I was recently invited to attend a "Three Person Dialogue on Theology and Politics: How Would Jesus Vote?" The question immediately intrigued me, and I made plans to attend. But I decided that before I heard what the three speakers had to say, I should stop to think through how I would answer. Here's what I came up with on what I think is the more useful question: How would Jesus want us to vote?
- First of all, generally speaking, I think Jesus certainly would want us to vote. Civil government was ordained by God, and we know that Jesus taught his disciples to fulfill their duty toward it. For instance, when questioned about paying taxes, he told his followers to "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 12:21).As Americans, our "duty" toward government goes far beyond paying taxes, because in America, our government is "of the people, by the people and for the people." In other words, because we enjoy the right of self-governance, we have a corresponding duty to thoughtfully select those who will sit at our nation's control panel, exercising power on our behalf. Our vote is both a resource of which we have the responsibility to be good "stewards," and an instrument through which we can be "salt and light" in our culture.
- In considering how Jesus would want us to vote, my first conviction is that he would want us to look for wise men and women of godly character. We learn from the book of Proverbs that, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," so we know that a genuine faith in God, combined with a certain humility about his or her own standing in relation to God, is a crucial characteristic of a wise leader.Another scripture providing guidance as to the personal character of a godly leader is the well-known Micah 6:8, which instructs us that God requires us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." So we should be looking for candidates who are humble, deeply committed to justice, but also personally kind and gracious toward others.
- Because God ordained civil government with a particular role in mind, I think Jesus would want us to consider how each candidate views the role of government.The Bible reveals a God who designed society to live in a certain order, rather than chaos, and that order requires that different institutions play different roles and carry different responsibilities. Among these institutions are the family, the church and voluntary associations. Government is only one of them, and it was meant to play a limited role in human society.According to the Bible, that role involves providing physical protection and administering justice among the people by punishing wrongdoers. It does not involve being the source to which citizens look for all their basic needs. It does not involve regulating mundane aspects of their everyday lives.
- In the United States, I think Jesus would want us to consider the willingness of candidates to abide by the Constitution. Our Constitution describes the extent to which we, the people, have ceded some of our God-given liberties to the federal government, allowing it to perform some functions beyond protecting us and administering justice. Governing officials, like everyone else, must demonstrate a willingness to live under proper authority.Moreover, each elected official is required to take an oath promising to support and defend the Constitution. So a candidate who demonstrates either a lack of knowledge or understanding of the Constitution, or an unwillingness to be bound by its precepts, is probably unworthy of the public trust; after all, how can we trust someone who promises to support and defend something he or she doesn't know, understand, or respect?
- The life and words of Jesus reveal a person who cares deeply for human beings of all races, genders, ages, socio-economic statuses, religious backgrounds, marital statuses and health conditions. So I know he would want us to choose public officials who cherish all human life.Protecting life is a fundamental reason why civil government exists, so any candidate who is cavalier about the value or dignity of any human life lacks an essential qualification for public office.
Stay tuned for next week's column to find out how three individuals from various religious and political backgrounds answer the fascinating question: How Would Jesus Vote?
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