Dear Church Family,
Both of the major political parties have concluded their national conventions. Political pundits and commentators continue analyzing and debating over the escalating ramp up to the presidential elections this coming November. To watch the news, one would think that there is only one election coming up; however, in congress, 34 of 100 seats in the senate are up for reelection, along with all 435 seats in the house of representatives.
“Opinion-formers” weigh in
Still, the big news is the presidential election. Even pastors and theologians have joined the fray. Most recently, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has endorsed Donald Trump; and seminary professor Wayne Grudem has written a lengthy discourse on how voting for Trump is “the morally right thing to do.” Others have since sought to refute Grudem’s arguments and even parodied his logic.
From a different perspective, Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile writes, “assuming Trump and Clinton are my only options, I’d vote for Clinton” and then went on to endorse the sentiment that “evangelical leaders – in particular, conservative evangelical leaders – need to use all the influence God has given them to encourage thinking Christians to vote for Hillary Clinton.”
If you’re interested, Christianity Today has even put together a list of “endorsements from leading evangelical pastors and opinion-formers.” One wonders what one has to do to earn the moniker of “opinion-former,” but alas I’m pretty sure I will never know. Frankly, the whole idea of “leading evangelical pastors” actually endorsing a particular candidate and making biblical arguments for their endorsements seems a bit like bowling in someone else’s lane.
Staying in my lane
As a pastor, sometimes people will ask me for my thoughts about who to vote for. Certainly I have my own personal opinions and will make my own decision as to who I will vote for; in the right context, I may even share it with you. However, as an ordained minister of the gospel in the church, I take the responsibility and the authority of the office very seriously, such that I try for everything in my public ministry (in preaching, teaching, and writing) to be rooted and grounded on the authority of God’s Word. As a confessional church which holds to the Westminster Standards, I also have these to help guide me.
Specifically, when it comes to the moral law (how to define both righteousness and sin according to Scripture), there needs to be clear biblical and confessional ground for making specific declarations about ethics and morality. Yet, many seek to make moral and ethical arguments (attempting to root them in Scripture) for voting for a particular candidate. I suppose some people feel the freedom to do that; I do not. Just because someone holds office in the church, it does not make them an expert in every field.
Politics is compromise
Certainly, the Bible does give clear witness to ethics and morality; the Bible does speak to the issues of our day; however, as someone once said, “Politics is compromise.” That statement is not an argument for situational ethics, but a recognition that we live in a fallen world in which (at least, in the political arena) one must learn to do the best that he can (to give and take), while realizing that perfection will never be realized.
Therefore, because God alone is Lord of the conscience – and He has not told us in His word who to vote for, or even how to vote – individual Christians have the liberty of conscience to vote for the person that they deem to be the best for the job. As your pastor, I might give you advice, or try to help you think through some of the issues involved, but I would never presume to try and bind your conscience one way or another.
Imagine if the session of our church decided that it was a moral obligation for the members of our church to vote for a particular candidate, and a sin to vote for another. As a follow-on decision, we would probably need to come up with some kind of mechanism for finding out who voted for whom, and then discipline the “sinners” accordingly. But, you see, the Christian church is not comprised of Republicans or Democrats, but believers in Jesus Christ – sons and daughters of God saved by the grace of God – who must make difficult, and sometimes differing, decisions about political matters and voting.
Additionally, I find it perplexing, as well, when people say that it is the Christian duty of all believers to vote. Personally, I find no such command in the Scripture. Perhaps one could make a Constitutional argument, or reason on some other basis, but not from the Bible. When people say things like, “As a Christian, you have a moral obligation to vote,” and then they go on to provide proof-texts that speak about God’s exiled people seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7), I sort of scratch my head. Aren’t there many different ways to seek the welfare of the city? Is voting really the only way to do that? General moral commands of Scripture may sometimes be rightfully obeyed in different ways by individual believers.
Well, in case you’re still wondering and longing for what I have to say about how Christians ought to vote, I’ve created a document which contains all of my pastoral advice, with all of the relevant biblical proof-texts for who to vote for in the upcoming presidential election. You may view or download that document online here.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch