During this election year, I am revisiting the challenging topic of how Christians should vote. This is a complex issue which deserves book-length treatment. Here’s the briefest of sketches of my thoughts thus far. The scripture references are not exhaustive lists. They’re meant to help you with your own study. Your comments and critique of this article are most welcome.
The ultimate king of the entire world and universe is Jesus Christ. He governs all and has all authority, including governmental or political authority (Matthew 28:18, Ephesians 1:20-21, Revelation 1:5). Believers in Christ belong to Him and are thus co-rulers with Him. Any Christian holding political office is obligated to govern according to principles that honor Christ – to rule as Christ Himself would rule (Ephesians 1:22-23). In a democracy where the people hold the power and exercise that power through electing representatives, Christians must choose representatives that govern according to the rule of Christ.
Any human ruler will be imperfect. Thus choosing a ruler (or candidate one votes for) who perfectly follows the rule of Christ is not possible. The Bible shows us how Christ would rule and how He has directed that rulers be selected. From this, we can examine a ruler or candidate to see how closely they align with the rule of Christ. Knowing we won’t find perfection, we can determine if a candidate is acceptable in the eyes of the world’s ultimate ruler, Jesus Christ. Given the biblical criteria, determining ‘acceptability’ is subjective. Honest Christians may disagree on a particular candidate. Here’s how I propose to go about it.
The criteria for civil rulers is found chiefly in Deuteronomy 1:13-17 and Exodus 18:21-22. The characteristics are: wise, understanding, experienced, male, able, fearing God, trustworthy (or faithful or truthful), hating bribes (no coveting), keeping within their assigned jurisdiction, impartial, not intimidated.
Further, a civil leader obviously must know the purpose of civil government. Romans 13 explains that this includes avenging evil and bringing terror to lawbreakers (those having ‘bad conduct’). Therefore the wisdom and understanding required in Deuteronomy 1 and Exodus 18 are at least assumed to mean wisdom about good and evil, right and wrong – or how will a leader fulfill the Romans 13 purpose?
Knowing good vs. evil is a centuries old debate. Even dedicated biblical scholars debate finer points of biblical law and Christian ethics. A minimal requirement for rulers would be to understand the obvious categories of good and evil. Thankfully, the Bible itself points these out in Galatians 5, saying that the works of the flesh (i.e. bad conduct) are evident (obvious). (Reference: Gal 5:19-21 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing”). A leader must understand and acknowledge these as bad conduct if they are to be considered to have the minimal amount of wisdom required. Further, rulers who have a responsibility to punish or avenge evil must know what that evil is and be willing to avenge it biblically. Biblical civil vengeance involves deadly force (a ‘sword’ in Romans 13). The county clerk who has no responsibility to fight or avenge crime is allowed to be confused about biblical civil vengeance. However, a criminal judge or legislator must have the biblical understanding and willingness to avenge. A qualified leader may not know exactly how to implement proper biblical authority regarding all evil conduct. For example, should a government legislate against envy and if so, how? But the leader must acknowledge that envy is evil and not celebrate it as good.
Since Christ is the ultimate authority in the universe, government leaders must not oppose Him. The ideal leader will openly and gladly submit to the Lordship of Christ. An acceptable leader may have a limited understanding of the authority of Christ and may confess to be a Christian but not have a vocal and bold witness for Jesus. In America, Christianity has been the ‘default’ belief for most of the country’s history. So an acceptable ruler may have a nominal confession of Christ – “I’m a Christian” – yet not truly understand the gospel and thus not be an authentic born-again believer. However, being unopposed to the biblical Christ and favorable toward historic Christian doctrine, a nominal Christian would be acceptable.
Romans 13 states that governing authorities are established by God as a minister of God for good. Romans was written while a pagan emperor was the supreme government authority. So we must conclude that God does not oppose all non-Christian leaders. However, God does oppose some leaders and is actively working to destroy them (Psalm 2, Psalm 21, Psalm 110, and Acts 12:21-23). Thus we can conclude God accepts ‘mere pagan’ rulers who are not explicit enemies of Jesus, though they nominally embrace a false religion. However, God rejects ‘enemy’ rulers that actively, manifestly reject Christ including heretics and false prophets working to destroy the church (2 Peter 2). Radical/serious pagans including satanists, militant Muslims, and the like are assumed rejected by God as well.
