We are approaching a Presidential Election on November 3, 2020, so it is a good time to look at the question of “How should Christians vote?” However, before I give you an answer to that question, let’s look at the challenges (or problems) we face when we have a two-party system involving the left and the right of politics. Let’s look at how two eminent thinkers look at this issue. The first one is a liberal democrat, and the second one is a conservative evangelical.
Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the leading American theologians in the 20th century. He had some significant thoughts about the left and the right of American politics.
For The Democrats
As he saw it, the primary danger on the left is the illusion that the individual can be “saved” by reforming society and its structures. Niebuhr insists that this optimism overlooks the reality and the depths of human sinfulness-the sinfulness of the individual, not just the social group. This is the point at which Niebuhr critiqued the Social Gospel.
“In the liberal world, the evils in human nature and history were ascribed to social institutions or to ignorance or to some other manageable defect in human nature or environment” (Niebuhr, 2009).
For The Republicans
A primary danger is the unthinking optimism about economic growth.
“In one sense the opulence of American life has served to perpetuate Jeffersonia illusions about human nature. For we have thus far sought to solve all our problems by the expansion of our economy. This expansion cannot go on forever and ultimately we must face some vexatious issues of social justice” (Niebuhr, 2009).
So Niebuhr, who was a liberal Democrat, saw problems with both Republicans and Democrats.
Timothy Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, wrote a very interesting article entitled: “How Do Christians Fit into the Two-Party System? They don’t.”
He writes, “Christians these days cannot allow the church to be fully identified with any particular party is the problem of what the British ethicist James Mumford calls “package-deal ethics.” Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.
This emphasis on package deals puts pressure on Christians in politics. For example, following both the Bible and the early church, Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family. One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments” (nytimes.com).
In other words, you have issues in both parties that Christians can support, but they come with other issues Christians can’t support.
Keller illustrates this political tension in the case of “helping the poor.” He points out that “the biblical commands to lift up the poor and to defend the rights of the oppressed are moral imperatives for believers… However, there are many possible ways to help the poor. Should we shrink government and let private capital markets allocate resources, or should we expand the government and give the state more of the power to redistribute wealth? Or is the right path one of the many possibilities in between?” (nytimes.com).
ATTITUDE TO OTHERS
So in the midst of opposing viewpoints, we need to watch our attitude and relate to people who disagree with us with…
- Respect. Respect for their viewpoint.
- Understanding. Seek to understand why they believe as they do.
- Love. Using the ability that God gives His people to love those who oppose our positions and beliefs.
One thing is certain. We are not meant to withdraw. We are to fight for what we believe in the midst of it all, even to the point of being involved in party politics. The Bible has examples of people fully involved in politics. Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon were both fully immersed in the politics of their day.
So let us get back to the question: “How should Christians Vote?” Let me give you what I call “The 5 C’s of Voting.”
THE 5 C’S OF VOTING
- Conscience – The place to start is with your conscience. Paul had to deal with the differences that people had. In Romans 14 (NIV), Paul deals with the law of liberty and states, “each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” For some people, this will be the deciding and only factor. For example, some people feel so strongly about abortion that, because of their conscience, they will never vote for someone who supports abortion.
- Character – Many people put an emphasis on character. They desire to have a president exhibits a sound character. However, good character alone will not necessarily bring about a good presidency. Jimmy Carter, back in the 1970s, was a fine man who had a born again experience. But even though he was a Christian, he only served one term because he was an ineffective leader. George Bush was also a born again Christian, but he too never became what his supporters thought he would. The questionable decision to invade Iraq and the poor performance in hurricane Katrina undermined his presidency. Character is important, but it does not guarantee anything in regard to the presidency.
- Competency – Does the candidate have the ability to do a good job? Have they had experience leading other people, whether in politics or in business? Leadership is an art that has to be developed. One should examine a candidate’s life story and see what he/she has achieved. What has he/she built? What has he/she done?
- Concepts – We could call this vision and values. What is the person’s vision for the future? What does he or she believe are the pressing issues facing us as a nation? What kind of picture is being painted about where we are to head in the days to come? Great leaders paint great possibilities. With this comes an examination of particular issues and values and a candidate’s position on them. One should examine the platform of both parties, Republican and Democrat, to see what they stand for.
- Choice – This is not an easy question to answer but “who would be God’s choice in the election?” Now some people would argue God doesn’t have a choice, and He leaves it to the people to make that choice. But what if He did have a choice? Wouldn’t it make all the difference? A choice, while not denying the importance of the other 4 C’s, maybe it is just what the nation needs at this time. That is the reason many evangelical leaders are supporting our present President. They believe God brought him to the Kingdom for such a time as this. Some have seen him like a Cyrus, used by God to begin a new era for the Jews.
So, look at the 5 C’s and pray that God will show you how you should vote.
The call is going out for Christians to pray about the coming election. Many leaders are calling for this. So, let’s do it.
Karl Barth was a renowned theologian.
On the night before he died (December 10, 1968), Barth had a phone call with his close friend Eduard Thurneysen. They are talking about political headlines of that day – 1968 was (as you no doubt recall) a very dark and troubled time in Europe and around the world (protests, political unrest, Cold War, Vietnam War. . . .). Barth closed the call by saying, “Yes, the world is dark. But don’t be down in the mouth! It is being ruled, not only in Moscow, or in Washington or in Peking, but absolutely, from above, from heaven, God is on the throne. That’s why I am not afraid” (Tietz, 2018).
1 Timothy 2:1-3 exhorts us to pray for our leaders. Remember this. God is still on the throne. Romans 13:1 (NKJV) also reminds us, “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.”
In a following Langstaff Letter, I will share how I am going to vote and why.
Niebuhr, R. (2009). The Irony of American History (p. 4&29). Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
Tietz, Christiane (2018). Karl Barth: Ein Leben im Widerspruch (p 414) München: C. H. Beck.