Can a Christian Vote For…

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

A common question these days is whether or not Christians can vote for a particular candidate.  While these questions have been around a long time, they have gained prominence with President Trump and his significant support among Christians.  An early example of this line of reasoning was an editorial in 2016 in the Dallas Morning News listing “10 reasons you can’t be a Christian and vote for Donald Trump.”  As this editorial put it,

Our argument is simple: A Christian who supports Trump either does not understand this person and his positions or supports him despite Christian convictions. In the same way that a person cannot love the Yankees and the Red Sox, follow veganism and devour a supper of Texas barbecue, or adore Joanna Gaines but hate shiplap, one cannot really love Jesus and wish to follow him and also vote for a person who so clearly embodies the opposite of everything Christ taught, died for and demands of us.

A more recent example comes from a recent editorial in the Baltimore Sun, where John A Ralph lamented,

“I am increasingly dismayed by the number of Catholics who support President Trump…  What I want to know is why? Why are many Catholics loyal to this president, a man who is so transparently not Christ-like? He lies, he cheats and he foments racism. He would do anything to support his own selfish interests.”

And of course, though not in the context of voting, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, famously raised many of these same points in late 2019 when he argued for Trump’s impeachment.

Nor do these stories cut just one way.  As one recent headline claimed, “Top US pro-life priests: ‘No Catholic can vote for Joe Biden.’”  Another headline asked, “Why Do So Many Christians Vote Democrat?”  with a clear argument in the article that they shouldn’t.

In one sense, there is nothing wrong with any of these articles.  A quick search will return many articles like these, along with many rebuttals. These are simply the pros and cons one would expect in the discussion of who should lead this country. Many of these articles and their rebuttals raise valid points worthy of consideration. Still, in some ways, these articles miss the point and can lead to wrong and even dangerous conclusions.

Can a Christian vote for Trump? Can a Christian vote for Biden?  The problem with such questions is that they imply there is a Christian answer, a Christian way to vote.  Vote one way, and you will be on God’s side, vote the other, and you are voting against God. This way of approaching such issues is very dangerous for both religious and secular reasons.

If God has a preference in the outcome of the 2020 election, we do not know what it is.  Even if we assume God has a preference, it may be difficult, if not impossible, for us to understand his reasoning. God is omniscient; we are not.  Thus we are left with making the best decision we can, based on our beliefs and the information we have.

I believe that God does work in the world today and that he works through the Body of Christ, the church. This work does not happen from the top down, where God’s view is determined, and then all follow.  Rather it happened from the bottom up; the church as a whole starts with the individual.  God deals with individual Christians working out their faith as He leads them.  

Returning to the question of voting, can a Christian vote for Trump? Yes, and many will. Can a Christian vote for Biden?  Yes, and many will.  One reason to be cautious about grand pronouncements concerning how Christians can or cannot vote is the implicit, or at times even explicit, condemnation of those who do not follow the pronouncement.  I believe Matthew 7:3 applies here. We should be far more interested in questioning the correctness of how we vote than of those who disagree. When we see other Christians rejecting our candidate of choice, and voting for the other, rather than condemn them, we should be questioning ourselves.

In particular, we should be wary of explanations for the differing votes of other Christians that demonize them. It is far too easy to say the only reason they support the other candidate is that there is something wrong with them or their faith. Such “reasoning” is self-serving and thus very seductive. While condemning them, and thus making it easy to ignore them, you are at the same time patting yourself on the back for being such a good Christian and a good person.  If the Bible teaches us anything, we should be wary of any line of reasoning that starts with how bad the other person is and ends with how good we are.

Instead, we should start by questioning our own beliefs and listening to the reasons given by those who disagree. The question we should seek to answer is why would a good sincere, and faithful Christian vote for the other candidate.  We should ask honestly with at least the possibility that they may be right, and it is we who are wrong. In the end, there may still be disagreement, but hopefully, there will be more understanding and less dogmatism. 

The real danger in this whole Christians-can’t-vote-for line of reasoning is that such condemnations are damaging to unity.  In a religious sense, it is damaging to the unity of the body.  Throughout the New Testament, two consistent messages are 1) we are to be unified as the body of Christ; 2) this does not mean we will all agree on everything.  Our unity is for the Gospel, and condemnation of those who vote differently than we do hardly supports that goal.  We can disagree and debate about whom we should vote for, and that can be very valuable, but we must not let that divide us.

The same reasoning holds on a secular level. There must be some sense of national unity for a nation to exist.  Disagreement and advocation are fine, condemnation of “the other side” damages that unity and thus threaten the very foundation of the country. Following election day,  our government needs to function, and it has not done that very well for the last several Presidents.  We can point fingers and cast blame, but what is more important is what do we do today and going forward.

Finally, some Christians look at this and, rejecting the entire process, do not bother to vote.  I understand the attractiveness, but I consider it a blessing to be in this country and to live in a place where I have some say, however small, in the direction of the country.  I will not ignore the gift that God has given me.

We are to be salt and light. If nothing else, perhaps we can demonstrate that it is possible to disagree politically with our brother and sisters and still love them, still pray with them, still worship with them, and still work with them to spread the Gospel.

Aug 3rd, 2020

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