Once again, we are in an election year and we are hearing the two major parties present themselves as the solution to America’s problems. Also, because we are in an election year, we have to bring back the discussion of how Christians should relate to the State, particularly in a nation that has a representative democracy. This is also the time of year that we have several myths that have been propagated around concerning how Christians should vote. So as a way to address these issues, let’s address seven common myths that I’ve heard Christians repeat.
Myth 1: Legislating Beliefs/Morality
“You can’t legislate morality” has become a common phrase to describe Christians who use moral issues as a barometer for voting. The truth, however, is that every law and regulation that is proposed, passed, and enforced has inherent in it some idea of the good that it seeks to promote or preserve. Indeed, no governing authority can in any way be understood to be morally neutral (more on this point later). For, in fact, the opposite is true: You cannot not legislate morality. All legislation is moral. The sooner we recognize this fact, the better. The question isn’t whether or not we can legislate morality; the question is whose morality are we legislating? Are we legislating the relativistic morality of the culture around us or do we proclaim that there is an objective standard of morality found in the scriptures? So, can we legislate morality? If we mean by that question, “Can you make people moral through laws?” the answer is plainly no. If we mean, “Are laws put in place to govern people’s moral behavior?” the answer is plainly yes through scripture (cf. 1 Timothy 1:9; 1 Peter 2:13-14).
Myth 2: Government should be neutral
This is an extension of myth 1 and tends to be phrased as follows: “We operate in a secular government so it is not our role to make laws that are based solely upon Christian beliefs.” This statement assumes that there is a neutral standard apart from God and this standard should be the basis of making laws and electing officials. There are at least two things wrong with this myth: epistemology and the depravity of man. First, neutrality is impossible because facts and evidences are interpreted by means of one’s worldview. Either God is the reference point by which we assess truth, knowledge, and ethics or man (and the culture) is the reference point. When men set up their own authority for what is true and what is not true, then men become the epistemological authority. The claim to “neutrality” turns the ultimate authority over to men and puts God on trial by men to determine the standard of truth. Therefore, it is inconsistent and sinful for a Christian to claim that the Bible is the ultimate source of authority and then be neutral about it in terms of law and government. Second, the nature of sinners makes neutrality impossible. Without the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, human rationality is blinded by sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 5:19) and the mind of sinners is characterized by vanity and darkness (cf. Romans 1:21). This means that without the grace of God, we are naturally biased and inclined towards sin, not moral neutrality. So, if we want elected officials to govern based on a neutral standard apart from God’s revealed truth, we are also stating that we want elected officials who will lead based on their own vain imaginations and their own inherent sinfulness.
Myth 3: There is a separation between Church and State
I think a more honest question stems from this claim: Does the separation of Church and State mean that God should be separated from the State? If this is the case, then I will claim that we have never followed this principle in America. Based on this question, there could have been no abolition movement to eradicate slavery, since it was led predominately by Christians with the Bible as their principle ideological text, nor could there have been a Civil Rights movement, since it too was a largely church-based movement led by ministers quoting the Bible. Our country (including our civil leaders) invokes God’s providence whenever we are prosperous or God’s blessing whenever we are facing a crisis; it’s even in our pledge to allegiance. The honest statement (unless you are an atheist or an agnostic) is that most Americans love the concept of a God of love Who pours out His goodness to the just and the unjust, but they hate the God of scripture Who will never leave the guilty unpunished for their sin (cf. Exodus 34:6-7) and places requirements for their behavior and devotion. For a Christian to use this argument shows that he/she is definitely being influenced by his culture. The reality is that God is inseparable from the State, seeing that He ordained all governing authorities (cf. Romans 13:1) and ultimately all authority that does not faithfully accomplish their duty will be judged for it. This is the message of the Old Testament prophets concerning the oppression from and corruption of civil authorities and it should be the message of the Church to our governing authorities (see how Jesus addressed Pilate in John 19).
