By Pastor Justin Perdue
This is a tumultuous season in America. The general election lies ahead of us next Tuesday. Politics are dominating the public conversation. Members of my church have been talking about these things. Our elders have too. Below are some thoughts about the upcoming election. Do with them what you will.
Before I really get into it, let me make a couple of points of clarification. First, nothing that follows should be taken to mean that it doesn’t matter how we vote. I don’t think that at all. We should seek to steward our civic duty well. How we vote has consequences for our land and our society.
Second, nothing in this article is meant to imply that all choices in the voting booth are morally equivalent. Personally, I don’t think they are. As a citizen, I have very strong political opinions—and I have a number of reasons for why I think and vote the way I do. (Those closest to me know this well.) However, I take great pains as a pastor to not abuse my authority and effectively tell my people how they should vote. I also aim, as far as our congregation is concerned, to blow up utopian notions that are red and blue.
With those clarifications made, here is my chief concern: that in the minds of many it seems a person’s standing in the Lord Jesus should be called into question depending on how he or she votes in the upcoming election. This can flow both directions, politically.
I do not know of a church or a confession of faith that makes voting choices a test of Christian orthodoxy or fidelity to Jesus. And that is what we would be doing if we say that a person who votes a certain way on November 3rd should be subject to church discipline. (Some suggest this.) We would be saying that by casting a certain kind of vote, an individual is in clear, demonstrable, unrepentant sin—that should result in removal from the Table unless the individual repents.
Convictions are what matter. To believe abortion is good is sin. To believe homosexuality is good is sin. To disbelieve that God has made us male and female is sin. To believe racism is good is sin. To believe we should neglect the poor, needy, and oppressed is sin. If someone were advocating for any of the above, that would be a matter of church discipline.
Christians are to pursue justice. That isn’t optional. However, well-meaning Christians may disagree—from the perspective of politics and public policy—as to the best way to go about pursuing justice in our country. This is because, in a fallen world, it is often difficult to draw straight lines from Scripture to a particular candidate or political party. Public policy is complex. Christians, who agree on doctrine and the authority of Scripture, may very well have different opinions on how the government should operate. As citizens of the United States, Christians make a wisdom decision at the polls that they think will result in the most good for the United States. I might think a brother in Christ is unwise in how he votes, but he is still my brother. It is quite possible for Christians to have shared convictions but disagree at the level of public policy.
In the evangelical church, there is a tendency to over-spiritualize pretty much everything. We turn every decision into a theological statement. When we do that, I think we actually throw a bunch of clutter on the gospel. When we say, “There is only one way a Christian can vote in the upcoming election,” we have elevated voting choices to a place of primary importance. There is only one way a Christian can vote. There can be no disagreement. How we vote is now on par with what we make of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus or the doctrine of the Trinity.
When we talk and act this way, the gospel is confused with a political party, and the church is reduced to a political movement. That is my primary concern as a pastor.
In my church, I pray the posture of our people toward a person who voted differently than them would be one of charity and humility. I pray the conversation would begin, “Talk with me about why you voted the way you did…” If, in that conversation, convictions that are clearly at odds with Scripture are uncovered, those can be dealt with. But, if there is agreement at the level of conviction and disagreement as to how to vote, we move forward in love.
In the church, we might disagree as to how best use our vote as citizens of the United States. But we never disagree about Christ and our desperate need for him.