Unfortunately, Jesus Christ will not be on the ballot in my state. Or yours. But that shouldn’t stop us from voting for him.
Let me clarify: I’m not advocating writing in “Jesus Christ” on your ballot for President of the United States. For one thing, Jesus definitely wasn’t born as an American citizen, so he doesn’t meet the constitutional requirements. Far more importantly, it would be an insult to offer such a comparatively paltry and insignificant position to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
No, when I say that we should vote for Jesus, I mean it in the same sense as when someone says that we should work for Jesus or use our free time for Jesus or steward our resources for Jesus or do everything we do for Jesus. Because Jesus is Lord, we are called to devote every activity and all our energies to serve and honor him. Our political activities are no exception.
If you are a Christian, your first loyalty is not to an earthly nation, but to Christ and his kingdom. “But our citizenship is in heaven, from where we eagerly await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). This does not mean that we should renounce all loyalty to the nation in which God has placed us; rather, we should promote and pray for the peace of this earthly city (Jeremiah 29:7), even as we recognize that it is not our ultimate home (Hebrews 13:14). After all, the apostle Paul was quite willing to submit to civil authorities and exercise his rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29; 25:10-11). But his goal in doing so was to advance the kingdom of Christ. In the same way, we should utilize the rights we have as citizens of a democratic republic to speak and vote for the glory of Christ, not ultimately to advance our own interests or the interests or any other party or group.
I’m not going to tell you which candidate you should vote for this November. While few practicing Christians are thrilled with the options available to us this year, serious arguments have been put forward for a number of different voting strategies. While I have my own ideas about what is the best and wisest course, my concern is that, whoever you vote for, you vote for Jesus.
Here are a few suggestions on how we might do that.
1. Distinguish between proximate and ultimate goals. Though political action can and should be a means of serving Christ, our ultimate purpose and calling is not to politics, but to Christ. We must never mistake the means for the end. All too often Christians have acted as if Jesus had taught that the greatest commandment was to overturn Roe v. Wade, or as if his great commission to his disciples was to go into all the world and end violence against women. These surely are worthy and important goals, but they are not identical with loving God and neighbor and winning disciples for Christ. Whenever we treat such secondary ends as our ultimate purpose, we are guilty of idolatry. And in service to our idol, we may find ourselves sacrificing all other worthy goals, including our first order goals of worshiping God, loving our neighbor, and bearing witness to the gospel. No political power or legislative victory – not even gaining the whole world – is worth losing our souls (Mark 8:36).
2. Be honest about the weaknesses and sins of your own side. Admitting that your chosen candidate has major character flaws is not necessarily the best strategy for winning an election. But no election is worth sacrificing our integrity and undermining our moral credibility. We may honestly believe that a candidate is the least bad choice without condoning or minimizing the heinousness of their behavior. While this applies to every candidate – for all have sinned – the recent revelations of Donald Trump’s boasts of having sexually assaulted women with impunity are a particularly stark test of his supporters’ willingness to maintain moral credibility at the expense of political expedience. A few have managed both to support their candidate and to condemn his behavior. Many have not.
3. Treat those who disagree – especially other Christians – with love and respect. It is all too easy to condemn and despise people who express support for a candidate whom we regard as a danger to our society. But we should recognize that those who choose differently from us may not be ill-intentioned, even if they are sorely mistaken. It may be short-sighted to support a boastful and abusive demagogue because he has promised to appoint pro-life judges. It may be foolish to support a politician with a profoundly secularist agenda because at least she is wrong “within normal parameters.” It may be unrealistic to expend one’s vote on an independent candidate who has almost no chance of winning. It may be irresponsible to abstain from voting altogether. But, fraught as this particular election is, we must remember that voting is always a prudential choice between imperfect options. We should give those who choose differently from ourselves the benefit of the doubt. Even when it seems clear that a Facebook friend or public figure is acting out of idolatry or dishonesty, we should deal gently with their errors and hope and pray for their repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Let us not wait until after the election to begin the work of healing and reconciliation in our fractured society.
4. Remember that we have other tools in our toolbox. While preserving and increasing the good in our society is a worthy and godly goal, choosing a president is not the only means we have for effecting social change. Take the pro-life movement. Overturning Roe v. Wade is an important goal, but there is so much more we can do to protect the unborn beyond the political arena. Indeed, unless we reduce the demand for abortion by fostering a culture of life (and making having a baby less of a social and financial burden), there will still be abortions, regardless of their legality. Whoever occupies the White House, we can support crisis pregnancy ministries, encourage generous benefits for new mothers, and seriously consider letting our own lives be disrupted by adopting or fostering children whose biological parents have been unable or unwilling to care for them. Similarly, there is so much we can do in our own churches and communities to welcome refugees, foster racial reconciliation, and prevent violence against women, no matter what policies our elected officials enact. Our votes are only one means for pursuing these goals for the glory of God.
5. Rejoice in hope. If you’re like me, you’ve experienced your fair share of anxiety surrounding the outcome of this election. The likelihood of a good outcome seems so remote that it is all too easy to slip into discouragement and despair. Our nation and society seem to be spiraling out of control, and there is so little we can do to stop its destructive course.
In times like these, I need to remember that Jesus is not worried. Our nation is not out of his control; he’s got the whole world in his hands. His kingdom is not shaken, and his throne is secure. Unlike the presidential candidates who fawn and flatter, he does not depend on our vote. We may offer it to him, then, as an act of love and trust, rejoicing to know that he is still working all things for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Image Credit: By VigilancePrime at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9017276