As I write this, the November elections loom just over the horizon. In past years, I’ve been approached by Christians asking “should I vote” and “for whom?” I’ve counseled that since God gives us the privilege of living in a nation in which our vote can influence the fabric of our government, it would be His heart that we exercise that privilege. Further, I’ve answered the “who” question by saying, “Seek the Spirit’s guidance, then vote for the person for whom you believe Jesus would vote.”
That response often generates another question: “What if I’m questioning whether Jesus would vote for any of these candidates?” Can a Christian vote for candidates who, while advocating some good policies, show less than righteous wisdom in positions on other issues, not to mention in words and lifestyle? In the absence of a truly godly choice, would it be best not to vote at all?
I identify with the struggle many Christians face as this election approaches. I also respect those who in good conscience feel they cannot vote for any presently offered candidate. Perhaps this is rooted in the idea that a vote serves as an endorsement of the person for whom that vote is cast, a statement of approval that implies acceptance of the whole of a candidate’s message and lifestyle. In response, may I suggest the possibility of a different perspective on Christian voting?
That alternative perspective begins with the premise that God’s primary tool for Kingdom advancement–pushing back the kingdom of darkness through the power of the Gospel and the establishment of God’s priorities and purposes–is His church, not the government. Jesus’ choice not to establish a “religiously approved political system” in Judea during his ministry, even though he had ample power and opportunity to do so, supports this premise. Standing in Jerusalem before Pilate, a government official who represented both personal ungodliness and an ungodly Roman Empire, and surrounded by many who felt the Messiah should establish a righteous Jewish earthly government, Jesus chose not to overthrow the existing system or establish an “earthly government of God.” Instead, he tells Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18.36). Paul echoes that thought when he tells the Philippians “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3.20). Notably, Paul followed Jesus’ example in choosing not to focus on political agency or “government change” as a ministry priority.
As Kingdom citizens, establishment of an earthly government is not our primary concern. However, as much as we are given opportunity to speak into the process, Christians should seek oversight which gives the best opportunity for the church to advance God’s priorities; as Jesus taught us to pray, “May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Romans 13 suggests the role of government is to provide order and peace, providing a stable environment for God’s people to be ambassadors of the Good News and agents of change, partnering both inside and outside of traditional ministry structures. Government is at its biblical best when it provides “working room” for the church to expand the Kingdom, energize transformative change, and engage the world with the love and truth of Jesus.
From this perspective, a Christian’s vote does not function as a personal endorsement of a particular candidate. Instead, that vote is cast for the candidate who gives best hope for an environment in which God’s Kingdom priorities can be advanced through His Kingdom citizens. In the absence of a clear “godly candidate,” we might vote for the person who, as best discerned through the Spirit’s leading, would promote a better governmental context for the Church to advance disciple multiplication. Our vote is not an endorsement of a person, but rather a tool used in pursuit of greater Kingdom purposes.
Even as I present that perspective for consideration, I state again that Biblical Christians differ as to whether they sense God’s freedom to vote in an election such as the one shaping up for this coming November. I would never suggest anyone violate what God is speaking to his or her heart. Instead, let me challenge us, as citizens of a nation in which voting is an offered privilege, to earnestly pursue God in prayer for His answer to our decision “to vote or not to vote, and if so for whom,” and not rest until we have heard His response and acted according to His leading.