by Bob Burridge ©2016 (updated October, 2016)
As American Christians we have two citizenships to honor:
first toward the Kingdom of God, second toward our Country.
Our duty in both is to honor God, and to promote his ways.
In the United States by God’s providence we have the awesome privilege and responsibility of electing our leaders. Since there are no perfect or sinless people, there can never be perfect or sinless candidates. To choose responsibly, we need to know what biblical principles should guide our decisions.
We live in a dangerous time. Basic principles originally drawn from Scripture are basically abandoned in the 21st Century. There are foreign and idealogical enemies who want to destroy us – kill us. There are those in our own country who want to totally ban public mentions of God. They want to kill unborn babies, redefine marriage, redefine the whole concept of gender, and have the central government take over the medical profession, education, and businesses. If we as Christians ignore our responsibilities to promote God’s glory and ways, if we fail to heed the warnings, we should not expect to survive as a free nation.
Considering all that — how should we then vote? I borrowed this title from Ezekiel 33:10. The focus there is the responsibility of warning others when dangers come along. We have a duty to let people know about the consequences of wickedness, and of ignoring warnings. Verse 6 gives the context.
Ezekiel 33: 6, “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” (NKJV)
- If we ignore God’s warnings, we may lose our freedoms, and even face death.
- If we fail to warn others when we see danger coming, we are guilty of disobeying our calling.
- If we ignore the problems, ” .. how should we then live?” (King James Version)
It’s our duty to select the leaders who will heed the warnings, and best handle today’s challenges.
So — how should we then vote?
We need to consider the biblical principles that guide us in making responsible voting choices. A biblical approach considers who will most likely govern according to biblical principles. Who will be most likely to restore the way God defines the role of human government?
Before getting into briefly evaluating today’s issues, and how we should evaluate candidates, we need to review what the Bible says about the role of civil government and human leadership.
First, we need to understand the specific authority and
responsibilities God gives to those chosen to lead us.
A good summary of the job of Civil Government and of our relationship with it is found in Romans 13:1-7. To put it in context, the last part of Chapter 12 is based on Deuteronomy 32:35-36. It tells us that we should not take our own revenge. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. In Chapter 13 the Apostle Paul tells us how the Lord’s vengeance is to be carried out by human governments.
Paul begins with a general principle. God ordained that some should govern, and others should be governed.
Romans 13:1, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (NKJV)
The existence of authority structures in themselves help reveal the relationship of God as King with his creation. Paul uses a very general term “exousiais huperekhousais” (εξουσίαις ὑπερεχουσαις). It’s usually translated as, “Governing authorities” or “higher powers”. More literally it means “authority – very high”.
The term was not limited to just the existing Roman form of government. It applies to all types of governments: monarchies, empires, republics, social democracies, tribal systems, and dictatorships.
Human authority does not come from the consent of the people, social contracts, traditions, or the military. It comes from God. He sovereignly appoints every human to his place of power. Even the wicked King Jeroboam is said to have been appointed by God over the Ten Tribes. (1 Kings 14:7)
Dr. Charles Hodge famously said, “All human power is delegated and ministerial.” God is the source of all human authority, and those who govern are merely administrators of his real authority.
The Bible speaks of four primary areas of human authority. God’s authority is represented in the home, in the work place, in the church, and in the state. As the Creator, God alone has the right to define the powers and limitations at each level. Each is there to administer order in a specific way, and over specific people. Those who are under that authority are to respect those God appoints over them.
When Paul wrote this epistle, pagan Rome ruled the civilized world. No Roman Caesar in that era honored Christ, or viewed the Scriptures as God’s law. Yet Paul said that the existing governing authorities are established by God.
Wicked governors were sometimes appointed by God as a just reward to unfaithful nations, and to execute judgments upon others. He raised up Babylon to judge Israel when that nation wandered from him. He raised up the Pharaoh of Egypt to reveal his power to deliver, and to show his justice toward evil. God said about the Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16, “… indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Dr. Robert Haldane said, “No tyrant ever seized power till God gave it him.”
