The Bible and Citizenship in the Upcoming Election

If America began consistently applying Biblical ethics to its politicians, even some of our most revered leaders could never be president. Once we begin applying biblical moral standards to determine our candidate we can't limit it to one or two ethical commands. We cannot cherry-pick which biblical morals we will hold and which we will reject. It is interesting to note that the U.S. Constitution has no moral or religious test for president.

Some have tried to apply OT standards for kings to our politicians. For example, OT leaders were not to take a bribe, therefore, it is suggested our politicians are to be above reproach in this area.

Deuteronomy 16:19 “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.”

The Lord rejected Saul as king of Israel for his failure to obey the word of God.

1 Samuel 15:23 “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king.”

There are reasons why applying OT civic laws to American government system is difficult, if not impossible. One reason is that Israel in the promised land functioned as a theocracy in both civic and religious matters. However, in exile, they were only theocratic religiously. In Babylon, they lived under a pagan king, and in a pagan city for which they were to seek its welfare. The New Covenant church is more like Israel in exile than in the promised land. NT believers are called strangers, sojourners, and exiles in this world. Like Israel in exile longing to return to the promised land, we are seeking a kingdom, not of this world and one in which our true citizenship belongs.

While in exile, God instructed Israel how to live under their new pagan king and in a pagan land in passages such as Jeremiah 29:4-7 which reads,

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, ‘Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. ‘Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. ‘Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare’."

What did it mean for Israel to seek the welfare of Babylon? Attempt to make their pagan kings adhere to OT ethics? Try to make Babylon a new Israel? Of course not! Sounds funny put that way, doesn’t it? It does include praying for Babylon and its kings, building homes, having children, being productive citizens and living full lives. They were to see a linkage between seeking the welfare of Babylon and their own well-being. As things went well for the pagan city, they would go well for the Jews.

Like Israel, we need to seek the welfare of our pagan country and “King.” It’s not our job to make America a Christian nation nor necessarily see that the president is a godly or ethical man. We are to pray for the king and all in authority and live full, quite, and productive lives.

It’s interesting that in I Timothy 2:1-2 the first thing Paul instructs the church to do is similar to Jeremiah’s direction to Israel in exile, to pray for the King and all who are in authority.

1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”

Second, instead of looking to the OT for information on American politics and voting, we should be looking to the NT. In part because unlike Israel, God brought the church into existence not as a civic theocracy but as a religious theocracy living in a pagan world as strangers, exiles, and aliens.

The NT teaching on our relationship to civic authorities is interesting not only for what it says, but also for what it doesn't say. For example, in I Peter 2:17 we are called to "honor the king." There is no stipulation that the king must first in fact be honorable. The next verse calls slaves to obey even their unreasonable masters, not just the good ones. Their character is never brought up as a determinative factor for giving them honor or submission.

According to Romans 13, the primary responsibility of civic authorities is to promote good and restrain evil. Nothing is said about character. When Paul wrote Romans, Nero was the king. He remains infamous to this day for his evil and immoral life. He makes Donald J. Trump look like a choirboy. The church was to honor and pray for the king, pay taxes, and be good citizens to the degree they could without violating God’s law. God does not require pagan kings over earthly kingdoms to be godly men beyond His general call to all men to repent and believe.

This is not to suggest it doesn’t matter who we vote for or that their character doesn't matter. It is saying that their personal ethics is not the first or sole criteria for determining the best candidate. As God is raising up and taking down leaders, we, as citizens of America, should use our best judgment to choose the candidate that will maintain law and order, seek the welfare of all people, and to promote good and restrain evil as God defines it. We do our best and allow love and grace to abound.

In light of what has been written, here are some guidelines for selecting a candidate.

First, there are no perfect candidates, and there are no perfect circumstances for casting our vote. All our votes will be less than ideal.

Second, take a long view of things. Presidents come and go, but the judges they appoint, and policies they enact can stand for generations.

Third, be more concerned with the morality that will result in the judicial appointments and policies than the personal morality of the president. For example, the 12 years of Reagan/George H. W. Bush gave us some of our most liberal judges until Obama's appointments. Until recently, it was mainly Reagan/Bush appointments that have kept Roe v. Wade from being overturned. Presently, the swing judge in Scotus’ decisions is Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee. He has consistently ruled against biblical ethics.

Fourth, the Constitution is vital. Typically, the vote is not between a constitutionalist and a non-constitutionalist but more of a sliding scale. When possible, support the candidate most committed to a constitutionally limited government.

Fifth, never be comfortable choosing to have no voice. Others will disagree but not to vote is not an option for a good citizen in our system of government. Also, choosing to vote for a candidate knowing they won't get more than 5% is the same thing as not voting. Some think there is some virtue in voting for someone who has no chance of winning. Or, they might say, "Not to vote is a vote of conscience." To do so is nothing more than symbolism over substance.

In the end, we are looking for a kingdom that can't be shaken and will never end. America is not that kingdom. How we vote will not bring in that kingdom. Yet, we must keep seeking the welfare of our country by voting for candidates that will enact policies to promote good and restrain evil according to biblical norms. 

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