There is very little democracy in the world of the Bible. It was not the prevailing form of government in Old or New Testament times, which means we have almost no explicit and direct counsel for Christian voters. But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw from the well of biblical wisdom when we vote. Below are seven biblical truths that can guide how we vote as Christians.
Much of God’s direction in the Bible calls Christians to stay engaged with their culture, wherever it is not expressly opposed to God. We are to live in the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10), give to Caesar what is Caesar’s (Mark 12:13-17), and pay our taxes (Romans 13:1-7). This is not an absolute or unconditional obligation, evidenced by Peter and the apostles in Acts 5:29, who vowed to disobey the city leaders if commanded to disobey God. But our constitutional democracy is premised on voter participation and there seems to be nothing at this time that prevents us from participating. But what does it mean, and what might it look like, to vote as a Christian?
Vote for truth and justice
Given all the injunctions against uneven scales, and bribery in Proverbs (see Proverbs 11:1; 17:23; 20:23); and the numerous exhortations towards honest dealing, truth-telling and impartial judgement in the same book (Proverbs 10:9; 12:19; 24:23), it is obvious that Christians should direct their attention to politicians and parties that are committed to truth in an open, just society. The matters are far deeper than what works and expediency. In this area as in every other, there are no perfect candidates—but there are some on the ballot who are non-starters.
Vote for the poor
Any Christian who casts their ballot must surely be casting with the hope that it will benefit the poor. God’s heart is for the widow, orphan, poor and the alien in the land. Our concerns must be the same—no less on voting day. Of course, discerning which policies are in fact pro-poor is another question entirely. In the long run, is capitalism or socialism better for the poor? Or take the explosive issue of land reform: is expropriation without compensation more likely to enrich a political elite and undermine food security, or redress past injustices and secure political stability?
Let me be clear: I am not advocating for either of these positions, merely making the point that the issues are complex, whichever country we live in. Perhaps the most important lesson for voting in this principle is to steer clear of those peddling simple solutions. We need leaders who are determined to serve the poor, while also acknowledging the complexity of doing so.
Vote for checks and balances
In Deuteronomy 16-18 we find the national power of Israel distributed across four offices under the Word of God: judge, king, priest and prophet. While this institutional framework is particular to Old Testament theocratic Israel, there is still divine wisdom for us living in the 21st century. Just as God directed Israel over 3000 years ago, it is not wise to entrust absolute power in any one individual, institution or party. As voters, strange as it may sound, we should never hope for the overwhelming, unrivalled success of “our” party. We should equally never wish opposition or smaller parties away. In the providence of God, they hold each other accountable.
Vote for freedom of religion
It makes no gospel sense to vote for a party hostile to the Christian faith. Leaders that are looking to stifle freedom of religion (or speech) should not have the support of those tasked with the mission of proclaiming Christ. At least in South African, no party is campaigning on this particular platform, but certain ideologies are anti-faith, sometimes subtly and at others overtly. We need to recognise this. We also need to do our research on which politicians from which parties are working to limit these freedoms—partly because freedom is a desirable value but more importantly because of a desire to make Christ known.
Vote for peace
Christians are often exhorted to be a people concerned for peace (Romans 12:18; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). It is one thing to provoke short-term strife for the sake of long-term peace. Change usually causes some turmoil and arises from tension. But it is another thing entirely to be committed to long-term strife by taking entrenched positions in identity politics. People’s basic identities will not change, so by opposing a certain group, as a position of policy, you are investing in long-term conflict. We need to develop a nose for the odour of identity politics, from whichever side of the political street it emanates.
Vote in peace
Finally, let us not forget that our hope is not bound to the outcomes of any election. We are not ultimately citizens in a democracy. We are subjects in a monarchy. Our King is all-powerful, and all good. In the cosmic scheme of things our vote matters very little. What truly matters is God’s election of us in Christ. All the more reason to go and vote, wisely, prayerfully but also peacefully and cheerfully – with magnanimity for those across the aisle, and with hope for a future which, thank God, does not depend on my vote.