The 2016 presidential campaign has confounded even the most astute political pundits. Conventional wisdom has been upended. Candidates with name recognition, multi-million dollar war chests and impressive public service resumes have underperformed. Self-described “evangelical” voters have shown little regard for the endorsements of those who purport to represent the evangelical community and its values.
Ironically, a plurality of those who have voted thus far in Republican primaries and caucuses has supported a candidate known for coarse language and for building casinos and strip clubs.
Of course, many evangelical church leaders do not endorse political candidates or engage in partisan political activity. But evangelicals care deeply about the health of our nation, and many are perplexed and disturbed by the depravity of much of the campaign discourse. Inciting racial and religious hatred, promoting class warfare, lying about opponents’ records, name calling and vulgarity should have no place in any campaign for election to our nation’s highest office.
Beneath the peculiarities of the current campaign season is the more familiar dilemma facing biblical Christians who care about protecting the unborn, children and families, the poor and the persecuted at home and abroad. Those who support both religious freedom and human rights, fiscal responsibility and environmental protection, immigration reform and families that have both mothers and fathers, and who want real progress rather than mere rhetorical flourishes, often find the binary choices offered by the political parties frustrating. Those committed to a consistent ethic of life wonder which of their values should be sacrificed or deferred.
What is the committed Christian to do on Election Day? How then should we vote? In our book Faith in the Voting Booth: Practical Wisdom for Voting Well, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and I suggest starting with the Bible, rather than cable television. We look at key themes and issues Christians should consider as they prepare to vote. We won’t tell you whom to vote for, but we do suggest an approach that will be honoring to God, even in the ambiguous context we face in 2016.
Of course, there is much more to Christian civic responsibility than merely showing up on Election Day. As citizens in a democratic republic, we have opportunities to help shape the public debate on issues that are important to us. We can hold formal and informal discussions, attend candidate forums, write op-eds and letters to the editor, volunteer with candidates or with advocacy organizations, and help with voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. Our voting and electoral activism is about more than picking a winning candidate. Our participation gives legitimacy and substance to our common political life, whether our particular candidate wins or loses.
Our participation shouldn’t stop on Election Day. We are called to pray for those who our fellow citizens have elected, whether we agree with their choice or not. Government leaders at all levels shoulder important responsibilities as they seek to serve all of their constituents, including those who did not support them. They often face long hours for modest pay and maximum stress. They need our prayers.
We can also hold our leaders accountable for their highest aspirations. We should build relationships with elected officials and their staff, so that they are aware of our concerns and insights. Churches can conduct offerings of letters, where members bring letters to their leaders to church and place them in the collection plate, along with their tithes and offerings, to be prayed over before mailing. This emphasizes to our congregations that God’s kingdom and Jesus’ lordship extend over every area of life.
Some Christians should also run for public office. This is not something to be entered into lightly, and it is not for everyone. And not every Christian candidate deserves our vote. But Christians with the right character, preparation and experience can love their neighbors by offering wise and principled leadership.
So let’s bring our faith with us into the voting booth. And let’s place our faith in the God whom every government leader ultimately serves, knowingly or unknowingly. Despite the confusion of our messy electoral system, we know that God is still on the throne, and will carry out His purposes in our lives and in our nation. It is a privilege for us to serve God and bless our nation by voting wisely and participating actively in the democratic process.