What do we say to our church in the face of the impending election? Pastor, what will you say to a church divided on the issue? Christian, how are you holding fast to the gospel and protecting your church from the divisions that this election could produce in the church? What is most important in this electoral season—winning the presidency or preserving the Church’s witness to the world?
As a pastor, these are just some of the questions on my mind, and so I write this post as an attempt to help shepherd our church and to think biblically about how Christians might maintain a focus on Christ in this tumultuous season. My prayer and aim is to see Christians of different political convictions retaining focus on Christ and his kingdom, even as they live out their faith in the public square.
And so in 2016, I offer 16 considerations—six ways we can take hold of God and ten ways we can give grace to one another, even as wrestle with the challenges of this year’s election. May God use these to encourage and challenge your heart. May he be pleased to use them to purify our hope in him and our church’s commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
Six Ways to Take Hold of God
1. Take heart in God.
God is sovereign and we can rest in his rule (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:34–35). No matter what happens on November 8 (or on any other day), it will not overturn his work in the world. In fact, for good or bad, God will use this election to expose idols, test faith, and ultimately gather sheep. Scripture repeatedly tells us no king, no nation, no president has the absolute power to halt God’s kingdom. We must remember this, preach this to one another, and take comfort in this fact—God’s kingdom has come and is coming.
2. Take hold of the gospel.
If God is sovereign, he is sovereignly working to build his church. As Paul said in Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.” In truth, the gospel is not just a message; it is God’s power to raise the dead to life and declare the guilty righteous. And God has promised that what Christ began on the cross will be completed in the salvation of every one of his elect. In between eternity past and eternity future, it is the gospel that brings salvation to the world. And thus as we are tempted to give all our attention to political battles, we must not forget the power and priority of the gospel.
3. Take time to lament.
Throughout Scripture and history, one means of God’s judgment has been the appointment of immoral leaders. Just as righteous kings and just judge bring blessing; immoral leaders mediate judgment (Proverbs 28:12, 28; 29:1). This year it is remarkable because America’s two candidates are famously bad. Neither’s character is worth commending, and both stand for some of the worst parts of American political and pop culture. In response we must lament. Like the prophets of old we must weep over our nation and its systemic immorality. In our prayer, we must begin with lamentations. Only then will we be able to pray according to God’s will
4. Take time to intercede.
We have biblical warrant (1 Timothy 2:1–4), not mention existential need for prayer. In fact, nothing may be more effective in staying God’s judgment on our nation than persistent intercession. As James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” This promise of effectual prayer combined with the two unqualified presidential candidates, the believer should be even more resolute in prayer. For, if God has the power to bring “the counsel of the nations to nothing” and “frustrate the plans of the peoples” (Psalm 33:10), then we must lay our requests before him and plead that God would withhold these leaders (and any leader) from doing the worst in their power. As Bruce Ashford and Billy Hallowell have reminded us, this is the one thing all Christians must do.
5. Take the long view.
Whatever happens this election, it is not the end of the world. Rather, from the perspective of redemptive history, it is one more step towards God’s goal of bring all things under Christ’s feet (Ephesians 1:10). So today, we must learn from Scripture to take the long view. Personally, this should temper our fears. And practically, it should shape our decisions, even the way we vote. As John Piper once said, we should vote as though we are not voting. Why? Because as 1 Corinthians 7:31 says, “the present form of this world is passing away.” Hence, let’s learn to live with our eyes on heaven and to take the long view of God’s work on earth.
6. Take hold of one another.
Whatever happens in next week’s election, we are in for a bumpy ride. Religious liberty is under major attack; the culture of death continues to escalate; and secularism continues to press its religion on Christians in their lifestyles and livelihoods. Those few examples will not be solved by one election. Politics is always downstream from culture and our culture is awash with hyper-individualism, erotic expressivism, and rejection of authority.
In this world, then, Christians conjoined by the Spirit and the blood Christ, must take hold of one another. The worst thing we can do is fight over non-essential matters. Even if we disagree or dislike what others in the church say about candidates, let’s covenant to build up one another in Christ and not tear one another down. We need one another, and we need to consider how we take hold of Christ together and give grace to one another.
Ten Ways We Can Give Grace
7. Remember, politics are always downstream from culture.
For starters, we must remember this election says more about our culture than anything else. It is the worst of government vs. the worst of culture. Therefore, even as we focus on voting, we must redouble our efforts to preach the gospel and make arguments and art that preserve and influence culture. We are not called to redeem the culture, but like the Jews in Babylon, we are called to care for and seek the welfare of the city God has placed us (Jeremiah 29:7).
Therefore, what follows I meant to help delineate a few ways we can walk in grace and speak truth. In a season when all foment circles around two candidates, we must call ourselves back to the one true king and the mission he has given us to be the church in a depraved world.
8. Guard your brother’s conscience, even if you disagree with him.
The easiest thing to do in a contentious debate is to speak quickly and listen slowly, or not to listen at all and make uninformed accusations. In our media, misrepresentation is the norm. But in the church, we must abide by another rule. Therefore, let us refuse to condemn brothers and sisters of different opinion. A vote against Hillary, a vote for a party’s platform, and a third party vote are all biblically defensible. Let us put into practice Paul’s teaching and not unnecessarily bind another’s conscience (see Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10).
9. Make space for people to make biblical arguments about the election.
In general, churches should teach principles that inform our voting. But in this election there are competing interests and political strategies with regards to two options: (1) voting for Trump and (2) voting for a third party. In general, Christians should teach that (1) voting for a known anti-life candidate violates Christian principle. So votes for Clinton, Johnson, or Stein all have implications for a death sentence for millions of unborn children, not to mention the elderly and infirm as euthanasia becomes legalized across the country. And then, (2) not voting is equally irresponsible, as we have a responsibility to vote. In America, all of our hands are on the sword (Romans 13), so to speak. Therefore, we must pray and seek how to exercise our vote, and among faithful Christians there can and should be a place for informed debate.
With that in mind, let me offer a challenge to those whose principles support Trump and others lead them to vote third party.
10. Do all you can to make plain your allegiance to Christ.
This goes for all of us, but especially for Christians who may support a politician of questionable moral character. Such voters have made principled arguments drawing distinctions between voting for Trump and endorsing him, between a vote for a platform and a person, but dear Christian, don’t let your vote be a means of confusing the gospel or what it means to be a Christian. Consider how public arguments for Trump sound to unbelievers, minorities, and women. As Ed Stetzer has observed:
You can vote for Trump, Clinton, or someone else this election season. But my hope is that every Christian who has decided to vote for Trump has, at some point, spoken out against his comments regarding sexual assault, immigrants, women, and additional issues that defile all people who are made in the image of God. This is what people of character do—they speak truth to their candidates. They don’t suddenly decide, “Well, I guess character does not matter since it is my candidate with the character issues.”
In any election, we must not let culture or candidates change our moral compass. Instead we must do all we can to make plain our allegiance to Christ.
11. Beware of using your vote as a way of virtue signaling.
Conversely, for those who malign Trump and make public their moral revulsion and personal refusal to vote for him, beware of riding a moral high horse that makes a third party the only way of ethical integrity. As Baptist ethicist, Mark Coppenger observes, it’s easy to launch platitudes on the battlefield when seated comfortably on your stead, but on the field of battle, it is more difficult. Therefore, it would serve the enduring interest of the church to lower the rhetoric about the moral necessity of voting for a third party, as if every “hold-your-nose-and-vote-Trump” voter is not grieved by Trump’s immorality.
12. Be slow to use unloving rhetoric with brothers in Christ.
If our Christian hope is found in the same God and he same gospel, we should be slow to argue over third-tier issues. Or maybe it is better to say, we should be cautious in how we argue our politic views. As a wise professor once said, “It is as important how you hold your position, as it is the position you hold.” Of course, this maxim can be misused. But it is true how we talk about politics is as important as what positions we hold.
For instance, to say “a vote for 3rd Party is a vote for Clinton,” is only partially right and assumes a binary view of voting that is shaped by political theory not biblical theology. Likewise, to paint all supporters of Trump as racists or misogynists is equally misleading. If politics are local, so then is every vote personal. In the church, where differences of opinion lie with regards to engagement between Christ and culture, we should be slow to launch rhetorical barbs or hot-headed social media posts. These rhetorical statements may gain short-term fanfare, but they do less to advance the concerns of the church. We need to speak prophetically to culture, but not at the expense of running over brothers and sisters in Christ.
13. Do more than vote.
Voting is one aspect of civic duty. But there are so many more. Therefore, do not put all your hopes and fears in this singular action. Instead, speak up for righteousness in the public square; plead for character in the public office; pursue policies that protect life and promote human flourishing. Be salt and light in their community.
Maybe that means serving in a pro-life organization, running for a local school board, or organizing a prayer meeting for elected officials. Let this election be a goad for more than voting; let it prompt you to get involved in the community for the sake of Christ.
14. Be the church.
On earth, the church’s first and only allegiance is Jesus Christ. We are called to be ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20), witnesses (Acts 1:8), cities on a hill (Matthew 5:16), and fortresses of truth (1 Timothy 3:15). In other words, the church should use the strictest caution in aligning itself with earthly endeavors or political actions. We should not forget, the church itself is a political entity. “Jesus is Lord” is as political statement and the church is not a-political society. But like Jesus said, “our kingdom is not of this world.” Hence, our actions and interests are likewise shaped by other considerations than getting our man in office. ‘Our man’ is already on the throne, and we must act like it. However we engage in the politics of this world, we do so with the unaltered conviction that what goes on in church far outweighs the politics in Washington.
15. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Whatever position we take in voting, we should not let it overrule our care for one another. Rather as Romans 12:10 says, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Specifically, here’s what this might look like.
Hold your nose Trump voter: Sympathize with those who cannot vote for Trump. Think of the demographics he has violated — women, blacks, Hispanics, etc. Is it helpful to criticize women, especially those who have been sexually abused, if they cannot vote for him? Dear Christian, put yourself in their shoes, and be charitable towards those who cannot bring themselves to vote like you.
Never-Trumper: Seek to understand the principles that lead some to vote for Trump. Even if you disagree, concern for the Hyde Amendment, the Supreme Court, and thousands of other executive appointments are important for the welfare of our nation and the unborn. With the exception of Christians who endorse Trump as God’s anointed leader for our time, there are principled reasons why people are voting for him. NeverTrumpers would serve the church better by understanding the difficulty their brothers and sisters have in voting for Trump, and giving them grace.
16. Extend grace.
There is no easy answer in this election. And few good answers stand without legitimate countervailing objections. The greatest need we have in the church, then, is to demonstrate love for one another that transcends various principles of politics. To stand on Christ and his word will demonstrate that we are driven by something deeper than politics. Indeed, until Christ comes, the world will hate us. We don’t need to add bitterness or accusation in the church. We need the gospel to secure us in Christ, and from there we need the Spirit to fill us with truth so that we might confront culture with love and truth.
Indeed, may God give us grace to be gracious to one another. In this, we pray that the world would see something different in us, so that in hearing the gospel they might want to flee from this world and find eternal life in Christ.
It is to this end we pray and labor, and to this end we vote.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
[Photo credit: Forbes]