The Bible affirms this creation principle repeatedly.
Psalm 75:7 says, “But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.”
Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
Daniel 4:17 Pagan King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that, “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men”
Sometimes even the church has defied rightful government, and brought God’s wrath down upon themselves. Haldane warns, “When the ignorance of God’s people is punished for any offense against the government of their country, their chastisement should be looked on as a chastisement from God.”
There is an important biblical limit set upon all human authority — “We must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29). No human law can over-ride, set aside, or repeal the principles God gives us. If governing authorities ask us to defy God we are duty bound to disobey in that one thing, but even that disobedience should be done humbly and with respect for the office they hold.
Romans 13:2, “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.”
Since God appoints every power, good or evil, to resist them is to resist God.
The danger in breaking civil laws is not only that we may get caught by police, fined, or put in jail. It is not that our reputation might be damaged, or our social status might be brought down. It is that in breaking civil law we disobey this ordinance of God.
We should work hard to change bad policies, laws, and leaders. However, we need to work within the authority structures God provides. No human government is ever perfect. They all enforce some wrong laws.
As hard as it is to see at the time, even evil governments are used to serve God’s purposes. Though imperfectly, these governments still enforce laws against theft, murder, kidnappings, and hold back the outbreak of total chaos. They have protected churches against the destruction of their property, or the killing of their people. Even poor courts have been used by God to limit the flow of oppression, though the courts are often motivated by misguided values.
Sometimes corrupt governors were used to show God’s people their own failures, and to provoke them to repentance and renewed obedience. In times of martyrdom the church often grew in strength even though its numbers were diminished.
God gave rule to the pagan Roman Empire, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Canaan, Philistia, and many more. God’s people under oppression were not directed to overthrow the governments, or to provoke dissent. They were to live responsible godly lives under that which was ordained by the authority of God.
Even in captivity under Babylon, the captured Jews were told to pray for the cities, not to rebel against them. They were not to bow to the pagan idols or stop praying to the true God, but they did not riot in the streets. Jeremiah 29:7, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
There is no greater abuse of authority imaginable, than the crucifying of Jesus Christ. Yet it was to that oppressive Empire of lustful egocentric pagan rulers that Paul commanded obedience.
The Bible spells out the duty of civil governments.
Romans 13:3-4, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”
God ordained his world to operate under the direction of civil governments. Those who obey rightful laws should have no reason to fear governments. Those who defy those laws have good reason for fear. Not just a fear of jail, fines, or executions, but more so the wrath of God.
Paul tells us twice, once in Romans 13:4 and again in verse 6 that civil rulers are God’s ministers for good. The word translated as “minister” (or “servant” as some translate it) is διάκονός (diakonos), someone “who serves.” It is the same word God chose to use when he established the office of Deacon. They are those who serve the daily needs of the church’s Elders and people. The rulers of the state are to serve God in the realm of civic (community) matters.
Those in government are accountable to God first, to serve him for the benefit of civic safety. They are not first accountable to the people or to the voters to do what they decide they want.
Government’s job is to administer good in our communities by maintaining civil order. It should preserve and protect our creation rights of life, work (which implies earnings and ownership), worship, marriage and family, and liberty of conscience to obey God. Civil leaders do not have authority to control our personal lives, work, families, church, or conscience.
To enforce civil order, those appointed to rule in the state do not “bear the sword” in vain. “Bearing the sword” means using physical force, even deadly force, when it is called for. It has the right to wage war to protect against aggressors, to use physical force to stop a crime, and to execute those properly found guilty of a capital crime.
This is how God ordains to ordinarily carry out his wrath in this world. Government, through its courts and under the limits of due process and the laws of evidence, are the only rightful avengers in society. No one may take the law into his own hands except in the case of self-defense.
Even the Apostle Paul when under arrest submitted to that principle in his own case. He said in Acts 25:11, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”
As Christian citizens we have a moral duty to respect those in rightfully appointed authority.
