Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Does the Bible Tell Us How To Vote?

Here is a thought provoking article from Dr. Jack Cottrell, professor of theology at Cincinnati Christian University. He has five degrees including an MDiv from Westminster Theological Seminary and a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary. I've posted his thoughts here without any editorial comment.


QUESTION:  Does the Bible tell us how to vote?

     The answer to this question is:  yes and no.  No, the Bible obviously does not give us the names of any candidates, nor any political parties.  Yes, the Bible does tell us what God wants presidents, senators, judges, commissioners, and other governmental leaders to do.  In other words, the Bible does not tell us for WHOM to vote, but it does tell us HOW to vote.  I will now expand on this by asking three questions.

First, is this even a proper question?  Some say no, because they think the Bible is only about “religious” stuff, such as Jesus, salvation, and the church.  And as everyone knows, we must never mix religion and politics!  But the right answer is yes, this is a proper question, because the Bible is a world view.  The Christian faith is not just about Jesus, salvation, the church, and heaven.  The Bible is about everything, beginning with creation (Genesis 1:1).  And it definitely has a lot to say about government.

What does the Bible say about government?  First, God has ordained or established government as such.  See Romans 13:1-2:  “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  This says that God has ordained that there shall be government, but it does not say that he has ordained any specific form of government (such as monarchy, or democracy).  Nor does he usually ordain or appoint specific governments.  Second, God has ordained government for a specific purpose.

This leads to our second main question, namely, what is the purpose of government?  Here we must examine two passages of Scripture:  The first is Romans 13:3-4:  “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority?  Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.”  The second is 1 Timothy 2:1-4:  “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

What do these passages teach?  This can be summed up in the key word, JUSTICE.  In this context “justice” means giving a person what he is due, or what he deserves.  As such, justice takes two forms.  First, there is PROTECTIVE justice, or the protection of the rights of individuals.  These include the following, which are part of living a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity:
  1. The right to LIVE.
  2. The right to live in FREEDOM:  freedom to pursue happiness, freedom to pursue our own way in life, freedom to serve God openly, freedom to work, freedom to own property as the result of our work.  Note:  this does not necessarily include what is called “economic justice.”  Also “economic justice does NOT require equality of ownership, but equality of opportunity.                  
  3. The right to live in freedom from FEAR:  fear that someone might take away these rights.
Government’s main job or purpose is to protect these rights.  This should be carefully noted:  the job of government is NOT to PROVIDE us with these rights; rights are something that already belong to us by nature.  Nor is it government’s job to PROVIDE us with all the things we have a right to.  Its job is simply to PROTECT our right to have them.  This protection is the only entitlement we have from the government; it is the only thing the government OWES us.

The second form of justice is PUNITIVE justice, or the punishment of evildoers.  (Here, “evildoers” means those who attempt to violate or deprive us of our rights).  Punishment (God’s own wrath and vengeance) is the means by which government protects our rights.  The application of swift, straightforward punishment to those who take away the rights of others is designed to instill fear in the hearts of evildoers, to deter or restrain their criminal attacks on others.

Here are some examples of how this works.  It is government’s job:
  1. To protect our right or freedom to WORK – not to prevent or discourage us from working.
  2. To protect our right or freedom to OWN PROPERTY – to protect us from thieves and to refrain from seizing one person’s property (money) just to give it to someone else.
  3. To protect our right or freedom to get a good education, to have good health care, and to serve God in good conscience (but not to provide us with these things).
  4. To protect us from all who would take away our rights and freedom, e.g., murderers, thieves, terrorists, invading armies.
This leads to the third question:  what does all this have to do with voting?  (Note: voting for government leaders is not an inherent aspect of good government.  It is a privilege we should be grateful for.)

We might ask first, how DO people decide how to vote?  How do they decide whom to vote for, or whom to vote against?  Here are some possible reasons for one’s choice:
  1. Party affiliation (“My family has always voted Democratic, so....”).
  2. Something personal:  looks, personality, wealth, color of skin, speaking ability, etc.
  3. Personal economic benefit:  How would this candidate affect my personal finances?
  4. General economy:  How would this candidate affect the economic health of our nation?
  5. Adherence to the Constitution:  Would the candidate follow it or flout it?
  6. Religious affiliation:  Whoever is a Christian.
NONE of these reasons should be our first consideration in making this decision.  How then SHOULD we decide to vote?  By applying this one main criterion:  which candidate will enforce God’s purpose for government?

Here is an analogy:  How would you choose a doctor, e.g., a heart surgeon?  What would be your main consideration?  The one who is the best looking?  The one who gives you stuff, like a telephone?  The one who is cheapest?  The one who is a Christian?  Or the one who knows how the heart is supposed to work, and who knows how to make it work properly?

The above criteria for deciding how to vote may sometimes be useful, but they can never be decisive.  Party affiliation?  There is too much inconsistency here.  Personal qualities?  These are generally irrelevant or even frivolous.  Personal economic benefit?  Can you say “selfish?”  What about the general economy?  This is important, but not decisive.  Some things are more important than money.  Adherence to the Constitution?  This is also important, but not decisive.  Christian or not?  This is always preferred, but it is not decisive.  Some Christians are really confused as to why God established government, while some non-Christians “get it.”

Thus the one basic, decisive criterion for deciding how to vote is this:  which candidate comes closest to the Biblical purpose for government?  Which candidate will do the best job of fighting for justice and freedom?  Which candidate will do the best job of protecting our rights?

(c) 2012 by Jack Cottrell

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