Beyond the Christian Vote
Instead of being overwhelmed by the worldly culture of politics, Christians can engage while focusing our hearts on what matters most.
By Tony Woodlief
If you listen to some of my friends, this presidential election is The Most Important Election Ever. That title might be more apt if applied to the election of 1812, when the United States entered a second war with England, or to the 1860 election, which preceded our war with one another. Still, I understand why my friends talk that way. With debt exceeding 16 trillion dollars, unemployment over 8 percent, and conflicts abroad, these are frightening times. Many of us instinctively look to politicians for salvation.
Sadly, that’s too often true of many of us—myself included—who readily recognize the truth of Psalm 121:1-2: “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord. . .” We pray that and we believe it, but we remain vulnerable to the faith of this secular age, which is that “Great Men” will save us. We have believed that false claim, as we have believed our political clout makes us kingmakers.
There was a time when journalists and political operatives talked a great deal more than they do today about “the Christian vote” and the role we play in the calculus of politicians. They’re talking about us less these days, and I think that’s a good thing, because they tend to make us sound like shoppers in a potato chip marketing study. Maybe their neglect, in fact, will help us get back to being Christians who vote, rather than “the Christian vote.” Christians have always been the Christian church, after all, not a political party. Politics will not advance the kingdom of God—nor will politics delay its coming.
I have to remind myself of this, because I have an ugly tendency to judge a person’s faith according to his political views. I would never consider someone an unbeliever because we disagree about the appropriate age for communion, for example, but I instinctively assume people who vote differently than I do on hot-button issues are not saved.
Scripture reveals, however, that idolatry—wrong worship—can be just as damnable as any of the sins our political culture debates about. The Bible recounts how Elijah executed the murderous priests of Baal, but it also tells how God annihilated Aaron’s sons for offering “strange fire” (See 1 Kings 18:20-40 and Lev. 10:1-5). Likewise, the Bible is replete with stories—thank God—of God’s enemies receiving salvation. So heaven forbid I should wiggle my petty, vindictive self onto Christ’s judgment seat. Even the early church, riven by heresy, convened councils before declaring someone a heretic. Now I do it alone, over toast and coffee. I let my political beliefs guide my sense of brotherhood, rather than letting a spirit of brotherhood take precedence over my politics.
While I struggle with the temptation to judge the faith of others based on their political views, I have friends who let their theology and politics become so intertwined that they imagine the Bible gives all sorts of directions to Congress. They argue about what tax rates Christ would favor and try to divine His point of view on universal health care or the War on Terror. I think this cheapens Christ. It cheapens our calling.
As a citizen, I am called to vote my reasoned opinions on political issues. But as a Christian, I am called to prayer, restoring relationships, ministering to the broken. If I spend more time talking about which candidate will best help the poor than I do actually helping the poor with my own two hands, something is wrong.
I have a prayer for this election season, and I hope you’ll join me. Rather than talking about how we vote, let’s pray they marvel at how we love.