Romans 13:5, “Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”
Our subjection to civil rulers is mandated by God. Peter had learned a lot since that impetuous moment in Gethsemane when he drew his sword. Later in 1 Peter 2:13-17 he wrote, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bond-servants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,”
Government has specific areas of proper God-given authority. To ensure public safety and to protect life and property, our governments enact laws such as those against robbery, theft, assault, murder, rape, incest, and perjury. For our safety against irresponsible citizens they regulate traffic with speed laws, issue licenses to qualified drivers, and register motor vehicles. If we think some laws are unwise, we can work to change them. But like it or not, we must obey them as long as they do not require us to disobey God’s laws.
To provide for the national defense governments may prosecute for treason, aggression, terrorism, and espionage. They can use military force to protect us against evil aggression from other nations. Just as personal self-defense is justified, so is international self-defense.
However, government may not intrude upon the rightful authority God gives to others. It should not do the work of Elders by controlling church membership, worship, or doctrine. It should not do the work of parents by taking over their children’s education, diet, and discipline. It should not do the work of managers in the workplace by assuming control over industry or businesses. When government disregards other authority structures, they too will answer to God.
Fallen arrogant hearts tend to presume that others are not as smart as they are. Corrupt governments believe they can do better than parents in raising and teaching children, better than medical professionals in determining what medical procedures should be employed, and better than the owners of businesses to determine how budgets, materials, properties, and employees should be managed.
Many want government to take more control of these areas of life. Civil leaders may sincerely see imperfections and problems when businesses make poor choices, or when parents fail to raise their children in the most wise ways. However, that’s not their job. Governments should respect the authority God assigns to the home, the church, and the work place.
People in a community may work together as individual citizens, families, and neighborhoods to improve local conditions, provide educational resources, and encourage businesses, but controlling those things is not part of the authority given to those who rule in the civil realm.
Invasive or oppressive government may be God’s judgment. Citizens may neglect their own responsibilities, become lazy, and needlessly dependent. They may elect immoral or corrupt leaders by being taken in by luring promises and winning personalities.
Paul next adds the motives that should be behind our subjection. To avoid judicial wrath when we do wrong, and to ensure a clear conscience before God, we should not defy the authority structures he instituted.
Government must be provided for so that it can do its work effectively.
Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
Government has a right to collect reasonable taxes. Funds are needed to carry out their duties of law enforcement and defense. If those who protect us are to bear the sword, we need to make sure they have swords, and the training to use them. Of course we take this to mean whatever modern weapons are available and helpful in carrying out their biblical duties, not just literal swords. At times governments impose other fees to curtail dishonest trade practices. When there are other revenues or customs, these charges should also be paid.
Under the economic system God set up for Ancient Israel during the Levitical Period, there was a single fixed amount each household had to pay. The only percentage fee was the Tithe (one tenth of every income). But that was designated to support the Priests, cover the costs of worship, and for care of the truly needy. It was administered by the religious leaders, not the civil leaders.
Given our fallen nature, it is not surprising that taxation is often abused. Often taxes are used for evil purposes as they were in ancient Rome. Even with those abuses, Paul says we are to pay the taxes and fees anyway. In Mark 12:17 Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”
God holds the corrupt government responsible for the abuse of taxes. God does not hold the citizens guilty for what their leaders do with the tax money. We should not withhold taxes simply because we believe they are wrongly collected or improperly spent. We should work within the law to see that irresponsible tax laws and budgets are changed, but we do not have the authority to refuse to pay.
We should pray for the civil authorities God places over us.
1 Timothy 2:1-2, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”
Law enforcement officers, judges, mayors, governors, congressmen, the president, and all those with civil authority are appointed by God to represent his kingship on earth. To disobey or to dishonor them is to defy God, and call down his judgment.
Our duty is to be responsible and godly citizens. We should elect leaders who will most honor these boundaries, and carry out the responsibilities God gives to the civil authorities. We should pray for and encourage all those who rightfully hold office, and we should honor their laws and leadership within the area of authority God has given to them.
