Dear People of Low’s,
We live in a divisive time in our country. Gone are the days when people of good intentions on different sides of a complicated issue could get together and work out a compromise. Our politicians often seem locked into their respective viewpoints on a multitude of the problems facing our nation and are unwilling to give an inch to the other side. The result is ineffective in that it has not done much to fix or even improve problems associated with immigration, the environment, racism, poverty, and more. From Tremper Longman, The Bible and the Ballot, 2020.
Professor Longman spells out something many of us recognize—we live in a time of brokenness in our political and governmental system. We are tempted to throw up our hands and turn our backs on a system grid-locked and seemingly unable to do what is needed to effectively govern. We might be tempted to not vote this coming Tuesday, November 3 (or participate in early or absentee voting).
Christians, particularly, may not believe it matters whether we vote or not, especially since God is in control. In fact, some Christians do not vote. Some traditional/conservative Mennonites choose not to vote because they believe in such a strict separation of church and state that they are suspicious of any political involvement. This follows their Anabaptist heritage, their ancestors having left Europe due to persecution and warfare, and their refusal to take up military service due to a strict interpretation of “you shall not kill” rendering them unpopular with the powers-that-be. Other Christians of various denominations also choose not to vote or be involved in politics since they believe they shouldn’t get too involved in “worldly” matters. Some even believe that since Christ is “coming soon” there is no purpose in engaging in politics in any form.
As Christians living in a democratic society there is another way of viewing political activity, including voting--as a form of discipleship. In our Lord’s Prayer we ask that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus commands his disciples to be “salt” and “light”. Salt preserves what is good, and light provides guidance to a better way of being in a sometimes dark world. Democratic government affords an opportunity to be an influence for good—salt and light--and to work for the good of God’s kingdom on earth. While we cannot bring about God’s kingdom on earth, we can be workers for God’s good and for the welfare of others while on earth. A Christian member of the European Parliament, Sir Frederick Catherwood, said: “To try to improve society is not worldliness but love. To wash your hands of society is not love but worldliness.”
The late Dr. J. I. Packer, Anglican pastor, scholar, and evangelist, asserted God is in control. But he also believed very strongly that Christians should participate in democratic government. Indeed, he felt it was the Christian’s duty to support it. In 1985 he wrote in Christianity Today:
Representative democracy—in which the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive have separate status, the public information services (media) are not under government control, the elected administration always faces an elected opposition, and popular elections on a one-man, one-vote basis recur at regular intervals—is not the only form of government under which Christian citizens have lived and served God. However, there is no doubt that from a Christian standpoint it is a fitter and wiser form than any other.
For Packer a word sometimes considered “dirty” is important to the functioning of democratic government—“compromise”, arrived at through debate and negotiation: Whatever may be true in the field of ethics, compromise in politics means not the abandonment of principle, but realistic readiness to settle for what one thinks to be less than ideal when it is all that one can get at the moment. The principle that compromise expresses is that half a loaf is better than no bread.
Packer warns against some potential pitfalls Christians face in the political sphere. One is the tendency to see “the democratic power game as the modern equivalent of holy war in the Old Testament.” Another is the failure to realize that everyone possesses “partial and selective” knowledge of the issues—no one can claim to be an absolute authority. Further, “black-and-white answers” are not usually available in politics. The follower of Christ must “simply” be “led by the highest ideals and ripest wisdom that they can discover.” Christians are to demonstrate humility, respect and patience to others who might wish to be rash, egotistical, and claim to be all-knowing while running “rough-shod” over those with whom they disagree. We must also be willing to admit that we can be wrong.
Packer bases his call for Christians to be involved politically in Jesus’ teaching in Mark 12:17: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Dr. Tremper Longman reminds us that while we are not “of the world”, we are “in the world”, and part of our earthly duty of honoring the government of our nation, and our fellow citizens, is to be politically engaged and to vote.
God loves you and I do too, Pastor John Mark