I have been asked quite often over the last few decades variations of what is basically the same question: “Should Christians vote? Should we become involved with politics? In the end, do our votes make any difference?”
When I first started hearing those questions, I was a seminary student in the early 1970s. And while abortion was being legalized in certain liberal states (California, New York, etc.), Roe v. Wade had yet to be decided (1973), and the Moral Majority wasn’t even yet a gleam in Jerry Falwell’s eye.
But the horrendous slaughter of millions of unborn babies that ensued produced a tidal wave of moral indignation that swept through American evangelicalism and resulted in the Moral Majority movement and others, registering more than 10 million previously unregistered voters. Not only had these evangelical Christians not been voting, they were not even registered to vote.
And they made a difference. As a direct result of their activation and participation in the political process, Ronald Reagan, a pro-life candidate, was elected president in 1980. Did that solve everything? No, it did not. But just think of how much worse things would have been had he not been elected. The country as a whole made a major turn in the right direction, the “evil empire” (the Soviet Union) was shoved onto the ash heap of history, and freedom flourished around the world.
When people tell me that we shouldn’t be involved in politics and public policy because it doesn’t make any difference, my reply is: “Compared to what? It is foolish and wrong to compare things the way they are to how you would want them to be. You have to compare things the way they are to the way they would be if Christians had not involved themselves and made a substantial difference. Believe me; things would be far, far worse than they are if Christians hadn’t involved themselves in the public square.”
Christians have a sacred duty to vote, and when we vote, to vote our convictions, our beliefs and our values. The Apostle Paul instructs us in Romans 13 that God ordained government to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do that which is right.
Indeed, government (the civil magistrate) is one of only three divinely ordained institutions in Holy Scripture, along with the family and the church.
The New Testament also tells us that “for conscience sake” we are to be good, law-abiding citizens and supporters of the civil magistrate (Romans 13:6-7).
That apostolic commandment means more than just paying your taxes and not breaking the law. God created government to be a force for good and a restraint on evil in society. Jesus commanded Christians to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16). And government is a part of that world.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands Christians to go forth and be a preservative and disinfectant (salt) and to be the light that illuminates the darkness and dispels the gloom. They are to do it “before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus’ commandment is an all-encompassing one and includes evangelism, missions, discipleship and helping to influence the divinely ordained magistrate in an always more moral and just direction.
Jesus’ commandment to be salt and light did not leave open the option for Christians to refuse to be involved with “worldly concerns” and go into a spiritual holding pattern until it is time to be raptured or go home to Heaven. Christians can and have made a real difference. Virtually all of the great moral injustices in American history—slavery, child labor, women’s rights and racial segregation—have been eliminated or seriously reduced as a result of Christians getting involved and saying, “This is wrong, and it must stop!”
As Christians, we have the duty to be informed voters and to vote our convictions, not our wallets and narrow self-interests. Let me be crystal clear about this: If I am presented with the choice of voting for a Jewish woman who is going to protect unborn babies but is also going to raise my taxes by 50 percent, and she is running against a Southern Baptist friend of mine who is going to lower my taxes, appoint me to a government position but is also going to support abortion, I am going to vote for unborn babies and against my wallet every time. Why? Because it is my Christian duty, and because I do not want to have to explain one day to my Lord and Savior at the judgment of believers’ works (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) why I thought my wallet was more important than unborn babies!
Does our vote really make a difference? Yes, it does. First, it makes us obedient to Jesus’ command to be salt and light, and He always blesses obedience.
Second, we live in a country that is deeply divided about really important issues, like the nature of marriage, the sanctity of human life and freedom of conscience—and every vote counts.
Third, as Americans we have the right to vote because hundreds of thousands of our citizens have sacrificed all of their tomorrows on the fields of conflict to protect our right to vote and to determine how we are governed. We dishonor their sacrifice when we neglect our duty to vote, and we might also lose those rights so dearly won.
Finally, we must always remember that we are called to be faithful whether we win or lose. I want to close with one of my favorite stories about Francis Schaeffer. In April of 1984, just before he died of cancer, Schaeffer spoke at Liberty University. During a question and answer period, one of the students stood and said, “Dr. Schaeffer, it seems to me that the church is in the 10th round. It is bloody; it is beaten; it’s on its knees. Is there any hope that we can win?” Schaeffer leaned in toward the microphone and said, “Son, if you do it to win, you have lost already. Whether they win or lose, Christians fight the culture wars because our risen Lord has commanded us.” Amen! ©2016 Richard Land
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Richard Land is president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and the author of 16 books.