…there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. Romans 13:1,2,5 ESV
It is not my habit to comment on the hot issues of the public sphere. There’s enough people who think more or less along the same lines I do salivating for the news of the day so they can rush an ostensibly biblical opinion off to the blogosphere and thus effectively saturate the locus of attention. By the time my mind has pondered an issue enough to try to render a reasoned, readable opinion, the writing, thinking class has launched out to orbit the new sun of the day, and I’m left noodling over yesterday’s macaroni, and nobody wants that!
So, here’s the inevitable “but…” Here’s the exception clause. Because clearly the world waits with bated breath to hear my opinion. Whatever. Still, writing helps me think, and like all of us, I want to think as clearly as my allotment of gray cells will allow, and in this subject of the upcoming election, I haven’t been satisfied by the reasonings and debate thus far, so I want to throw in my $0.02.
I’ve now read articles by, not the Hawaiian shirt wearing brand of evangelicalism, not the bibbi-bobbidi-boo Christians, but by the Reformed ink-spiller variety (of which at this moment I now am a part, the cynic would point out), telling me that a follower of Jesus must vote for Hillary, a responsible believer ought to vote for Trump, and of course the particularly pious Christians say don’t vote for anyone, or vote third party. I’m not going to wade into that debate, because I think it’s the wrong debate. There’s lots of logic, a rather thin cloak of biblical verbiage to make it “Christian” writing, but scarcely any actual Bible, or any of the theology of sovereignty that we love so dearly. Why?
Some backstory: We’re Protestants. We kicked the Pope to the curb, because no man has any business standing between me and God. Kudos, Martin Luther, because for 499 years now the sound of your hammer driving the little nails into the chapel door is still echoing throughout the world. And God help us, until Jesus comes back we’re going to bang the five piece sola drumset you helped pull back out of the Sacred Text, blowing off centuries of dust. The Westminster Divines called the Pope the anti-Christ, and if it was good enough for them, dang it, it’s good enough for us too. No more Popes. We have a vicar, and he doesn’t need a ride in a popemobile. Lo, He comes on clouds descending.
We’re Americans. If popes were a bad idea, turns out monarchs weren’t all that great either. Sure, back in England for a few years Edward was blessing the earliest Puritans, but he gave way to Bloody Mary, who tried to bring the Pope back by turning Protestants to heaps of ashes. Thank goodness she bought the farm young. Elizabeth showed promise, but just couldn’t quite commit to a full throttled devotion to Christ. Kings and queens, we learned, rarely have a pure and undying zeal for the King of kings, (perhaps Kuyper, not a king, would be the notable exception but still… been to Amsterdam lately?) so we kicked them to the curb too, and came to this land and said we’ll just pick our own leaders, limit their power, and just for good measure we’ll still kick them to the curb every 4-8 years and pick new ones.
It was actually a pretty good system, so long as there were enough of us Protestants to make sure those who we picked to rule over us danced to the beat of at least a generic Christian drum, which they had to, or we wouldn’t pick them. And let’s face it – good things happened when we scrapped pope and king and picked our own leaders. We enjoyed our freedom, and made jolly good use of it, too. We sent missionaries – a lot of them, all over the world, because we had good laws, which gave us a good economy to pour money into gospel ministry. Here at home we had freedom to preach the gospel, and we figured we were the glistening city set on the golden hill that the world had been waiting for.
But lately, it seems the scheme is starting to fall apart, and the city seems to be losing some of her luster. Ironically, the pope seems to be making a comeback, who would have guessed that? And like a bucket of ice-water interrupting a Sunday snooze, this summer we woke up to a shocking political reality that we don’t have a great option for the next leader to pick. It is, after all, our right to pick a leader. But what if our viable choices, well, kinda suck? It feels like we don’t get to pick after all. But we have to pick, it’s what we do.
I’m intrigued by the struggles of Christians over what to do with their vote. Don’t get me wrong, I struggle too, and still don’t know what I’m going to do come November. But I ask myself, “Why do I struggle?” I think I feel like if I voted for someone, and they turn out lousy, I can at least say, “I didn’t vote for him/her.” It’s not like the mess they made was really my fault. They weren’t my pick, after all.
But this time around, it’s a genuine quandry: “If I vote for someone, and they do something bad, I’m personally responsible for it!” Whoever we don’t vote for, if that person wins, we aren’t culpable for the mess they make. But this time around, the one I do vote for might make just as big of a mess, even if it’s a different flavored mess, and if I voted for that, I might as well have been stabbing those scissors in the backs of baby’s heads, or I might as well be telling people who dragged their starving bodies to these bountiful shores they need to go back and get crucified by ISIS. Besides, either way, it seems no matter which way we vote, we’ll have to bear the guilt of a pro LGBT agenda which is going with the support of whoever wins, and therefore we’re going to feel responsible for the inevitable harvest which that field, now so densely sown, lavishly watered and richly fertilized, will surely produce.
And so the hand-wringing goes. Lesser of two evils? Can we even vote for evil? Would Jesus cast His vote for evil? Willing evil to reign seems so… well… unChristian!
