On the golf course the other day, my 33-year-old son engaged me in political conversation. Between holes he asked (with a tone of sarcasm), “Who would Jesus vote for?”
My answer is not important, but the principles behind the question are.
Christians are good citizens. They recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment and teach obedience to it as a sacred duty, within its legitimate sphere. They should do their part to assure good government. One way to do this is to vote.
However, there is nothing in the Bible that addresses this topic directly. And Christians are not all agreed on what position to take. Some feel that they should stand apart from all aspects of politics.
However, the act of voting — when exercised on behalf of justice, humanity and right — is in itself blameless and may be highly proper. Believers seek always to recognize Christian principles apart from and above the candidates.
Every individual exerts an influence in society. Every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side freedom of religion, moral issues, virtue and forthright honesty?
By voting, we assume some responsibility for decisions our elected candidate may make, whether good or bad. Thus, we must not vote without careful thought and attention to the issues. We should never vote blindly or out of a sense of party loyalty. In voting, as in every other activity, Christians should seek divine wisdom and then do their best.
The biggest problem facing Christians in voting is that they lack omniscience. Even if they vote intelligently and conscientiously, they may make a mistake.
But this is true in all areas of life. Should Christians never act unless they are absolutely certain they are right? Both the government and the church would be paralyzed, for no one is infallible.
Timid leaders would hold back, doing nothing lest they do the wrong thing. Meanwhile, the devil and his forces would occupy the field.
The right to a free ballot has been purchased by the blood of patriots. The Christian will not regard it lightly, nor permit it to be lost through apathy or disuse.
Christians may not only vote in good conscience, they also may seek and hold public office. Sacred history reveals that some of God’s most noble men participated in secular government.
Joseph served a top post in Egypt’s government and considered his appointment the result of God’s leading. Speaking to his brothers, he said, “God has made me lord of all Egypt” (Gen. 45:9). He also said, “God did send me before you to preserve life” (verse 5).
Another servant of God who filled an important government office was Daniel. So well did he fill his post under the Babylonians that when the succeeding empire took over he continued in office. Darius the Mede recognized the leadership qualities in Daniel and made him first of three presidents of the whole kingdom (Daniel 6:2).
In the 2016 race, many Christians seem deeply divided. I cringe when I hear the question, “How can you be a Christian and vote for … ?” (Insert Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.)
This is one of the most offensive things to say to a fellow believer because 99 percent of the time it is meant to imply poor judgment by the person being asked. We can engage in lively debate with those who differ from us without demeaning them or losing our love for them.
Also, whether a person chooses to vote or not, he or she should receive no criticism because of his or her choice.
Thus it seems clear that God-honoring people may, without sacrificing principle, cast their ballot. At the same time they will long for a better world and pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Larry Gember is pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.