In our constitutional democratic-republic
every qualified citizen should responsibly help choose our leaders.
The Bible teaches us the way God created things to work. Those principles and guidelines should be respected and promoted. Our job as voters is to choose candidates who will best do what God ordained and authorized government to do.
Those elected should keep governments from usurping the authority God assigns to others. They should respect the responsibilities given to the family, religious institutions, and the workplace. These should only be regulated where crimes are being committed.
We voters need to be informed by what the Bible teaches, and determine as much as possible how each candidate would enable us to honor those teachings. We should pray for wisdom and discernment, being aware that not all that’s said in a campaign is true. We should elect people we believe we can trust, and who will work with other leaders to help government stick with its assigned job, and to do it well. Our choice should not be based upon advantages a candidate promises to special interest groups at the cost of others.
When the voting is completed and candidates are sworn in, we should pray for and show respect for whoever is elected. We may try to defeat them next time and oppose their policies, but we should always show respect because (like it or not) God gave them the job.
These are the basic authority structures and responsibilities God assigns to civil leaders.
There are some main cultural issues to consider
which address biblical principles.
God gives government authority to maintain civil order to protect us against crime foreign and domestic. Civil crimes are those actions which defy our basic creation rights as citizens of a community. These were made clear in Eden even before the fall, and were built upon all through Scripture.
– We have a God-given right to life. We were created to be the handiwork of God, made in his image. No government has the authority to take a life, except in cases spelled out in God’s word. That would include execution for capital crimes, and the defense of citizens against enemies when it becomes necessary to use deadly force (Genesis 9:6).
Abortion is not an option. Biblically, every conceived human should be protected. Governments should not euthanize those who are depressed, too old, or too sick to function well.
Government is primarily there to protect lives and property. It should preserve life, protecting against all unjustified killings of humans (murder, terrorism, abortion, euthanasia, blocking necessary health care).
There should also be a sound national defense against foreign aggressors. This is very demanding in these challenging times of high technology and advanced weapons.
– We have a God-given right and obligation to work to earn our provisions. That was made clear from the first moments of humans on earth. We are to work six days every week remembering God’s work of Creation. God’s laws relating to theft confirm that things we earn, grow, make, buy, or receive as gifts are ours. Government should protect what we own by punishing thieves and vandals.
Government can regulate businesses so that they do not lie about their products and services. God’s laws for Israel required fair weights and measures in commerce. For public safety we need to regulate foods that might be contaminated or poisonous. But government can over-reach and strangle businesses with demands beyond punishing criminal activity. Sometimes people have to be personally responsible for taking their own risks. We may want inspections of meat packing plants, but not required permitting of a child’s lemonade stand.
Several Mayors over-stepped their authority when they said Chick-fill-A was unwelcome in their cities. They were reacting to it’s CEO who didn’t personally support gay marriage. They were not applying a general law that would apply to all businesses. These Mayors imposed their personal prejudices upon the community, and aimed at one particular business, rather than applying a passed law which would generally effect all businesses in the same way. Business is limited by the market, and rightful laws, not by the opinions of our leaders. Customers should decide if they want to do business with particular businesses. Lawmakers should make the laws and let the voters decide if they still want them as their representatives.
– We have a God-given right to maintain our families biblically. Parents, not governments, are responsible for raising their children. They should be active in overseeing their discipline and education. Marriage is defined in God’s word and should not be modified to accommodate changing trends. Governments have no authority to introduce new grounds for divorce, or to extend marriage to include relationships contrary to those instituted by God in the Bible.
– We have a God-given duty to honor God in our daily lives and to worship. The First Amendment to our Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
This “establishment clause” was there to keep Government from establishing a “state religion” as we had under the English Crown. It was never intended to keep religion behind closed doors and out of public life. Secularism would like to eliminate all public references to God and Christianity.
