I’ve wished several times this year that elections came with a Scrabble option. Don’t like your hand? Throw all your tiles back and draw a new set. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. As the election season gets more bizarre every day, how can Christians maintain their integrity in the midst of the chaos?
It seems an appropriate time to remind ourselves of what the New Testament says about our relationship to governmental authority:
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. . . . 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 (Romans 13:1, 7).
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority, whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor (1 Peter 2:12-17).
I urge then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people–for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior (1 Timothy 2:2-3).
I’ll admit, I’ve gone back to these passages a few times over the last few months and looked for an exception rider. **This does not apply in the case of the 2016 American presidential elections because that year the whole world will go insane and all bets are off.** But there’s no exception there. The position of the New Testament church seems to have been that Christians owe respect and submission to properly established governmental authorities. This is grounded in the recognition that God grants authority to government for the purpose of establishing order and punishing wrongdoing. Christ is our ultimate authority, and there may be times when Christians must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). Yet even when we are constrained by our consciences to practice civil disobedience—something that should be a rare occurrence—we should do so from a position of respect, prepared to accept the consequences.
How then are we to conduct ourselves in this crazy election year? Because yes—you just can’t make this stuff up. Here are some principles I think may help.
- Vote your conscience. Though I think this is always true, I think this is a year in which we need to encourage people to vote their consciences. As for myself, I cannot in good conscience vote for either of the major party candidates. On one hand, I have grave concerns about Hillary Clinton’s stated positions on pro-life and religious liberty issues. On the other hand, Donald Trump has not demonstrated the character or the judgment I feel necessary in the person who holds the Oval Office, and I have little faith he will be better than Clinton on the issues that are most important to me. I recognize that many people of faith disagree. Some are voting for Trump, feeling that he is the better alternative to Clinton, even though they are uncomfortable with some of his rhetoric and positions. Others are voting for Clinton, believing that she is the better alternative over Trump’s erratic behavior and policies. Although I will in all likelihood be writing in my vote this November, others who have prayerfully and seriously considered their positions have come to different conclusions. I think it is best for each of us to vote in accordance with our conscience while respecting those who disagree.
- Speak truth. Christians should be people of the truth. Don’t lie about candidates or their positions—or retweet or post links from those who do. There’s enough to legitimately criticize about both candidates that there’s no need to make stuff up. Check out your links before you post. Is it from a reputable source? Does the picture actually represent the story it’s connected with? Is the headline misleading? Is it accurate, or is it playing on our fears and worst-case-scenarios? There is enough to legitimately criticize about both candidates that we don’t have to stoop to falsehood.
- Act with honor and respect. Particularly when one candidate seems to regard insulting people on Twitter a cornerstone of his campaign strategy, it’s easy for the whole debate to come down to that level. I speak fluent sarcasm, and this election season has given me ample fodder for my snarky streak. But I know I can do better. We can do better. We can and should voice our disagreements and concerns, but we can do so in a way that honors and respects those with whom we disagree. Some within the larger Christian community have done this well. Some have not. Let us speak and act in a way befitting the people of God.
- Pray for our nation and for our leaders. Whoever wins in November may not be your first choice candidate—or your seventh or eighth choice, perhaps. But whoever wins will need our prayers. We can pray for God to move through the authorities he has established. We can pray for our leaders to have wisdom and discernment. We can pray that God will put godly men and women in positions of influence who are willing to prophetically speak truth to power, and we can pray that God will give those in power the ears and willingness to listen.
- Trust in God’s sovereignty. The ballot box does not determine God’s sovereignty over our nation and our world. Nothing that happens this November will challenge God’s power and reign. We can be comforted by the knowledge that God’s power and authority are absolute and sure, and that the Lord desires good things for his people. It may not always be easy, but God has promised us the power of his presence. In the end, God’s presence with us is all we need.