Voting as a Christian in the Upcoming Elections

  • Craig Blomberg
  • Jun 16, 2008
  • Series: Dialogue on Contemporary Issues

At last we know who our two main candidates for November's presidential election will be-Barack Obama and John McCain. So how do we decide for whom to vote? Or, for that matter, how do we select among candidates for all the other offices up for grabs, this year or any year? Well, duh, if I'm a registered Democrat I should vote for Obama and if I'm a registered Republican I should vote for McCain, right? Not necessarily.

And what if I'm not affiliated with one of those two main parties? As a Christian, to vote a straight ticket or to automatically select one's party's candidate for any given office assumes that one party, and every candidate it ever endorses, unequivocally stands closer than the other party, and every one of its candidates, to the biblical agenda of issues a Christian should support. Even in theory, that can't possibly be true, because parties and candidates are regularly changing their minds and positions on a whole host of matters.

A thoughtful Christian (or, for that matter, any conscientious citizen) must therefore become informed as to what each party, each candidate, each referendum, each prospective judge, and so on, is endorsing at any given time and then weigh the entire resulting package or platform against biblical truth. Republicans in recent years have tended to do better with respect to pro-life issues and family values. Democrats in recent years have tended to do better with respect to caring about issues of poverty, justice and peace. But there have always been exceptions as well.

Sometimes I hear a Christian propose that one single issue (usually the pro-life cause) so outweighs all the others in importance that it is acceptable, or even necessary, to vote solely based on how a given candidate, piece of legislation or judicial ruling lines up on that issue. But how could that possibly be true?

Step back and think through the gospel for a minute. What is the most important thing that Christians could want for any human being? The answer has to be eternal life with God in Christ and in the company of all the redeemed of all time, in the new heavens and new earth, in glory and joy that will far outweigh the worst of suffering and atrocities in this life (cf. 2 Cor. 4:17 and Rom. 8:18).

Evangelical Christians have also usually believed, even though unambiguous biblical evidence is hard to come by, that small infants who die, before or after birth, are with the Lord Jesus rather than in hell. Even strongly Reformed theologians sometimes affirm this, contrary to Calvin himself, who would have said that only God knows and he knows who his elect are and aren't. Ronald Nash, who ended his career teaching at Reformed Seminary, for example, in a book called When a Baby Dies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), argued that every time God allowed a small baby, born or unborn, to die showed that he or she was one of the elect.

On the other hand, even in an age when evangelicals embrace a variety of perspectives on the question of the eternal destiny of the unevangelized, they usually still agree that those who consciously reject the gospel are eternally lost. Thus, for example, many (though certainly not all) Muslims know enough to be consciously rejecting Christianity. Indeed, it is often Christianity they believe they are attacking when they attack Westerners more generally. 

So which is the greater loss from an eternal perspective--aborted infants whom we believe are with the Lord or grown people of a non-Christian religion bombed into oblivion? For those who think that devout Muslims are lost even if they are not consciously rejecting Christianity, the issue becomes even more pointed because America's military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have sent that much greater a number of people to hell, including many civilians who did not necessarily have any axe to grind with the West.

Now please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying I have the solution to the vexed problems of the Middle East. I am not a pacifist but a just war advocate. (But I do remember vividly trying to apply just war principles during the buildup to the current Gulf War and becoming convinced we didn't have adequate information and hadn't exhausted all realistic diplomatic alternatives to warrant the "shock and awe" campaign when it began.) What particularly troubles me, though, is that I don't hear evangelical Christians, for the most part, even asking the kinds of questions I'm asking here. I don't see them trying to think through the issues from a biblical perspective. They simply adopt the political perspectives of their preferred parties. Or they give a superficial nod to an isolated biblical text and think that settles the matter.

For example, I heard a preacher not long after America invaded Iraq declare from the pulpit that until our government had made its decision it was appropriate for Christians to debate the issue. But now that the administration had decided to invade it was Bible-believing Christians' responsibility simply to submit and support the government's policy. A dissenting voice could no longer be considered a proper Christian response!

