You can’t escape it. Political ads on the radio and television. Broadcast debates and newspaper editorials. Discussions at work and home and disagreements between friends. America is in the midst of the election cycle. Even in church we can’t escape the subtle pressure and the questions: Will you vote? Who will you vote for? What are you looking for in a candidate?
In all of this discussion, there is a question that often gets overlooked: What does the Bible say about Christians voting? And the answer? It’s simple. The Bible doesn’t directly address the issue at all.
For those who look to Scripture for guidance, it might be surprising to realize that there are no passages that speak specifically to the issue. But upon reflection, it makes sense. In the Old Testament era, the national leaders were hereditary kings, conquering foreigners, or God-appointed rulers. When we turn to the New Testament, the Christians lived under the rule of Rome with her despotic emperors. Even the Jewish Sanhedrin, with its limited judicial power in Palestine, was not filled with “elected officials.” So at the heart of the reason we can find no passages that speak to “what do we do in a political election” is that elections were off the radar screen for those living in Biblical times. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t passages that can help us think through our civic responsibility under the God-given form of government we have.
Our God appoints rulers and removes rulers (Daniel 2:21); there is no governing authority that isn’t, ultimately, overruled by the sovereign Lord (John 19:11; Romans 13:1). No matter the outcome of an election or a coup or the passing of hereditary headship, the political world is neither spinning out of control nor developing out from under God’s watchful direction. Seeing this, we could rightly conclude: When we vote, we are participating in what God is doing in putting in leaders in place. Therefore, vote, but don’t mistakenly think that “we the people” are sovereign in the process.
Paul wrote about praying for those carrying governmental authority: “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of . . . kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2). This is not a call to exercise a right to vote for particular leaders but it is an invitation to ask the Lord for leaders who will allow us to live our lives in peaceable godliness. Clearly, in Paul’s day, the Roman rulers were not “pro-Christian” in any way; but believers could pray that the Lord would work to minimize Rome’s interference in their lives. Seeing this, we could rightly conclude: When we vote, it’s reasonable to vote for a candidate who will allow us to live our lives with minimal governmental interference. Therefore, vote, but don’t mistakenly think the government is there to advance Jesus’ kingdom.
Peter wrote that the governing authorities appointed by God are, primarily, put in place to restrain evil and support that which is good (1 Peter 2:13–14). Paul affirms a similar idea in his letter to the Romans (Romans 13:3–4). This doesn’t mean that all governments always live out well the call to advance what is good and oppose what is evil. Seeing this, we could rightly conclude: When we vote, it would be reasonable to vote for a candidate who advocates the rule of law for the promotion of the general good. Therefore, vote, but don’t mistakenly think that earthly rulers will infallibly and invariably promote the good and oppose all that is evil.
When faced with governmental interference in the early days of the church, the believers in Jerusalem prayed (Acts 4:23–31). Although they did ask the Lord to be attentive to their situation, they didn’t ask for a change in regime but for ongoing boldness to live the way He wanted them to live. Seeing this, we could rightly conclude: When we vote, we are not abdicating our responsibilities as followers of Jesus. Therefore, vote, but don’t mistakenly think the church and the ruling powers share the same call.