(This article originally appeared in Focus on the Family Citizen magazine, June/July 2016 Issue)
Primary season in the 2016 election has been one of the wildest on record. With a few more weeks to go until the respective parties choose their candidates, authors Leith Anderson and Galen Carey of the National Association for Evangelicals have some salient advice to offer from their new book, Faith in the Voting Booth.
By Leith Anderson and Galen Carey
You may think the “how to do it” is the easy part. Or, “I knew all that … so just tell me who to vote for.” We will not tell you who to vote for. That is your personal responsibility. But we will offer some guidance on how to make those decisions:
Take time and do the work to be informed about issues and candidates. It’s not possible to learn everything, but use available tools (television, radio, Internet, newspapers, magazines, and conversations with helpful, knowledgeable persons) to know enough to evaluate what advocates are saying. Keep asking questions—and research the answers as if God is going to give you a quiz.
Remember that there is a surplus of false or heavily slanted information available. Never rely on a single source.
Many good and godly candidates and supporters are transparent and tell the truth. Sadly, too many are neither transparent nor truthful. We don’t need to be cynical, but we should keep up our guard and beware of television ads, political brochures, partisan blogs, newspaper opinions, and social media pressures.
Money has become a powerful political tool. Consultants decide how best to influence potential voters and spend billions of dollars to convince potential voters. Negative advertising can be powerfully influential even though it is distorted and biased.
Consider which candidates best align with your values and will govern for the greatest good. Character, experience, policies, and promises are all part of the consideration.
Most voters like to choose a candidate who is like them. Veterans like veterans. Union members like union members. Athletes like athletes. Republicans like Republicans. Democrats like Democrats. Christians like Christians. It’s normal and often good to choose a candidate who is similar, because that person may best represent you. But sometimes this approach doesn’t work. Athletes who are good at their game may be poor politicians. And devout Christians may not always make wise government decisions. So consider these characteristics, but don’t let identity be the deciding factor.
The counsel from people we trust—friends, family, pastors, church members, neighbors, Bible study group partners—can help us decide how to vote. They are all helpful for learning and choosing. Always allow the greatest influence to come from those who are godly, competent, and knowledgeable.
One way to think about where we get our counsel is to ask whom we would choose to disciple us in our Christian faith, be named the executor of our wills, or counsel us in a crisis.
A helpful and practical procedure for any important life decision can be used in deciding how to vote.
- Choose who to vote for.
- Write down your choice.
- Pray daily for God to confirm the choice or not.
- Without telling anyone, live with your choice for a week or more.
- If convinced and comfortable, stick with the choice when voting.
- If unconvinced and uncomfortable, change the choice and repeat the process.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
When the New Testament was written, there was no democracy, and the idea of political voting probably never crossed any Christian’s mind. But they did know a lot about facing “trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) and needing divine wisdom to figure out what to do. James wrote that they should pray and ask God for wisdom to make the right choices. This is where we begin our journey to voting choices: we admit that we need help and ask God for direction.
There is always a temptation to first make up our minds and then pray for our choices to be implemented by God. That’s not the Christian way. We begin with submission to the mind of Christ and the will of God and ask for divine influence on how to vote. Start now—pray daily for wisdom. Be open to divine surprises.
LOOK TO THE BIBLE
The Bible is God’s book that is designed to deliver the wisdom we pray for in all areas of life, including deciding how to vote. “You have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:15–16).
A repeated theme in this book is to start with the Bible and apply the Bible in making political choices. This may not make sense to non-Christians, but it is our priority as followers of Jesus. On some topics, such as poverty, the Bible has extensive specific directions. On all topics the Bible is the foundation for our values, thinking, and actions—even on topics about which the Bible does not specifically speak. When tempted and pressured by politicians and their advocates, keep going back to the Word of God to see what it has to say. And pray that you will interpret politics by the Bible rather than interpret the Bible by politics.
Now it’s time to decide. Make the choice. Commit the decision to God. Trust God that your choice is what it should be and that God will use it for good. Get ready to turn the choice into your vote.
Imagine Jesus with you in the voting booth asking, “How did you decide?” and know that you have a good answer to explain your decision.
On Election Day, go to your polling place and cast your vote. Be grateful for the right to vote and confident that you did your best to be a good Christian steward and a wise American citizen.
As you walk away from the voting booth on Election Day, keep praying. Ask God to use your vote and the votes of others to accomplish his purposes in our nation. Pray for God’s blessing on whoever is elected, even if they are not those for whom you voted. Tell God you believe he is sovereign and you will trust him to use the election for good.
We live out our Christian values regardless of who wins or loses. We share these values with others, including those who are not Christians. We may help the poor, love the immigrant, care for God’s creation, pay our taxes, support strong marriages, speak for the unborn, promote religious freedom, show respect to those who are different, seek justice for those in prison, and advocate for all created in God’s image within politics and outside politics. This is more than an election cycle involvement; this is a Christian lifestyle.
Voting is not the end. It isn’t even the beginning. The Bible doesn’t specifically mention voting or tell us to vote. Voting is simply one expression of living out our Christian faith in loyalty to Jesus Christ and in conformity with the teaching of the Bible.
Follow-up can influence the votes of others and can insist on accountability for elected officials to keep the promises they made when elected.
FAITH AND COURAGE
John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for his bestselling 1957 book Profiles in Courage. The book tells the stories of eight U.S. senators, most before the Civil War, who took stands and cast votes that helped shape America and save the Union. Most of their names are now unfamiliar. Many of them suffered political losses and defeats for doing what they were convinced was right. They brought careful thought and political courage to American government.
We face serious challenges that require courageous leaders who are willing to look beyond the next election and seek the long-term health of the nation. We need leaders who will focus on governing, not thinking about how to get reelected. By voting for candidates who are states-persons, not just politicians, we support leaders who will be the next profiles in courage.
How we vote demonstrates our faith and courage. As Christians, everything begins with our commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. As Christians, we seek to live and vote with the Bible as our guide for belief and behavior. Then our faith joins with our courage to vote for candidates and policies that will bless others rather than just ourselves.
We are God’s agents to help shape America for good. Be faithful. Be courageous.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Taken from Faith in the Voting Booth, by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey. Copyright ©2016 by Leith Anderson and Galen Carey. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved.