“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities,” Romans 13:1 says, “For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” But how do we apply a passage like Romans 13 in an election year?
Our democratic society is worlds apart from the totalitarian context in which Paul wrote. This passage is complicated by the fact that, in a democracy, those in authority are put there by the people over whom they govern.
So how do we understand this passage? Well, the answer is part of the reason I am voting this year.
1) To Faithfully Exercise the Authority I Have Been Given
Because we are citizens in a democratic republic, each person is given a measure of authority in ruling the society. This authority is exercised through voting as well as through other forms of political engagement. As such, voting is one way in which I choose to steward the authority that I have been given. It is a way through which I can participate in the process of serving the common good using the vote with which I have been entrusted.
2) To Hold the Authorities Accountable
My second reason for voting follows close on the heels of the first: Just as we have given authority to others by our vote, we also are responsible for holding those authorities accountable for the responsibilities that they have been given.
Voting is one form of doing this—of holding accountable the leaders Scripture calls “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4). Through our votes and our choices, both on candidates and policies, we engage in a form of accountability with those in power. It is our job to remind them that they are to serve for the good of the whole, exercising their authority in a way that benefits all of society and enacting policies which uphold and enforce justice.
3) To Work for the Common Good
Another reason I am voting is because of the calling that we have, as followers of Christ, to work for the common good. This is the sentiment I see articulated in Jeremiah 29:7, ““Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The Israelites, as exiles in Babylon, would have been tempted to disengage and isolate themselves from the pagan society into which they had been carried. In many ways, I see this isolationist tendency at work in our contemporary Christian communities. Too often this tendency leads us to disengage from and judge the systems that are broken.
However, God calls us to be a blessing to the places where he has sent us. This applies to how we are involved in the democratic process. Because we have been given the right to vote, and therefore an opportunity to help determine the economic, social, and political course of this nation, we have a responsibility to exercise that right in a way that encourages the benefit of the common good. Neglecting this responsibility is to neglect our calling to help bring blessing to the society in which we find ourselves.
4) To Give Voice to the Voiceless
Another reason that I am voting is found in Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Throughout Scripture, especially in the prophetic books, those who have power and a voice are encouraged to speak up on behalf of those who do not. While this exhortation has far-reaching implications, I believe that it also applies to small acts such as voting.
As such, I enter the voting booth not only with my own interests in mind, but also the interests of those less fortunate than myself. In this way, voting takes on a corporate dimension as I give away the power that I have to the powerless—voting for what serves the marginalized and oppressed, and using my voice to amplify the voice of those who are usually silenced. I believe that in this way I also put into practice Jesus’ call to love my neighbor as myself. So I try to vote specifically with the interests of my most disadvantaged neighbors in mind. I see my role as speaking up and pleading their case to those who are in power.
5) To Add Salt to a Complex Political Soup
My last reason for voting is probably the most obscure, but I believe it is important: I vote to act as salt in a complex political system. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). Salt, back in those days, acted as both a seasoning and a preservative. While I know that no political party or system can perfectly represent all of the kingdom values that Jesus proclaimed, I believe that we can add some of that Kingdom seasoning to the mix when we vote. We can be influencers of the system rather than merely critics of it.
We should always be asking ourselves, “In what ways can I encourage the current system to reflect the kingdom reign of Christ? How can I encourage the current rulers to preserve justice and resist evil through my vote?”
Through voting, we can add to that process. Of course, far more is needed in our society to bring these kinds of Kingdom changes about, but voting is one small way we contribute to this process. So, I vote with the hope of bringing some small change to the world and I hope to do so in a way that can add a little pinch of Jesus’ Kingdom salt to the process.
But enough about my reasons for voting. Why are you voting this election year? Sound off in the comments below.
Nick is currently enrolled full-time at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in the M.Div program. He is the proud father of two kids and happily married to his wife of four years, Jenny. He writes regularly on his blog, Prodigal Preacher.