Red, white and blue covered every wall as thousands came together in the massive arena. Music blared over loud speakers, pulsing energy through the excited crowd with every beat. Cordoned off by state, people held signs, wore tall red, white, and blue hats, and cheered loudly as a tall man dressed in a suit with shiny black shoes walked onto the grandiose stage. The speaker began to powerfully engage his audience, which soon broke into a loud and triumphant chant: “USA! USA!”
Most party national conventions have a similar picture and tone: excitement, pride, anticipation. For centuries, Americans have stated their opinions whether or not Christians should involve themselves in the political process, and it is not a discussion that originated in the United States—Christians have been discussing and debating the answer since the beginning of the church. In today’s America, we find the discussion continues, and sometimes becomes rather intense.
Both sides of the issue generally recognize that we are accountable to God for our actions and decisions.
Both sides of the issue generally recognize that we are accountable to God for our actions and decisions, and America’s Founding Fathers (the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) agree. Samuel Adams once wrote in the Boston Gazette, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please and individuals—or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country.” Fifty-three members of the original 55 in the Continental Congress were active members in their churches, many of whom were the pastors. They signed the Declaration of Independence, pronouncing that King George III was not only rebelling against his common man, but he was rebelling against God. Many of the prominent evangelists of early American history agreed whole-heartedly with the Founders. Although there were other minority views, such as several of the Anabaptist groups who often believed society should be governed by the church elders and in small groups, like villages, Charles Finney, a leader during the Second Great Awakening, represented the dominant Christian view in the United States throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. He declared in his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, “[T]he time has come that Christians must vote for honest men and take consistent ground in politics or the Lord will curse them….Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently….Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it—and He will bless or curse this national according to the course [Christians] take [in politics].” Finney’s statement leads Christians to ask “should a Christian be involved in politics, and if so, how should he or she vote and to what extent should a Christian be involved?” The responses to this idea are often varied and nuanced. Due to my travels around the western half of the United States, I have been able to speak with many people I have met along the way and gather their opinions and perspectives.
The pastor of a 300-member church in Missouri believes participation in secular government has little if any place in the Christian life. He often states that Christians should be ever mindful that their citizenship lies in heaven and not with any nation here on earth. This perspective often finds politics to be a dirty business, and Christians need not be concerned with the things of the physical world. Instead, Christians should primarily focus on the things of God.
Since Christians have accepted Christ as their Savior, they now belong to God. Therefore, their actions should solely concern ministering to other people, rather than spending time concerned with politics, as the political world changes frequently. When several of the congregants at this church spoke to me about politics they focused on a verse found in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Several congregants emphasized that they strive to be “peacemakers” by not interjecting in the political debates and causing fury from one group or another, thus avoiding confrontations and creating more difficulties. This same group of people told me that as Jesus said to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17), Christians should submit to God first and then give their minimum requirements, such as taxes, to earthly governments and those he has put in authority, though indicating that we should not challenge that authority.
A university student in her early twenties, who agrees with this view, primarily referenced Romans 13:1 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” While some interpret this Scripture as the power held by authorities comes from God, since all power and authority is derived from Him, others interpret this verse as the individual person who holds the position (e.g. a president, congressman, senator, etc.) is specifically ordained by God to hold that position. Most people whom I spoke with who believe in stepping back from the political process seem to agree that each person in authority is chosen by God, and therefore needs to be submitted to. If whoever is appointed to government positions is appointed by God, they don’t need to worry about voting the person in, they simply must respect whoever receives the position.
Following several discussions with young adult Christians who have the privilege of voting, I encountered a great deal of apathy towards the political process. Several young Christians expressed a complete disinterest in voting or politics in general, shrugging “It doesn’t really affect me so…why care?” Others were vaguely interested but forgot to register to vote. Most of these young people said, “Oh well. There’s always next time, right?” A few young people said they knew nothing of the candidates’ policies or religious beliefs, but would vote for so-and-so because they “like him” or thought he was “cool.”
None of these young people specifically enumerated what standard they use to weigh the options, typically saying that they “just pick” based on their own opinions and ideas. When prompted, these twenty-somethings said that if they were to vote, they would probably pray and ask God which candidate they should choose. However, their reactions were rather flippant, shrugging shoulders, always prefacing their decision with “if” rather than “when.” The typical reaction was that God does not care how they should vote, or they would not include God and their Christian beliefs in voting at all, since he already knows who will win or what will be decided.
Although most young voters I have met are quite indifferent toward politics, some expressed they wanted to vote for the best and most godly candidate, but were too disinterested in politics to figure out which candidate was the best. The majority with whom I spoke, who voted for the first time in the 2008 presidential election, decided to wait until the parties chose the nominees before declaring who they would support, which was typically based on party affiliation, thus not becoming involved in the political primaries. Although most of the individuals I interviewed in their early to mid-twenties were generally uninterested in politics, I eventually met several young people who believe Christians participating in the political process is vital. All of these young people had two things in common: their parents were interested in politics and their pastor taught the importance of Christian political involvement.
One form of political contribution is voting. A large, non-denominational church in Oklahoma believes so strongly that Christians should participate in America’s political process that they bring a voter registration table into the lobby for the last week or two before registration closes for fall elections. The congregants at this church are much more apt to openly and frequently participate in politics, often stating that as the Bible teaches to be good stewards of one’s money, or whatever a person has (Luke 16:10-14), people should remain good stewards of everything they have, including their right to vote, especially since they are fortunate to have such a right in first place. The individuals, a wide range of backgrounds and ages, from this church whom I spoke with used several biblical examples to uphold their political ideals and involvement. They showed me that voting was exercised in Deuteronomy when God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to choose, from each tribe, “wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men” to become the leaders (Deuteronomy 1:13). If God instructed the Israelites to create a governmental hierarchy based on their own opinions of their peers, then, as more than one person expressed to me, Christians should imitate the examples given to us in the Bible. Christians should examine our fellow Americans and elect them to our governmental positions.
Rather than believing that politics and government have no bearing on Christians, or declaring that voter participation is fruitless, this belief holds that Christians need to participate and support godly candidates and measures. Congregants are encouraged to check everything in life against the Scriptures, following the path that is closely aligned with God’s Word, just as the Bereans did in Acts 17. This idea then translates into the political realm as Christians weigh what a bill or candidate believes and advocates. As these Christians cast their votes, comment on the current political affairs, and research the candidates and laws, they echo the sentiments of Samuel Adams: we are held accountable for how we vote, both to country and God as the results will benefit or damage the nation while reflecting our hearts.
How Should We Respond
After examining a few positions regarding Christian political involvement, Christians now must determine their own participation. Although these are only a few ideas, there are many more existing in our society and unlimited nuances to each idea. As we grow and mature in our faith, how we live will change to fit the new mold of our enlightened Christianity. Whatever position each Christian decides, it should be done through prayer and wisdom, acknowledging the free exchange of ideas and respecting others’ opinions. While there are many divisive issues considered on numerous ballots and debated in the news and on the radio, Christians should be able to show Christ’s love. Though we may have our own strong opinions about a person or issue, we must keep in mind that we are to remain loving and kind, as we are examples of Christ. We can tactfully, and with strength, stand for our positions or our readings of the Bible without succumbing to slander. As we strive to remain true to God’s word in our politics, we must keep in mind that we should also remain true to his word in our actions and words. Our subsequent political participation, or lack thereof, should then remain influenced by our Christian beliefs, prayer, God’s word, and the wisdom he gives us.