Christians and Elections—Part One
How should Christians be involved in elections?
Every year around the world, elections hold in many nations for appointing or re-appointing leaders who would govern the nation's affairs. Christians reside in these nations and may be affected positively or adversely by the policies of those elected to office. Whensoever you are reading this article, it will be election season in one part of the world or another. It is, therefore, needful to seek God's guidance on how Christians should get involved in elections.
This article discusses the lack of biblical precepts on elections which is foreign to biblical dispensations. We shall, nonetheless, discuss patterns that we can relate to the subject matter from Scripture. Finally, we shall conclude on the issue and counsel how Christians should conduct themselves in any election cycle.
For easy readability and assimilation, we shall split this article into two parts: in this first part, we will look at the scarcity of biblical precepts on elections and two scriptural patterns we can learn about the Christian's role in choosing civil leaders. In the second part, we shall continue our discussion on scriptural patterns by which Christians can choose civil leaders and draw our conclusion on the subject matter.
In some nations, some Christians constitute themselves into voting blocs that could swing an election in favour of a candidate for elective office. By forming themselves into voting blocs, Christians are especially courted by politicians for their votes. But these politicians' primary objective is to win an election; governance is usually secondary!
To win the trust of the voting bloc of Christians, some politicians claim they are Christians (that is, they believe in Jesus Christ), are against abortion and homosexuality, and are supporters of the nation of Israel and all that goes with such support. These 'Christian' politicians also claim to be against those who are against Christians and Christianity. Yet, for all the rhetoric, countries like the United States of America have strong allies in nations like Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist Islamic nation—what an irony! Also, many so-called 'Christian' politicians deny Christ by how they live, making their claim of being Christians questionable! Some have even been indicted and convicted of bribery, corruption, sexual harassment, solicitation for sex, money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, etc.
Paucity of biblical precepts on Christians and elections
The Bible does not directly tell us anything about how Christians should vote or whom they should vote for during elections. In biblical times, there was nothing like democracy, elections, or voting. Kings were appointed by heredity, subterfuge, or coups. In the biblical New Testament dispensation, when Christianity was in its infancy, Christians were never involved in the selection process of national leaders.
It can, therefore, be a tough task trying to teach or counsel Christians on how to vote in an election; and whether to participate as candidates or even belong to political parties. More confusing are people claiming to be prophets and ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, invested in elections, so much so it is usually during election cycles that they prophesy and preach about who should be voted to power. They abandon the divine calling to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Unfortunately, these religious leaders are often dead wrong in their prophecies or the candidates they ask their congregants to vote for.
So, for whom should a Christian vote in an election? Should Christians vote for only Christian candidates? Should Christians demonise people of other faiths in a multi-religious nation? Should Christians vote along ethnic lines? Should Christians be involved in party politics? How can Christians reconcile their tenets with the political practices of dog-eat-dog? How does a Christian get involved in campaigns of calumny and deceit?
Some churches in Nigeria recently created a department that focuses on helping its members participate in elective office and get involved in politics as members of political parties. How does one justify the involvement of church organisations in politics? One renowned Nigerian church leader admitted that he does not vote during elections but went on to tell his "children", as he calls members of his congregation, to vote for the candidate of their choice. Thus, he acknowledged the various political leanings or affiliations of his flock.
Patterns gleaned from Scripture about Christians and elections
Firstly, God admonishes us to pray for those in authority over us
so that we can live in peace and quietness, spending our time in godly living and thinking much about the Lord. (1 Timothy 2:2, LB)
Christians' involvement in governance is to pray for leaders—regardless of their religious beliefs, ideology, or policy—so that their policies are not detrimental to the peaceful habitation of Christians in their various nations. If there is war in any country, Christians in that nation will, one way or another, be affected adversely. So, God's counsel to Christians is to pray for leaders.
Interestingly, God counselled Judah while they were in captivity in Babylon to pray for the peace of the nation in which they were captives!
After Jeconiah the king, the queen mother, the court officials, the tribal officers, and craftsmen had been deported to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah wrote them a letter from Jerusalem, addressing it to the Jewish elders, priests, prophets, and to all the people. He sent the letter with Elasah (son of Shaphan) and Gemariah (son of Hilkiah) when they went to Babylon as King Zedekiah's ambassadors to Nebuchadnezzar. And this is what the letter said: The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, sends this message to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: Build homes and plan to stay; plant vineyards, for you will be there many years. Marry and have children, and then find mates for them and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Don't dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray for her, for if Babylon has peace, so will you. The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Don't let the false prophets and mediums who are there among you fool you. Don't listen to the dreams that they invent, for they prophesy lies in my name. I have not sent them, says the Lord. The truth is this: You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised and bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:1-11, LB)
God's word to Judah while in captivity was not to seek to influence the polity by direct involvement but by prayer. The church today can be likened to Judah in captivity, for although we are in the world, we are not of the world (John 17:15-16); our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). But while we are here on the earth, the Lord asked us to pray:
Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10, NKJV)
Whereas the politician's primary role is to win an election, the Christian's part is to pray that God's will be established on earth. God's will includes who should lead and what policies are best for the peaceful habitation of Christians and others in the nation.
Secondly, God's word says:
The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes. (Proverbs 21:1, NKJV)
The above verse of Scripture suggests that whoever the leader is, God can take hold of them and direct their hearts to do God's bidding. But for God to do that, Christians in that land must pray for their leaders. God has bound Himself to act in accordance with the prayers of His people, which He initiates most times. God says He has given the earth to the children of men (Psalm 115:16). If the earth is to produce its full potential in our favour, including good governance, we must pray for our leaders.
Some people have taken the curious position of blaming leaders for virtually everything they perceive to be wrong in a nation. Sadly, Christians are not exempt from such a blame game. Sometimes, Christians are at the forefront of such blaming!
Besides praying for leaders, Christians must obey the laws of the land and act with love toward all men:
Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it's God's order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you're irresponsible to the state, then you're irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you're trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you'll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you're breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren't there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That's why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it's the right way to live. That's also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders. Don't run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other "don't" you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love. (Romans 13:1-10, MSG)
It is instructive to note that Paul wrote the above, inspired by the Holy Spirit, during the brutal reign of the Emperor Nero of the Roman Empire—the emperor who is believed to have burnt Rome and blamed it on Christians. The early Church never advocated that we rebel against constituted authority but obey the laws of the land.
Whilst chastising the government for the high price of foodstuff, many Christians are themselves engaged in price gouging! While complaining about society's low morals, many Christian parents give unfettered freedom to their children who act and dress immorally. While church leaders complain about government policies, they enact oppressive policies in their churches. Some churches build schools that only children of the rich can attend.
This two-faced nature of many local churches or denominations makes people-oriented advocacy by churches against government programmes, hypocritical! We cannot blame our governments when we are not praying for them and acting responsibly in the nations we reside.