speak against racist comments or jokes (especially if they are made by other Christians).
  • The Objectification of Women: This is undoubtedly a rampant problem, but in many ways is the natural result of the hyper-sexualized society in which we live where pornography (overwhelmingly depicting women, for male consumption) is readily available on the internet, satellite TV, and the sexting apps of middle schoolers. I do not know how to halt the massive momentum of this cultural problem in any way other than calling out and then refusing to support any activity, language, or form of entertainment that treats women as objects. This means no longer pretending that stars like Beyonce are somehow good role models for young girls when they treat women as objects in the lyrics they write and themselves as objects in the way they perform. It means punishing our sons if and when we hear them speak of women in disrespectful ways. It means informing our daughters and their dance team coaches that they will not participate in routines which call for teenage girls to dance in sexually-suggestive ways for audiences of adults at football and basketball games. And it means the constant re-affirmation to all the women in our lives that we love and value them because of the character they possess and the image of God that they bear rather than for their purely external characteristics.

I think it is appropriate to use your political voice to oppose a man who has said so many deplorable things, but Christians, if you really want our culture to be free from evils like xenophobia, racism, and the objectification of women, you have to do more than simply cast a ballot.

To Third Party Supporters

People chose to support Third Party candidates, or not vote at all, for a variety of reasons, but to those Christians who did so because they could not in good conscience bring themselves to vote for either Trump or Hillary due to the significant character deficiencies of both: I get where you’re coming from. In fact, I am you. I was appalled by the character of both candidates, and truly could not distinguish in my own mind who was worse.

Having spilt a lot of digital ink addressing those who supported Trump and Hillary, I want to address this audience as well, but self-critique is always a challenge. I think what I want to say is this: if you are disappointed in the moral condition of a nation that could produce these two people as the primary candidates for President, please don’t think that simply by not voting for either that you are somehow doing your part to improve it.

If Christians are serious about living in a society where character—morality, compassion, integrity, etc.—are valued, we have to begin by looking at ourselves. Are we living as salt and light in the world (Matthew 5.13-16)? Are we living in close enough proximity to the world that we can actually make an impact and at the same time distinct enough from the world that we can actually make a difference? If we are not in the world, we can’t influence it for good; if we’re just like the world, we also can’t influence it for good.

Unless and until Christians take seriously their calling to live as salt and light in the world, there is little hope for better circumstances or an improved moral condition.

To All of Us

This political season has been rough. Thankfully, it is almost over. Moving forward, in addition to what I’ve said above, there are a few important ideas that I think we should remember:

(1) Politics should not disrupt the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ. I am not saying that politics are unimportant, but they are not of the utmost importance. Although there is always room for respectful discussion and disagreement, it does God’s kingdom a great disservice when Christians wage wars with one another over political views, because the world notices the way we treat one another. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and actively seek reconciliation in relationships that were damaged because of our opposing views in this election.

(2) We should be gentle in our judgments of others related to their political views. Since politics are not of the utmost importance, we need to be very careful about the judgments we pronounce on one another for the way we vote. Statements such as “You can’t be a Christian and vote for ______________” are inappropriate. It is God who separates the wheat from the tares, not us (Matthew 13.24-30). Furthermore, a lot of people genuinely felt that there was no good choice in this election, but that they had to choose someone. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and be gentle in our judgments of others. I don’t want to be judged harshly for the decisions I made that I prayed and agonized over and struggled to determine the proper course of action, so I shouldn’t judge others harshly in similar circumstances.

(3) We should remember—always—that our citizenship lies in another sort of Kingdom, in which Jesus always sits on the throne. It is fine for us to express care and concern for the country in which we live (after all, Jesus did!), but sometimes we get overly worked up in political seasons and reveal that we sometimes forget that this world is not our home and that God is sovereign, regardless of what happens in our elections or to our country. Moving forward, we must repent of this behavior, and proclaim Jesus as King and ourselves as His subjects, before all else, no matter what.

Christians: after the election, this is my plea to you.

*This post takes for granted that Christian readers will acknowledge the inherent wickedness of practices like abortion, xenophobia, racism, the objectification of women, and the smug passing of judgement on one another. All of these are, inherently, dehumanizing actions, and for those who bear the image of God and are called to see Jesus in one another, are completely unacceptable.

Does Pro-Life Make A Difference?

I know quite a few people who are opposed to abortion, but whose voting decisions aren’t actually affected by those beliefs.

After all, electing pro-life politicians doesn’t actually have any effect on abortion in America, right? Well, actually, according to this article, it does:

“Most of these authors attempt to make one of two points: either a) that there is little that elected officials can do to curb abortion through legislation, or b) that the pro-life movement has not reaped any real benefits from supporting candidates who oppose abortion. Voters should, therefore, they argue, place greater emphasis on other issues. However, an examination of the history of the pro-life movement and a careful analysis of abortion trends demonstrate that these arguments are deeply flawed. In fact, the success of pro-life political candidates has resulted in substantial reductions in the abortion rate.”

The article then goes on to describe all the ways in which pro-life politicians and anti-abortion legislation have decreased the number of abortions in the United States.

So what does that have to do with the impending election? Well, one of the candidates opposes abortion, while the other, according to another article, is “the most extreme pro-abortion candidate to have ever run on a major party ticket.”

If you’re opposed to abortion, it should be something to think about. I understand that there are other moral issues as well that we have to deal with, but I always come back to Jesus’ words about “the least of these” in Matthew 25.

Who better qualifies as “the least of these” than an unborn child?

Let’s Make A Deal

So as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not exactly thrilled about either of our major presidential candidates.

Unfortunately, the political system in the United States is strictly limited to two parties, and anyone not belonging to one of those two parties, no matter how qualified or popular they may be, has no legitimate chance of being elected.

Then I came across, which I thought was pretty neat.

The basic premise of Vote Pact is that a significant portion of Americans don’t really identify closely with either of the two major parties (and specifically with those parties’ candidates in this particular election), but they vote for them anyway because they fear that voting for a third party candidate just helps the party that they dislike the most.

Vote Pact’s solution:

Disenchanted Republicans should pair up with disenchanted Democrats and both vote for third party or independent candidates they more genuinely want. This way they siphon off votes by twos from each of the establishment parties. This liberates the voters to vote their actual preference from among those on the ballot, rather than to just pick the “least bad” of the two majors. They could each vote for different candidates, or they could vote for the same candidate. If the later, it could offer an enterprising candidate a path to actual electoral success.

On the website, there’s a chart to show how, statistically, this is somewhat feasible.

Of course, it’s not like all the people who don’t really like Obama or McCain are a politically uniform group, so it’s highly unlikely that they could ever unite behind a third party candidate.

But boy, I think it’d be cool if they did.

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