In summary, for each of the biblical qualification a candidate can be judged as ideal, acceptable, or unacceptable as follows:
|Fearing God||Subject to Christ||Fears God, unopposed to Christ, ‘mere pagan’||Anti-Christ, heretic, ‘radical pagan’|
|Truthful/Faithful||Always true||Not habitual liar||Liar|
|Wise/Understanding||Follows God’s Law (Theonomic)||Knows good vs. evil (Galatians 5)||Calls evil good, exalts/celebrates evil|
|Hates Coveting||Serves, generously gives to poor||Doesn’t take from others||Steals or enable others to steal|
|Able/Experienced||Well trained for specific office||Competent||Little experience/amateur|
|Jurisdiction||Strictly obeys written law||Obeys spirit of written law||Usurps beyond written law|
|Impartial/Unintimidated||Punishes according to biblical law||Avenges human bloodshed||Lets murderers live|
What about the ‘lesser evil’ situation in which all candidates have at least one unacceptable quality? Should Christians support the one that is least unacceptable? To answer this it’s helpful to look at biblical situations in which God distinquishes between different types of evil, judging some more harshly than others. We can also look at leaders who were at least in one way ‘unacceptable’ but who still seemed to enjoy the favor of God. The biblical prototype of God’s judgment on sinful nations is the case of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sexual immorality. God calls this a ‘great evil’ (Genesis 18:20) and His judgment is total (Genesis 19:30). God uses the example of Sodom throughout the Bible in warning His people of impending judgment. So sexual immorality is one form of evil that a leader must oppose. Likewise, God says innocent blood defiles the land in a special way and cries out to Him for judgment (Genesis 9:5-6, Numbers 35:33, Romans 13:4). So an acceptable leader must be willing to avenge human bloodshed and cannot oppose capital punishment for murderers. Idolators and false prophets who led God’s people astray are another type of leader which brought specific judgment in the Bible (Jeremiah 22:6-9 and many others). So a leader cannot be a false prophet, heretic, or radical pagan.
Therefore if you had two leaders who were both unacceptable in a given category but one exalted sexual immorality and the other had little experience, the Christian could vote for the ‘lesser evil’. Likewise in a case of a ‘Hitler’ vs. a covetous man who rewarded constituents with financial bailouts. But if you had the case of a ‘Hitler’ vs. a ‘Stalin’ both are unacceptable by having committed the ‘great evil’ of killing innocent humans. If you had a ‘Hitler’ vs. someone who celebrated adultery, both would still be unacceptable since both commit or celebrate great evil. If you had a ‘Hitler’ vs. a female who was otherwise qualified, the female could be supported since Deborah is a biblical example of a reluctant female leader who God blessed. For the case of ‘Hitler’ vs. a heretic, neither could be supported by Christians.
For the 2012 presidential race of Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney, both candidates are unacceptable in some way. Obama is guilty of great evil as he supports and celebrates sexual immorality and celebrates the rights of parents to murder their children through abortion. Romney knowingly, actively, vigorously adheres to a false religion that is opposed to the biblical doctrines of Christ. Though I suspect Mr. Romney might be superior to Mr. Obama as a government leader, he is an enemy of Jesus and cannot be supported by faithful Christians. He is not a ‘mere pagan’ but a heretic. As an active, leading member of a so-called ‘Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’, his support for destructive, subtle errors has diverted many away from the true church of the genuine Jesus Christ.
Fortunately, the election will not be between two ‘evil’ choices. There are always dozens of candidates on the ballot for president and at least one is likely to not be guilty of a ‘great evil’. If there is no such candidate, Christians can write in a qualified candidate. That candidate may not win but it’s not about winning in 2012. It’s about being a loyal servant of the absolute Sovereign of all existence – Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ can destroy the United States in a single hour (Psalm 21:8-13) or He can send a spirit of repentance (Jonah 3) that can convert every American into a godly saint. So if we truly care about our country, we must obey Him over all.
1) A vote is a mere expression of preference, not an endorsement.