A report published by the Family Research Council and the Liberty Institute points to a rising pattern of hostility toward Christians in America over the past decade. Their 140-page book, “Survey of Religious Hostility in America” cites more than 600 examples illustrating what it characterizes as religious animosity by judges, government bureaucrats, schools, and secular groups. It was made available at www.religioushostility.org
We need to decide which candidate
with a reasonable chance of getting elected
will most advance policies closest to biblical principles.
We who believe God’s word should support leaders who are most likely to work within biblical boundaries. As citizens of the United States we have a constitution that should be honored. One of our duties is the election of our leaders. We should not abdicate that important responsibility, or marginalize our influence.
Single issue voters might ignore these basic biblical principles while they consider just one isolated policy. It’s important to look beyond just one policy position. We need to examine all of what a candidate says and has actually done or been a part of. If we elevate single issues to where they rule out otherwise better leaders, we might exempt ourselves from advancing God’s ways in our country. However, highly offensive positions on issues usually reveal offensive underlying principles. Underlying assumptions like that shape a candidate’s stand on issues, so they shouldn’t be ignored.
There are always some who will vote for candidates unlikely to be elected (or for obscure write-ins). Some will not vote at all. No candidate with a mathematical change of being elected meets their full expectations. Voting for someone does not mean endorsing every view and policy that person promotes. Voting is to select leaders, not to make a statement. For that you would do better to get a facebook page, start a blog, or tweet your opinions.
A lot has been said about the religious backgrounds of presidential candidates. What is relevant is how their convictions will effect their constitutional duties. Few viable candidates will ever hold to our own particular theology. What is important in a civil leader is where they stand on biblical morality and the biblical division of authority. The main question is: who will most move our country toward what God recommends in Scripture, whether they realize it or not.
There are extremes we ought to avoid. A major concern of conservative Christians is the abortion issue. While Roe-Wade can’t be decided by a President, he will be able to appoint judges to the Supreme Court. The President will work with those elected to congress who can make changes in our laws.
Respect for our basic creation rights, and for the principles of the Constitution, should be the driving force behind supporting a candidate.
When deciding which candidate will get our vote, we need to listen carefully to what candidates tell us. This is only as helpful as their personal honesty and reliability. We should look at their records, their personal lives and experience, to get an idea about what they will actually do when elected to office.
Winning the election depends upon faithful voters.
It’s important to vote, and to encourage others to vote. In 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 71% of the U.S. population was registered to vote, and only 63.6% voted. That means that about over 94 Million (94,355,000) citizens didn’t vote at all. In 2012 it reports that only 61.8% of registered voters actually voted.
As of August 1st, 2016, 1,817 candidates had filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. Only a few are on all state ballots. The rest have no reasonable chance of being elected. While it’s hard to calculate with precision, some estimate that about 30 to 40 percent of the population leans toward one of the top 2 candidates. That accounts for 60 to 80 percent of eligible voters. About 10% are locked-in to other candidates for very specific reasons. This leaves just 10 to 30 percent available to be persuaded. These figures drive the strategy in a presidential election.
To get elected the candidates need to win over those uncommitted, unsure voters. Since these are not as strongly driven by ideology, this group cannot be counted on to actually get out and vote. They tend to be more uninformed, and unmotivated. Candidates need to find issues that concern this group enough to stir them up to actually vote for them.
Most campaign effort is dedicated to energizing their committed base. The party that gets the highest percentage of its base to actually vote will have the better chance of winning. When the base isn’t strongly behind its candidate, the voters can be discouraged, lazy, complacent, and not bother to vote.
Counting electoral votes is very important. Regardless of how the popular vote goes the winner is the one who gets 270 electoral votes. Some states are usually locked in to the most liberal or the most conservative candidate. The “toss-up” states are real battlegrounds – but again, the key is getting the committed base out to vote.
We have a duty as God’s people to do what we can to elect from among the candidates with a reasonable chance of winning, the one who will most advance policies and practices closest to biblical principles.