Yet the same New Testament that contains the statement about the divine ordination of governments in Romans 13 also contains Revelation 13, in which government turns demonic and must be resisted. Short of that extreme, we have Peter's clear insistence in Acts 4:19-20 and 5:29 to obey God rather than humans when the directives of human authorities contradict those of God's. And the context of Acts 4-5 is telling-the authorities to be resisted were the conservative political and religious leaders in Israel all wrapped up into one. It's not only non-Christians who can stray far from God's will.

Again, I'm not claiming to know whether the current conflict did (or does) contradict God's will. The amount of information the American public receives is so limited and so filled with so many different ideological spins that I'm no longer surprised when later investigations announce how we've been lied to, or at least how crucial information has been withheld from us. But that should make it all the more important that no Christian ever suggest that we foreclose conversation on an issue just because the government has made a certain decision.

I also find it fascinating to think back as I have intentionally canvassed evangelical appeals to Romans 13, on whatever issue, over my adult life (if I became an adult at 21)-i.e., from 1976-2008. Without a doubt, I've heard far, far more frequent appeals to Romans 13 during the Reagan/Bush/Bush years than during the Carter/Clinton years! And yet Paul penned Romans 13 against the backdrop of the pagan, persecuting Roman empire, not the modern American Republican party!

A Christian political action organization called Just Life, which my wife and I supported, existed throughout most of the 1980s and 1990s, which sought to support state and national political candidates that were as "completely pro-life" as possible-that is, they were against abortion, pro-family, against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and in favor of helping the poor in as many, really effective ways, as possible. Sometimes they endorsed Democrats; sometimes, Republicans. Too often, they had no one they could in good conscience support in a given race because candidates wouldn't go against their parties on any issues at all. Finally the organization disbanded for lack of adequate funding or donations. Obviously not enough Christians were convinced that the biblical agendas really did cut across party lines so clearly or, if they were so convinced, they weren't willing to support an organization with the objectives Just Life had.

Who will I vote for in November? I honestly don't know yet. I was deliberately waiting until the nominations were sewn up (since, I confess, I didn't participate in Colorado's cumbersome caucus process), before spending a lot of time reading up on each possible candidate. Of course, I've followed the main stories in the news, but they reveal extraordinary little about really substantive matters. Between now and November I will become better informed and then make my choice. But it won't be on the basis of one, two or even three issues. It will be on the entire platforms of each candidates, and it will be based on what my best sense of biblical priorities is, consulting the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Voting as a Christian thus also means that I do not think primarily in terms of what is best economically for my family or for Americans, and not primarily what is in our "national interest" (to use the popular political phrase) when it comes to foreign policy. Politicians for both main parties will be claiming to do all of that, understandably, since they are representing our country. But as a Christian I have to take into account information that no political speech will ever include-information like the rapid growth of the underground church in Iran. Christians in that country tell us the Iranian church would be jeopardized more by American military action than by anything else. Or, on the other side of the political divide, we will never see publicized a copy of the letter I personally viewed that was sent to Focus on the Family by a major network executive in response to Focus' plea for less overtly pro-gay (and anti-ex-gay) television programming. Instead of commenting on the substance of the appeal, it just included a diatribe with superfluous comments from the respondent, himself gay!

I remember during my public school years, growing up in Illinois, how Christians could have a vigorous political conversation, disagree as to which party or candidate they would support at a given time, and still be friends. Churches could even host forums in which civil debate along these lines occurred. My eighth-grade history teacher, herself a former local Republican politician, used to intone the refrain so often that I still hear her words in my head:  "The far left and the far right, avoid them both, like the plague!" My, how Christians have become so much more polarized over the last 30 years! Thoughtful, well-meaning Christian friends send me e-mails with made-up material pasted from internet sites that reinforce their personal convictions on political issues without even a quick check of a website like to check their accuracy.       

Others that are primarily factual contain such sub-Christian invective against those who would disagree with them that I just want to cry. Some of us are old enough to remember when not a single political advertisement on TV was allowed to smear the opponent the way almost all such ads not routinely do. But my grown children, alas, have no such memories. May some of us take the lead in this fall's campaigns to elevate the conversations to more thoughtful and gracious levels.


For further reading, see especially David P. Gushee, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center (Waco: Baylor, 2008).