The dilemma we face isn’t a dilemma faced in the Bible. Paul never worried about who he would be voting for Caesar in the heated election of 62 because, well, there wasn’t an election in 62. Paul just had to make do with whoever was in charge. He didn’t put them in power, nor could he take them out of power, not even help by as small a contribution as a single vote. But Paul did have this rather helpful perspective: God not only knows Nero is the Caesar, God put him there. And that might be a tough pill to swallow, and a hard one to sell at the Young Republicans meeting where half of the members are missing because they’d been burned as human candles to light up Nero’s pool party the night before, but for Paul, it was the truth, and if he couldn’t explain the sovereign purposes of God, at least he could rest in the fact that at least God had sovereign purposes, and they were being fulfilled.
I remember when Sadaam Hussein ruled Iraq, and they held “elections.” He was voted in by something like 98% of the population. Probably the 2% were carried off to prison and executed, but that’s another story. What did our Iraqi brothers and sisters do? Fret about who they’d vote for? I kind of doubt it. What would we have told them? Probably that God is in control and will care for them in spite of their dictator. I suppose that would sound hollow and silly to a believer whose life was at risk on a daily basis, but let’s face it – it’s about the best we got. Well, we could try to help them understand that according to Romans 13, Saddam ruled according to the sovereign purposes of God, but to do that would take away our right to gripe about our own choices, neither of which is quite as bad as Sadaam was, though I’ve no doubt someone might try to make that case. But at the end of the day, at least God is sovereign, even if His soverignty doesn’t make sense.
And that brings me back to 2016. I hear a lot about the conscience. Ted Cruz famously quoted the old saw, “vote your conscience.” I’m not even sure what the conscience has to do with voting, to be honest. Again, I think it’s because we feel responsible for what the person we voted for does, and we feel like whatever the guy (or gal) we voted against does isn’t our responsibility, so I guess in that sense our conscience is clear – it’s not my fault, after all. This kind of reasoning has Christian consciences all bound up in knots this year, because no matter who you vote for, it seems rather likely he/she is going to do, or at least support, some pretty terribly wicked things. And whether or not the logic holds true that voting third party is wasting a vote, the reality is we might feel like if we vote third party, the odds of them winning are about as good as someone upending Kim Jong Un in the North Korean Butcher Party Primary, so voting third party doesn’t really ease the conscience, because there’s a real possibly our failure to support the one put the other in power.
That sort of dilemma of conscience doesn’t exist in the Bible either, at least, I can’t think of a close parallel. But this matter of conscience does: “One must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” Whoever wins will be our President. And they will have been ordained to be President from the foundation of the world. We are not, after all, open theists. The current President, most of the readers of this column wouldn’t have voted for, and therefore don’t feel any responsibility for his mess. Therefore, we feel perfectly free to criticize, malign, and disrespect him, and dare him to cross that line so we can finally rebel and feel justified in doing so – that President is ordained by God, and we owe him our submission. And whoever takes power next January will be ordained by God, and we will owe him, or her, our submission. That person may be wicked, and may be more or less wicked than the one we voted for, but at the end of the day, God doesn’t, it seems, judge so much on the basis of who we vote for, but rather how we respond to the authority He has ordained, even if or when said authority is blatantly wicked.
How do you vote? I’d say this: Pray, relax, and cast your ballot, if you cast a ballot at all. The Bible doesn’t say you have to vote; it doesn’t forbid you from voting. Ultimately, our kingdom is not of this world. This world, and its lusts, are passing away. And I suppose it’s just possible that our King might use either a lady named Hillary or a guy named Donald to help the world pass away. And who knows, maybe your vote, having been agonized over and cast with uncertain hand and troubled mind, will be a tool in the hands of our True King, a perfectly ordinary means used to accomplish what He’s intended to accomplish. Those ends may or may not be the ends you had in mind when you cast your ballot, but that’s more His business than yours.
Either way, our duty is clear: We submit to the governing authorities – the ones we voted for, and the ones we didn’t vote for. That is how we keep a clear conscience. Our conscience need not be defiled or clear because of the way we vote, our conscience being clear is dependent on our proper submission to God-ordained authority.
My Dad, always incredibly wise and helpful, told me when I was pondering what kind of girl I wanted to marry, “Son, the Bible says she needs to be a believer. Beyond that, marry any girl you want.” That was a tremendously freeing statement, and one which made me free to marry the most beautiful, godly woman in the world – so I did. I wonder if we’ve imposed a higher standard for voting than for marriage. The Biblical standard for voting seems essentially non-existent. I just can’t find it. I can find a hint of elections in a ecclesiastical setting, but they’re hard to come by in a civil setting. Perhaps we can overthink voting, just as we can overthink selecting a spouse by having all sorts of extraneous criteria that are at the end of the day, unnecessary and unhelpful. The debate will rage on I’m sure, and the creation and destruction of various logical paradigms for how a Christian is supposed to vote is, I suppose, all well and good, but at the end of the day, our chief duty before God is not to vote, but to submit, insofar as we are able before God, to the authority that He has placed over us.