Some people get disgusted with political mud-slinging and shrill voices getting on their nerves during an election season, and decide to punish politicians by not voting. Christians sometimes ask, “If the Bible doesn’t instruct us on how to participate in our political process, why should we vote?”
In biblical days, the individual had little say in matters of government. One king or governor or judge or tribal leader had most of the say. In the Roman Empire, the emperor and his governors had most of the say, and a few city elders or local strong men on the borders had the rest. So the common people, who had no say in government, were not held accountable by God for the major decisions. They were held accountable for their moral actions, but not for the political decisions.
Today things are different: we live in a republican form of democracy, something virtually unknown during biblical times. Now we do have a role to play in shaping the direction of policy, though it is a small one.
We can vote for our elected officials. We can speak to our friends and neighbors. We can seek to influence public opinion, by speaking out or actually campaigning for a particular candidate. God does not hold each of us responsible for the bigger roles we cannot play, but does hold us accountable for the role we are given in our society. We cannot neglect to take our role seriously.
Yes, our vote does count, as the election between Al Gore and George W. Bush demonstrated at the time of the Florida recount. You never know when an election will be close. Yet even when the election is not close, our involvement is an expression of both duty and gratitude for the opportunity to be involved. Throughout history, most people never had the opportunity. Many in other countries today yearn for the opportunity to participate in a free, non-corrupt election.
Sometimes, however, we are not sure about each candidates in every race. In such a case, you do not need to vote for every race. You may do your duty by voting for the one or two you’re informed about.
At other times, you might not like either candidate. In such a case, you should think about which will do a little better job than the other, and vote for the one who is slightly better in character, competence and wisdom. This may seem like a choice between two evils — that is — between two people who do not impress you, but in voting for the one who seems slightly better, you make a difference in the outcome that will generally benefit your state or country. Even small improvements often have bigger consequences than foreseen, as when New York city’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s improvements for firefighters and police drastically reduced crime in New York City. Putting police back on the beat in every neighborhood lessened crime to a marked degree.
As with any family problem or business decision, a little increase in wisdom often pays dividends. This is why we should ask, “Which one has a little more wisdom or talent?”
Something else is important for the Christian voter to keep in mind. We must take our biblical ethics and values with us into the voting booth. We are responsible to God for supporting candidates and policies which line up with the biblical concept of righteous and wise human practices, and for opposing those candidates and policies which would oppose what is good and wise.
New Testament scholar Charles Cranfield puts it well in these words:
“Often the only choice open to the Christian in a particular situation will be a choice between evils; but he will realize that it is not a matter of indifference whether the greatest possible, or the least possible, evil comes to pass, and that to help to bring about the greatest evil by refusing, out of a mistaken perfectionism, to choose the least is surely to be guilty of dereliction of duty. The Christian should be aware of the danger of being so preoccupied with the quest of the unattainable that one fails to achieve the limited goals which are within one’s reach.” (from C.E.B. Cranfield, The Bible and Christian Life, page 66).
I hope this is helpful. And if we disagree on political options, we should disagree in love. This means showing respect to one another and keeping the discourse civil.
The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Walla Walla. You may e-mail him at EmmanuelOffice@wwelc.org or call him at 509-525-6872. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.