Answer: In America, a vote is more than a preference. It is selecting someone who represents you in our representative democracy. A Christian can never select an enemy of Christ as his/her representative.
2) Mormonism isn’t an “anti-Christian” religion (unlike Islam and many others). It is a perversion of true Christianity. Mormons are very supportive of religious freedom, and that would extend towards true Christians, since they consider themselves to be Christians.
Answer: The question is whether a candidate is actively hostile to Jesus Christ, thus being against (or ‘anti’) Christ. Mormons pride themselves on knowledge of scripture, so have presumably deliberated long and hard over the true, biblical Word of God. They conclude that the Jesus proclaimed by the scriptures is a lie and oppose the true Christ. They may be tolerant of others who do not also oppose Christ, but they themselves do oppose Him. They are His enemy. The problem is not so much that Christ is maligned, but that Christ actively wars against His enemies (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Christians should not want to be led my a man whom Christ Himself is working to destroy.
3) Shouldn’t Christians support Ron Paul instead of Mitt Romney?
Answer: Ron Paul is not qualified either. He would allow states to massacre their own citizens and not step in, though the 14th amendment mandates federal intervention in such a case. He would not avenge innocent blood. Also, he does not agree that homosexuality is wrong, meaning he fails the basic test of wisdom, knowing right from wrong, in one of the important categories that God says is a ‘great evil’. Thus he is unfit and Christians must reject him.
4) Much of your basis is from the Old Testament, written to ancient Israel – a specific theocracy thousands of years ago. How can it apply to modern governments on different continents?
Answer: Jesus is King of kings now, so the whole world is a theocracy. The word of God is eternal. A particular legal or political application may vary according to circumstance of time and place, but the underlying principles do not. For a thorough study of the questions of Old Testament law applying outside Israel and beyond ancient days, please see By This Standard by Greg Bahnsen, especially chapters 22-25. A free e-book version is available here and you can buy a print copy here.
5) The bible mentions only monarchy and empire governments, not democracies. The bible commands us to ‘honor the king’ but says nothing about voting, elections, or candidates.
Answer: During the 18th and 19th centuries, either by force or relenting to public pressure or out of benevolence, western monarchs gave way to constitutional republics. The kings asked that parliaments, congresses, representatives make the laws. And that the citizens elect the representatives (democracy). Now in the west governments are ruled as ‘lex rex’ – the law is king, not a human being (if leaders abide by the written constitution, which they often do not). So in a way, by voting we are doing what the last human monarch asked us to do. Thus we are honoring that king. And we are commanded to honor existing governing authorities (Romans 13:1) with no stated condition that those honored governments must be monarchs.
6) Joseph, Daniel and the others were in non-Israel/non-Christian contexts. Some were leaders and certainly worked with pagans. Didn’t they have to choose between different people for positions under them, with these people being pagans? They likely chose the best person for the position, regardless of that person’s spiritual beliefs.
Answer: They may have chosen without regard to religion, but would Daniel or Joseph have chosen an enemy of the current king? If they surveyed all applicants for a job and everyone wanted to overthrow the king, the job would have been left vacant. That is the case with a Mormon heretic who is an enemy of the King of kings. He cannot be chosen for any job in the King’s administration. Doing so undermines the rule and authority of the Jesus the King of all.
7) A leader’s official duties are what we should consider. Even if the leader is a heretical enemy of God, as long as they don’t use their government office to oppose God or the true church then Christians could support them. What they do in their private life doesn’t matter.
Answer: An enemy of God working against God 2 hours a day and one working against God 24 hours a day are both enemies of God. And God is therefore working against them at all times. Look again at Objection 6. If Joseph hired an enemy of Pharaoh to work daily in the grain mill, but told Pharaoh that the enemy will only work to overthrow Pharaoh on evenings and weekends, would Pharaoh be pleased with Joseph?
Other helpful considerations:
The Bible is the Best Voters Guide
Biblically Qualified Candidates (Analyzing Ron Paul’s Qualifications)
Voting For Romney Without Hesitation, Christian?
Lesser of Two Evils
The Word of God Will Not Let Me Vote for Mitt Romney
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