This last U.S. election was a real joy, wasn’t it? And by that I mean it was the finest example of people clawing one another’s eyes out that I’ve ever seen. Surprisingly, a lot of that clawing went on within political parties. The Democratic Party just about fractured in half over Bernie Sanders’ challenge to Hillary Clinton, and when Sanders lost, a lot of left-leaning voters stayed home and gave Donald Trump the victory. (Or that’s one theory, I suppose.)
But on the Republican side, it was even worse. At least when Hillary Clinton won the primary over Sanders, her party quickly coalesced around her to move her campaign forward as best they could. Not so the Republicans. When Donald Trump shocked pretty much everyone by capturing the primary, the Republican camp divided into three camps that have stayed around even after the general election: The “Trump Train”, the “Never Trumpers”, and the less vocal group I like to simply call “the sane ones” — the ones who were neither overjoyed nor appalled beyond measure at Trump but voted for him because he was the only option of beating the Democrats.
If you were a “sane one” who had to deal with Never Trumpers during this campaign, then you know what smugness and false piety look like. The Never Trumpers practically dripped it. “We would never vote for someone like Donald Trump!” they sneered, as though their pacific acceptance of a Democratic victory was somehow a “virtue signal”. And if these Never Trumpers were Christian, it was even worse. Wrapping themselves in blankets of moral superiority, they turned their backs on society and sniffed at the thought of sullying their hands by voting for a horribly flawed candidate, even if that meant four more years of fueling ovens with the corpses of the unborn, four more years of religious organizations dragged through civil courts for the crime of being religious — basically four more years under the thumb of the party that explicitly rejects the fundamental principles of Genesis 1:27 (“in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them”).
But it turns out there’s an even smugger group. Step aside, Never Trumpers! Meet the Never Voters.
Yes, these are the Christians who have decided that voting itself is too debauching for any true Christian to contemplate. They count themselves members of the kingdom of Heaven, not members of our pagan, secular society (though I suspect they collect their Social Security, welfare, disability, and unemployment checks same as anybody else) and turn up their noses at the thought of ever dirtying their consciences at a polling place deciding for — GASP! — the lesser of two evils.
As it happens, one of my old high school classmates is a pastor in a denomination with just such a view, so he and some of his parishioners and I got into a lively Facebook discussion over it. At one point I promised to write a blog post explaining my view of why Christians can — and should — vote.
This is that post. Let’s begin!
What is the Christian view of government? Any government? We’re given the basic rules in Romans 13:1-7:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Let that first verse sink in for a minute. “There is no authority except that which God has established.” No authority. None. This is pretty heady stuff, especially when you realize that there were no Christian governments at the time Paul was writing. Put another way, every government in existence at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans was a pagan government. But Paul says that even those governments were established by God. How do we know this? Because they existed. “The authorities that exist have been established by God.” So God is the force behind all governmental authority — which makes sense because God is the force behind the very concept of authority itself. It is the Author who has authority, and He delegates it to whomever He wills. If anyone has authority, whether it be church authority, parental authority, secular authority, or any other kind of authority, the ultimate source of that authority is God.
This undermines a very important argument in the minds of the Never Voters: “We believe that bottom-up government and ‘authority’ is unbiblical.” But no authority is unbiblical. The only qualification for whether an authority is biblical or not is, “Does it exist? If so, it’s biblical.” The only unbiblical authorities are the ones that don’t exist.
Luckily, the authority of the U.S. government exists. We can prove it exists by looking at the historical record and seeing all the ways in which the American government has influenced the world. Trust me, it’s had a lot of impact. So American government exists, and therefore its authority is biblical. ‘Nuff said on that.
Are Christians allowed to participate in this government, though? Let’s leave aside the question of office-holding for the moment (although I think the example of Zacchaeus seals that issue shut — Zacchaeus didn’t have to quit his job as chief tax collector before Jesus could declare, “Salvation has come to this house”). Is it permissible for a Christian to vote — either for candidates or on policies?
The answer lies in the last verse of Paul’s brief discourse on politics: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
On account of its authority, the government can call upon you for many things. It can call upon you to pay taxes. It can call upon you to pay fees and fines. It can call upon you to obey its police, fire, and emergency personnel. It can call upon your silence during its solemn ceremonies. What happens when a government calls upon its citizenry for a vote? What do you, as a citizen, owe your government on such occasions?
You might not think that you owe the government anything at this point, but consider what would happen if literally no one voted. No one would be elected to office. No policies would be decided upon. Government would grind to a halt.
Now, of course, that’s not going to happen because it’s practically impossible that no one will step forward and exercise the right of the franchise. But it’s clear that a democratic society needs the votes of its citizenry to function, and as such, the vote is not merely an option but rather something citizens owe their government.
And since Paul says, “Give to everyone what you owe them,” then if you owe your vote, you should cast your vote.
“But maybe I don’t have an opinion one way or the other!” Well, thank goodness the government doesn’t force uninformed people like yourself to vote, then. Of course . . . you could go about the business of getting informed so that you can pay your debt to society rather than welch on it. The Internet has made it unbelievably easy to research candidates and policies. If investigating the individual candidates and issues is a bit too strenuous, you can always research political parties instead and find where they stand on the issues. In this day and age, there’s really no excuse other than laziness to declare yourself uninformed.