Myth 4: We must vote Democrat or Republican
I think this statement is particularly important in this election because many conservative Christians have to decide on whether they will vote for a liberal, professing Christian or a Mormon. Some Christians decry Obama’s political views on abortion and homosexuality equally with Romney’s political views on war (and past views on abortion). Here, the question is if you believe that both candidates support evil positions, do you vote for the lesser of two evils? Many Christians say yes because “a vote for an independent is no vote at all.” Here, Christians need to decide whether or not voting for any candidate is worth harming your conscience. As Christians, we are taught to jealously guard our conscience by abstaining from all forms of evil (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), but for whatever reason, it’s acceptable to condone and overlook evil in the political process. You are not required to vote for the major parties; you are commanded to obey God. You are not required to be a partisan hack for any party, but you are called to be faithful to the standard of scripture. For some, this might mean voting for a third party, whereas for others it might mean not voting at all (more on this below).
Myth 5: Not Voting = Voter Apathy
This is a myth that almost all Americans believe universally (Christian and non-Christian): all Americans must vote and all individuals who don’t vote are apathetic. After all, many have fought and died for the right to vote so that must mean all Christians are obligated to vote. First, these individuals fought for the right to vote, not the obligation to vote. Also, it is important to make a distinction. There is a difference between a principled nonvoter and an apathetic nonvoter. The apathetic nonvoter does not know the salient issues and simply ignores his responsibility in the political process by being occupied with other issues. However, the principled nonvoter has examined the issues carefully and critically and has determined that no current candidate deserves his vote. This goes back to myth 4: if you believe that all of the candidates on your state ballot (Democrat, Republican, and other third party candidates) support positions in odds with the scriptures, is the Christian obligated to vote? The answer is plainly no. This does not mean that we don’t exercise our voting right because we can’t find a flawless candidate (for no such candidate exist), but it does mean that we do not change the Biblical principles for voting simply because a candidate doesn’t represent our principles. Christians ought to articulate and communicate effectively on why various candidates do not deserve their vote based upon the scripture. Since elected officials are choosing to address moral issues and make policy decision on issues that are clearly defined in the scriptures, then it is incumbent upon Christians to choose (and reject) candidates based on the scriptures. If this means that a Christian cannot vote for any candidate in good conscience, then a Christian should accept this.
Myth 6: Utopianism
To illustrate this point, here’s a quote from Trip Lee commenting about the recent convention speeches:
One of the things I realized was that while the parties were trying to sell you their candidates, they were also trying to sell you their worldviews. According to them, material prosperity is the promised land, and their party wants to be your Moses. In their view, the good life is getting wealthy when you work hard, and their candidate is the savior who can take you there.
Here the myth is that the political process is our salvation and our favorite political leader is our savior. This was seen most clearly in the 2008 election when multitudes of Americans (including Christians) cried tears of joy when President Obama was elected, as if their savior had come. Now that it is 2012, we still have many difficulties (although some positive changes have occurred) and many of the hopes placed upon Obama have been deferred. The truth is that salvation will never come from the political process and it is foolish to expect so. As long as sin is in the world, there will be sinners, difficulties, injustice, economic disparity, and oppression. Material prosperity will not bring our salvation nor will political peace and nationalism bring our salvation. Our only hope for salvation is Christ Who will bring redemption and consummation of all things. This is why we groan with utterances deeper than words for our redemption (cf. Romans 8:18-25) and why we are exhorted to not fix our hope on this earth (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Matthew 6:19-21). Christian conservatives need to realize that you will not establish the kingdom of God through electing the “right” candidate and liberal Christians need to realize that the social gospel is not a replacement for the hope and realities of the actual gospel. It’s only through Christ that all things will be made complete.
Myth 7: This is the most important election of our lifetime
This is not to say that politics is unimportant, but this is an extension of myth 6. We have heard this claim in virtually every election that if we don’t get this election “right”, then we will be doomed. This viewpoint misses a vital point: the sovereignty of God. Ultimately, God ordains all governing authorities according to His purposes (cf. Romans 13:1-2). Even if Americans get this election “wrong”, God is still absolutely sovereign over the affairs of earth. There is nothing that is outside of His purposes or a surprise to Him. He works all things according to the counsel of His will, including this political election. Perhaps Christians need to have their perspective changed from being so absorbed with earthly affairs to seeing the sovereign God on His throne accomplishing His purposes and plans. His throne is from everlasting to everlasting and as Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation” (cf. Daniel 4:34). If we get this election “wrong”, the world will continue to rotate and God will remain on His throne.