Politics and religion certainly make for a combustible mix, and the Bible doesn’t provide Americans with a ready-made formula for combining the two.
Jesus did say that you should “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). But the Bible doesn’t speak directly to the workings of a representative democracy, and that can lead to some explosive disagreements about how to vote.
When President Donald Trump suggested that if challenger Joe Biden were elected it would “hurt God,” a columnist for Religion News Service compared this year’s presidential race to the bitter campaign of 1800. Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, supporting incumbent John Adams, branded eventual winner Thomas Jefferson an atheist. Unlike Biden, who called Trump’s attack “shameful,” Jefferson didn’t respond.
But faith can also elevate political discussion, appealing to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” In George Washington’s Farewell Address to the nation in 1796, he wrote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
Just as in every other area of life, Christians should draw on biblical principles when deciding on the candidates or positions to support.
Are Christians Republicans or Democrats?
“While there must be the institutional separation of church and state, there can never be a separation of God and government,” Dr. Tony Evans wrote in his book How Should Christians Vote?
Evans cited example after example of politics in the Bible, including “two books, 1 and 2 Kings, that strictly deal with the rule and reign of government leaders.” He added, “The greatest political statement in the Bible is the declaration of Revelation 19:16 that when Jesus Christ returns to earth to rule, He will come as ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords.’”
Eugene Cho, president/CEO of Bread for the World and author of Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics, called one of the chapters in his book “Thou Shalt Not Go to Bed with Political Parties.”
“No one party is perfect, and no one party monopolizes the Kingdom of God,” Cho wrote.
As a young believer, Cho was told that good Christians should vote Republican. Then, when he served as a pastor in progressive Seattle, he heard that if you were a real, justice-minded Christian, you must vote Democratic.
“When people have this mindset, it perpetuates the idea that there is exclusively one way to engage in politics in order to be a faithful Christian,” Cho wrote. “And with such a narrow ideology, we can fall into a situation where we stop thinking, stop engaging, and stop asking important questions.
“It becomes my camp versus your camp, in or out, for or against, friend or foe, ally or enemy. We write off people who identify with the other party, for whatever reason, and often those reasons are the ones spread by our chosen media sources.
“Jesus died and extended grace for the Left, the Right, and everyone in between. So, even as we seek to speak truth to power, we must stop vilifying and demonizing those we disagree with.”
Evans, who counts George W. Bush as a friend, agrees with Cho on the pitfalls of party politics.
“On a number of issues, the Democrats represent the values of the kingdom of God,” he wrote. “And then on a number of other issues, the Democrats are antithetical to God’s kingdom laws. Similarly, on a number of issues, the Republicans reflect the values of the kingdom of God. But then again, on other issues, they do not.”
Evans writes that “as a Christian, your responsibility when you cast your vote will be to understand the principles of God’s kingdom and His values, and then compare these with the content and character of whatever person, party, platform, or policy for which you will cast your vote.’’
Does a candidate’s faith matter?
Evangelicals have shown a tendency to look beyond a candidate’s personal testimony in picking a president. In 1980, two-thirds of White evangelicals supported Ronald Reagan, who rarely even went to church, in his successful bid to unseat Jimmy Carter, a born-again Christian and Sunday School teacher.
In the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton, who called herself “an old-fashioned Methodist, supported abortion rights and same-sex marriage, putting her far to the left of most evangelicals.
At a pivotal moment in Trump’s campaign, he held a meeting in a Times Square hotel with close to one thousand evangelical leaders, hoping to reassure those who had questions about his politics or character. He emerged from the meeting with a solid evangelical base of support.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, minimized Trump’s personal flaws by pointing to the failures of biblical giants like Moses, David, and Peter. “There’s no perfect person—there’s only one, and that’s the Lord Jesus Christ, but he’s not running for president of the United States,” Graham said.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor emeritus of The Moody Church in Chicago, said that many factors should come into play in picking a candidate to support, including:
- character and integrity
- sanctity of human life
- same-sex marriage
- freedom for religious speech
- racial equality
- national security
- and taxation and government spending
David Iglesias, director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics, said he tends to vote for candidates who support his views as a social conservative and fiscal moderate.
“I, in turn, do my best to base my political views on the Bible,” he wrote in an email. “We serve a God of justice, but we also serve a God of grace. We serve a God who has a heart for the poor, the widows and orphans, (see James 1) therefore I vote for candidates who provide responsible support for these classes of people. We serve a God of order and not chaos, so I support candidates who support our law enforcement and military officials.”
Should Christians be single-issue voters?
Iglesias, a White House Fellow for President Bill Clinton and a United States Attorney for President George W. Bush, added, “I believe biblically observant voters should support candidates who protect the rights of unborn children.”
Evans, who also opposes abortion, has more of a “womb-to-tomb” philosophy, emphasizing justice throughout life.
“Some will say the right to life trumps all other issues because it is the foundational right,” he wrote. “If you take away someone’s life, you take away everything else that they could seek to have in their life. So in that sense, it is a foundational issue.
“However, what many people do is make it the only issue. The commandment not to kill, given to us in the Old Testament, was one of Ten Commandments. Likewise, when Christ came as a fulfillment of the law, He gave us two overarching commandments under which all else falls: To love God, and to love others. While the right to life falls under both, so do a multitude of other issues primarily relating to matters of justice and equity.”
Evans believes that there is no one Christian way to vote.
“Because each of us is at a different place in our spiritual growth and life experiences, and we all come from different backgrounds, histories, and environments, that means that not everyone is going to vote identically or prioritize the issues the same,” he wrote.
“This requires that there be a visible demonstration of love within the church before the watching world (John 13:35), rather than a spirit of condemnation among believers who have differing political alliances.”
Should a Christian vote conservative or liberal?
Peter Wehner, who served in three Republican administrations, criticized former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg in The Atlantic for linking Christianity and progressivism. But Wehner also said that Republicans make a mistake when they identify the Bible with conservative principles. These approaches, he told NPR, reduce the Bible to a governing blueprint.
So Wehner offers another challenge. Even if you know your Bible, study the issues, follow the candidates, and vote your conscience, you need to keep politics in perspective.
As Evans put it, “The ultimate solutions to our culture’s problems won’t land on Air Force One.”
Jesus isn’t running for president, and he is the ultimate solution to all our problems.