So at this point we’ve established per Romans 13:1-7 that
- There is no such thing as an unbiblical government authority.
- Since a democratic government authority requires the votes of its citizens to function, voting should be perceived as a Christian obligation.
But let’s answer another Never Voter objection: “We believe that God reserves for Himself the right to set up and take down leaders for His purposes.”
Okay, that’s fine. But how has God done this, historically? War. Bloodshed. One leader gets killed, another takes his or her place. Look at the Old Testament, for heaven’s sake. How did David replace Saul? Yes, yes, of course God withdrew His anointing from Saul and gave it to David. But in the end, the Philistines killed Saul, and David stepped into the vacuum. So God can obviously use pagans to set up leaders of His choosing. Why not His own people, then? I mean, really, how much sense does that make — that God wants only pagans and not His own people to make decisions about how government should work?
None, really. Especially when you consider the middle portion of Paul’s discourse on government:
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.
“The authorities are God’s servants.” Paul declares this no less than three times in three verses. The authorities are God’s servants . . . so pagans alone should choose them? I mean, that’s what the Never Voter position is, right? God wants only the votes of pagans to set up and take down His servants.
How is this in any way consistent with Paul’s admonition to the church in Corinth to not hand matters of justice over to unbelievers?
If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! (1 Cor 6:1-6)
So Paul is arguing here that believers are more qualified than unbelievers to render their opinion on matters of justice within the church. But according to the Never Voters, believers are also forbidden to render that same opinion in the outside world’s systems of government because . . . what?
There is no what. For there is no verse in Old or New Testament forbidding Christians from voting. Not one.
So why put on an air of false holiness and abstain from voting as if voting sullies the hands? Yes, of course “pure and undefiled religion” is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27) But let’s recall that these days the government does a great deal toward visiting orphans and widows in their trouble, and law enforcement does a great deal toward restraining the world from spotting everything up. If believers are more qualified than unbelievers to render opinions on matters of justice, then perhaps they are more qualified to render opinions on such matters of charity and decency as well.
This is an important point, given the two functions that Paul assigns to the authorities in Romans 13:3-4:
- They commend what is right.
- They punish what is wrong.
Now, everyone has an opinion on what is right and what is wrong, and in a secular democracy, the opinions with the most votes become the views that government will put into practice. If believers truly understand right and wrong better than unbelievers, then of all people who should be giving their opinions at the polls, believers should be the ones out in full numbers — no voter left behind! We don’t live under the dictates of an emperor or a totalitarian regime. We have the great privilege of being able to bring the will of God into our government’s policies through the polls. And yet some would rather put their light under a basket than on a lampstand. For shame.
Some Never Voters, though, think they should abstain from voting out of fear of defying God through their actions: “How do you know that you’re not casting your vote against God’s will?”
I don’t, of course. But there are situations we face every day in which we don’t know whether we’re doing God’s will — we just act according to biblical principles and hope we’ve made the right choice. If a rock is about to drop on someone’s head, would you just stand there and do nothing because, for all you know, it is God’s will that the person die from getting hit in the head by a falling rock? Or do you push the person out of the way?
So maybe the candidate I vote for isn’t the candidate that God wants in office. But in the absence of any explicit endorsements by God one way or the other, I’m going to vote based on biblical principles and hope I’m right. I certainly don’t expect to be punished by God for expressing my opinion when the pagan next door gets to vote and influence my future based on whatever principles he or she happens to hold sacred. That would be unjust in the extreme.
Ironically, some Never Voters’ objection originates from the opposite pole of futility: “God will place in office whomever He wants no matter how people choose to vote.”
Of course, this complaint is predicated on the false and dangerous premise that God always gets everything He wants. I could write a whole blog post on that foolish and destructive notion alone, but here are the high points:
To adopt the attitude that “whatever happens is what God wants to happen” is to basically say that God wants people to rape, steal, murder, cheat, lie, etc. — to sin, in short. But if God doesn’t actually want us to sin (which is true), and people nevertheless do sin (also true), then it is obvious that every single day things happen that God doesn’t want to happen. He lets them happen, but He doesn’t want them to happen.
And the same goes with elections. Whole nations are entirely capable of doing things that God doesn’t want done. (If you wish to say that God actually wanted Nazi Germany to kill six million Jews, you go right ahead, but good luck finding anyone to back you up who isn’t sporting a swastika tattoo somewhere on their body.) And that means whole nations are capable of choosing leaders God doesn’t want them to choose. Which in turn means that our elections, and our national destinies, really and truly are up to us.
In closing, yes, Christians can — and should — vote. In a democracy, our votes are required to keep government functioning, so voting is a civic duty that Christians ought to fulfill, same as paying taxes. Moreover, we should desire that government policy be as influenced as possible by believers’ opinions, seeing how we believers seek to derive our opinions from the Word of God and not from the spirit of the age. After all, we believers can hardly call ourselves the light of the world if we do not allow ourselves to shine on precisely those rare occasions when our government formally requests illumination.
- “I Voted” By United Nations Development Programme – originally posted to Flickr as guinea6, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11324073