Doing our homework, including prayer, before voting
Canadians are again being summoned to elect a new federal government. What scriptural wisdom might we Christians need to hear?
This kind of consideration fits directly with one of the primary goals of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada – "To encourage, co-ordinate and facilitate the advancement, teaching, demonstration, and implementation of the gospel of Jesus Christ and related truths of the Holy Bible in Canada" (www.TheEFC.ca/Objects).
Year in and year out we work hard to reflect biblically about the Church’s ministry, but also on issues of politics, public policy and law. What comes to mind in light of the upcoming election?
Turning first to the Bible on this topic takes some reflection because elections were unfamiliar to the biblical audience. Those living in New Testament times knew the emperor took his place independent of the vote of everyday people. Consequently, it’s fruitless to search Scripture for black and white commands about Christian engagement during an election, let alone how to make up your mind about who to vote for.
That doesn’t mean we are left without scriptural wisdom. The Bible actually has a lot to say about political authorities – offering a reminder we can all benefit from.
Most importantly, the Bible insists that earthly political realities do not function independently of God’s sovereign rule. The sage reminds us the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord (Proverbs 21:1), and Paul asserts there are no authorities except those God has established (Romans 13:1).
Let’s seriously seek to vote for those most apt to make political changes that allow the Church the ongoing freedom to proclaim the gospel.
This doesn’t mean our voting is ultimately meaningless. Nor does it mean we should simply buckle under when governments make unjust decisions or even become tyrannical. We can take confident solace that God can and does make use of the political authorities for His own sovereign will. As the biblical narratives repeatedly illustrate (think Pharaoh, Saul, Herod or Pilate), no politics or political authority can thwart God’s purposes.
Admittedly it’s not always easy to trust God is in control when injustices continue and God seems to be taking too long to work out His purposes. But expecting the people we elect to make these things happen can also be a problem if it means setting up political authorities as idols alongside the one true God. Politicians aren’t little messiahs who come to rescue us from the latest crisis. Nor should we despair when governing authorities act contrary to God’s good ways. God is still in control.
But once we get that theological perspective right, the question remains: How should we choose a candidate?
First, we can pray before we vote. That might sound like a novel idea when most of us probably come to the polling booth without having really sought divine direction. We may end up voting for the person of our first instincts, but the Holy Spirit might also prompt us to vote for a candidate or party we’ve never previously voted for! Whatever the case, our action should be in response to the explicit call of Scripture to pray for the governing authorities (1 Timothy 2:2). It makes complete sense to pray about those authorities even as we go through the process of electing them.
Second, we can take time to actually read a candidate or party’s political platform – something I’m convinced few people do. If a candidate doesn’t have a platform available, that alone should give pause. Even though party platforms are often promise heavy and soundbite ridden, considering stated political intentions is still part of good political stewardship. I think the Bible would call this the exercise of wisdom, prudence and discernment.
And last, we can consider the life, conduct and record of the candidates as we make our choices. It’s fine to vote for Christian candidates, but that shouldn’t be our only consideration. Rather, we should readily acknowledge that sometimes non-Christian candidates have significant track records of supporting causes that align with the virtues of the Kingdom of God – virtues Jesus speaks about, for example, in the Beatitudes.
Just because candidates are Christian doesn’t necessarily make them better political officials any more than Christians automatically make better surgeons or auto mechanics. Let’s seriously seek to vote for those most apt to make political changes that allow the Church the ongoing freedom to proclaim the gospel, and who align most closely with the things that concern Jesus most – justice, mercy, and above all loving God and our neighbour without hindrance.
David Guretzki of Ottawa is publisher of Faith Today and serves The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as executive vice-president and resident theologian. This article is also available in Chinese.