In this election year, how can we “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) without neglecting to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7)?
How do we engage government without lusting after power that may cause us to promote our own will or territory at the expense of others? How do we pursue positions of leadership without putting our desire for self-advancement, self-promotion and self-protection before the leading of the Holy Spirit?
In pondering these questions, let’s consider the church’s complicated relationship with government:
- 33–312 A.D. The church experiences marginalization and persecution as an alternative society within the greater Roman Empire.
- 312 A.D. The church gains partnership and power with the government when Roman Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian.
- 1095–1272 The church becomes more of a military empire than the church of the Gospels. Instead of being persecuted, the church persecutes during the Crusades.
- 1534 The Church of England is ruled by the king of England.
- 1776 The United States of America declares itself an independent nation of 13 states recognizing the Creator but having no government-sponsored church.
- 1828 Andrew Jackson becomes the first “common man” elected to the presidency. The era of Jacksonian democracy leads to the United States becoming the most powerful nation as its leaders weave Christian morals and freedom together with power and greed. Some church and government leaders begin returning favors for the sake of self-promotion and self-protection.
History tells us our European predecessors’ mix of government and Christianity didn’t go well for the host countries or the church. Although the United States does not have a marriage of church and state that produces an official church, the U.S. church-state relationship could be compared to a civil union.
In today’s political environment, Christians face issues that may seem like hot topics. As Christians, it is our responsibility to be like the Bereans, who did not take Paul at face value but did their research to see if what he said was true (Acts 17:11). How much more diligent should we be in using Scripture to question what we know from the media? It’s important to compare your thoughts on an issue to the views of Scripture, church history and even the perspective of people who think differently than you.
As we examine these issues, we may discover our value systems are in alignment with the kingdom of God, but consideration of some issues may reveal we have competing allegiances (Matthew 6:24).
Does our voting record show we believe every unborn child is a human being made in the image of God (Psalm 139:14–16; Jeremiah 1:5)? Does it indicate we are empathetic to those who are poor or seek refuge (Matthew 7:12)? Although many of us are avid pro-lifers for those between conception and birth, do we stay pro-life for those trying to escape cycles of poverty, exploitation, violence and unethical governments? Do we see immigrants as “illegal” before we see them as people (Genesis 12:1, Exodus 22:21 and 23:9)?
Do we vote for candidates promoting stewardship of resources or individualistic interests (Leviticus 19:9–10; Deuteronomy 15:4–5 and 24:19–22; Proverbs 14:31, 22:7 and 28:15; Isaiah 58:7–9; Amos 5:11; Acts 2:44–45 and 4:34–35)? Do we vote for candidates who favor responsible finances or debt (Psalm 37:21, Romans 13:7–8)?
How does Scripture line up with our views of war and violence (Isaiah 2:4, Matthew 5:39–44 and 26:52, Romans 12:19–21)?
Kingdom values may leave us at odds with all political parties. If a Christian’s goal is allegiance to a particular political party, he or she may have the impossible task of attempting to serve two different masters.
Although I cannot tell you for whom to vote, I can tell you not to reduce your involvement in these issues to a political vote alone.
Rest, Pray, Live
As we move closer to Nov. 6, we can rest in God.
I wish I could say, “If you simply vote for such-and-such candidate, all will be well with the world.” There are two problems with that: history and sinful nature.
No matter for whom you vote, make sure you have done your homework. Even if your preferred candidate is elected, he or she may break promises or make decisions that do not line up with kingdom values. The good news is man cannot thwart the plans of God. At the end of the day, God’s will moves forward. You can rest in the reality that all of history is in God’s hands (Daniel 2:21, Psalm 75:7, Job 42:2).
Pray for our leaders. One of the elements separating Christians from the rest of the world is the way we react to those in authority over us.
Although we absolutely should disobey our authorities if they require us to disobey the Scriptures, we should still do our best to respect them (Hebrews 13:17, I Timothy 2:1–2, 1 Peter 2:13–14).
It’s easy to cast a vote and walk away. It’s much more difficult to deeply live out our votes in our daily lives. If we vote against abortion, for example, we may need to adopt a child or walk with a young mother through her pregnancy and use our resources to take care of her.
Loving Our Nation
I love this great nation. Because I love it, I will be honest about its history, prejudice and violence as well as its successes, advancements and opportunities. While trying to expose our nation’s problems, we should not be silent about the good that runs through its history.
I love the kingdom of God even more than I love this country, and my allegiance is to it above all. My heart’s desire is that the church would be a set-apart society that lives out love, mercy, grace, justice and truth in the midst of the “empire” and for the sake of it.
Because we love this country so much, we owe it to the United States to live out the values of the kingdom of God distinctly. As you go to the polls this November, I pray grace and peace on you and on this nation.