(Today’s guest post comes from my good friend, Kolburt Schultz. Kolburt is a graduate of Wheaton College, where he received a Bachelors in Political Science, and he holds a Master of Divinity with a concentration in leadership from Denver Seminary. He is one of the founders of Faithful Politics, a website designed to facilitate dialogue between Christians from different political perspectives. Currently, Kolburt is the founding pastor at Missio Dei: Falcon, a church plant in the Colorado Springs area. Even though I think it goes without saying that I don’t agree with him on everything, nevertheless, you would be misguided not to listen to what he has to say here as you determine your actions for this election season. Enjoy!)
The question of whether or not Christians should vote is an important, yet complex, topic. Often those who assert that Christians must vote do so on misguided cultural battlefield arguments more than a biblical foundation. Those who argue that Christians do not have a responsibility to vote can often fall into the similar trap of cultural and ideological predispositions more than biblical insight. The correct starting point is not whether good Americans vote or whether the American system of government should be protested, but rather what is a Christian and biblical response to government and what implications does that response have for voting.
The first thing we must recognize is that God wants us to be good citizens. This does not mean that we place our nation on a higher pedestal than our Savior, as some on the right are prone to do, nor does it mean that we view America as the worst thing since Constantine, as some on the left are prone to do. Two New Testament passages are highly instructive here. The first, Romans 13:1-7, is the most used paragraph in the Bible when talking about Church/state relations, and for good reason. Nowhere else do we see so clearly that, not only is government a good thing, it’s a God-thing. God created government, and therefore, when functioning correctly, it has the God-ordained right to create and maintain order for its citizens. Paul is not addressing potential governmental abuses of this power, but rather it functioning in the way it was created to.1 The other passage, 1 Peter 2:13-17, teaches much the same thing, with the added insight that when we are good citizens, submitting to our governing authorities, we are actually being missional, building our reputation with outsiders so that the Gospel will not come under undue attack.
Once we have understood that God wants us to be good citizens the next step is understanding that, in our context, being a good citizen includes the act of voting. Jesus’ most famous teaching on the role of government is recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels with the memorable axiom, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). The brilliance of this response cannot be fully unpacked here, but for our purposes we can note that Jesus endorses giving government what it requires but no more. The obvious application for all governments is the right to tax—something Paul also affirms in Romans 13—but in representative governments this would also include the act of voting. In order for representative governments to function their citizens must participate, and the lowest threshold of participation is certainly voting.
When we take these concepts together we see that God wants us to be good citizens and in representative governments good citizens vote. However, a few words of qualification are in order. Please understand that a vote is not a wholehearted endorsement of the candidate or his or her party (you will never find a candidate that you agree with on everything). Neither should it be an idolatrous affiliation with a messianic-complex driven ego-maniac who thinks that his/her policies will save the nation and change Washington. A vote is simply your opinion about who will do the best job for the most people, period.
Seeing the importance, and limitations, of voting is just the first step in an incredibly intricate process. Once you have decided to vote the Bible has much to say on how one should steward that vote and what factors should influence how that vote is cast. Therefore, we should end with a governing (pun intended) principle for engaging the civic realm as Christians. Our political involvement should be seen as an act of mission. This is not to say you can vote in the Kingdom or that an individual candidate should receive the endorsement of the Church, but rather that our actions should reflect God’s love for our neighbors and be full of the grace embodied by our Savior. Our politics should never counteract our mission to the world, our politics should enhance God’s mission to the world.
1: Another thing to note regarding the godly role of government is its creation by God in the Garden of Eden before the fall, as that is essentially what the Adamic Covenant points to (Gen. 1:27-28).