So, we’ve spent the last five weeks talking about how as followers of Jesus we need to engage with politics in our culture. All along the way, I’ve been telling you that in this final installment in our conversation I would tell you how to vote. Well, in this message I’m going to tell you how to vote. I hope your ready for it…
How to Vote
In 1953 Democrat Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection to the Senate from the state of Texas. It was shaping up to be a landslide victory for the incumbent who had recently become the youngest Senator elected to the position of Minority Leader for the party. This was of no doubt great relief as his previous election in 1948 was razor thin and he only won by 87 votes when a box of uncounted ballots was “discovered” at the last minute in a small Texas town. Even though his margin of victory in 1954 was enormous (85-15), there were a number of pastors in the state who had been openly encouraging their members to vote for Republican Carlos Watson. Johnson wasn’t much known for being gracious in defeat or victory. Early on in his new term in the Senate he was able to pass a small update to the federal tax code for 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations making it illegal for them to openly advocate for candidates for public office. This became known as the Johnson Amendment.
This amendment was passed with such little fanfare that no one really considered its implications at the time. But its net effect was to allow the government to threaten non-profit organizations with the loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly supported one candidate or another for office. They could explain the positions various candidates held and why those did or didn’t accord with their organizational beliefs, but to go so far as to say to their members, “You should vote for candidate X,” or “We as an organization are backing candidate Y,” brought the risk of the IRS revoking their precious tax-exempt status. The practical impact of this is that many churches quit talking about politics altogether. They certainly quit endorsing candidates or telling people how to vote.
That brings us to this morning. Here we are in the final part of our conversation about followers of Jesus and politics called Being Good Kingdom Citizens. The whole idea for this series has been that as followers of Jesus, we can’t participate in the politics of our culture like the people around us do. We are called to something different. Our first citizenship is in the kingdom of God no matter where we happen to reside. That means that as a church, our first allegiance is to God, not the world. As a result, no matter what happens Tuesday, our kingdom is secure. If the gates of Hell can’t prevail against us, the outcome of a single election certainly won’t. However the election goes, God is still in charge. This mindset will make us different from the world around us, but it just gives us the opportunity to parry questions into Gospel conversations. Standing out well creates Gospel opportunities. And even if these conversations turn into discussions of the issues themselves, we don’t have to fear. We don’t have to be threatened, much less disgusted, when someone—particularly a fellow brother or sister in Christ—believes differently about some issue than we do. As followers of Jesus, our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom. Everything else gets filtered through that lens, making otherwise tough conversations just a little bit easier.
Well, since the morning we started this journey together I have told you that this morning I would do something most pastors in most churches have gone out of their way to avoid doing for the last nearly 70 years. I’ve been telling you from week one that this morning I’m going to tell you how to vote. And so I am. This morning, I am going to tell you how to vote. Are you ready? Assuming you haven’t already done it, this Tuesday, you should vote…hold that thought right there. We’ll come back to it in a bit. Let’s create some context for our conversation.
If you’ve got a copy of the Scriptures with you, find your way to 1 Corinthians 10 with me. Paul has some wisdom from the Spirit there that I think speaks directly into our conversation this morning. First Corinthians 10 forms the end of a long argument from Paul on the issue of whether or not the believers there in Corinth could eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol as part of its butchering process. This issue itself is pretty irrelevant to our lives today in this culture, but the bigger issue of how to get along in spite of differing convictions on matters where the Scriptures do not speak with the kind of clarity we’d prefer is exactly what we’ve been talking about lately. Wrapping up his argument on the matter, Paul says this starting in v. 25: “Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, without raising questions for the sake of conscience, since ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.’ If any of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions for the sake of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This is food from a sacrifice,’ do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for the sake of conscience. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? If I partake with thanksgiving, why am I criticized because of something for which I give thanks?”
Now, that gets a little hard to follow there toward the end, but Paul’s basically saying this: Enjoy your freedom in Christ with respect to this issue, but don’t do it in such a way that might give someone else the inclination that participating in idolatry in any way is okay. That’s important in itself, and we can talk about that more another time, but what Paul says next is right on the money for where we are going this morning. Check this out starting in v. 31 now: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
This is the main thrust of Paul’s argument throughout this section and the heart of what I want you to come away understanding today. What Paul wanted the congregation in Corinth to understand was that holding to different convictions on the unclear issues we talked about last week—and eating idol meat was one of these—was fine. Back your beliefs up by Scripture and live consistently with those. Whatever your convictions are (again, on these kinds of issues, not generally…this is not Paul advocating any kind of believe-whatever-you-want-postmodernism), hold them to the glory of God. Indeed, if you are living your life to the glory of God, you are going to be on the right track. Or, to put in terms from last time, if advancing God’s kingdom is our chief issue, living our lives at every point to the glory of God is how we can make sure we are advancing the God’s kingdom in all things. If we are glorifying God, we are advancing His kingdom and vice versa.
Can you see yet where I’m going with this? Our voting in an election is an expression of our convictions on a number of different issues, most of which don’t have clear Biblical mandates on them one way or the other. If we are going to express those convictions—and we should express those convictions—we must do it, just like Paul told the Corinthian church, to the glory of God. Now, I told you I was going to tell you how to vote, so here we go. This is how you vote. When you vote, vote to the glory of God. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.
Now, you may be feeling either letdown or relieved at this point, but I told you my answer to the question of how to vote wasn’t going to be like you might have been expecting it to go. I personally think the Johnson Amendment was a petty act of political revenge from a politician widely known to be incredibly thin-skinned about perceived personal slights and bully besides. But Johnson Amendment or not, my job is not to tell you who to vote for in a given election. Committed believers on both sides of the political aisle and neither side of the political aisle can examine the Scriptures carefully and make well-reasoned, theologically sound arguments as to why their vote for either or neither major candidate was the right decision to make. If you want to hear some of those before Tuesday, let me know and I’ll point you in their direction. The fact is, you can vote for either or neither candidate yourself and feel at peace about your decision if your decision is made to the glory of God. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.
Okay, fine, not what I wanted to hear, but how do I do it? How do I vote to the glory of God? Well, there’s obviously a lot that goes into answering that question including taking time to weigh the various issues at stake in terms of both their theological clarity and practical consequences, but let me give you three questions you can ask yourself, and if you can answer them positively, feel pretty good about how well you are glorifying God with your vote.
The first question is this: Is your commitment to the unity of the church greater than your commitment to a particular candidate or party? In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, when he was calling them to live a life worthy of the calling they had received in Christ, one of the ways he told them to do this was to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Maintaining the unity of the church is more important than politics. Period. There are people in the room now who won’t vote for the same person you do. That’s just reality and, frankly, we should be grateful and proud that we have a community where people with differing political convictions can nonetheless work and worship with one another, united in heart and mind by something entirely larger than human politics, namely, Jesus. There are churches out there—even churches in this county where Democrats are not welcomed. There are churches where Republicans shouldn’t expect anything but a cold, judgmental shoulder. Where that happens, it doesn’t bring glory to God. If you’re going to vote as a follower of Jesus, you’ve got to do so with a commitment to maintaining and even strengthening the unity of the church regardless of who supports whom and why. That will bring glory to God and that should leave you proud of voting whomever your candidate happens to be. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.
Second, am I putting others first when I cast my vote? As Nate mentions in his newsletter article that you should be able to read starting tomorrow when it begins hitting the mailboxes around town, Paul commands us in Philippians 2:3-4 to put others first in all things. Listen to this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” We live in a cultural environment in which we are told to put ourselves first in all things. Political ads are consistently structured around what will be the best for us. The candidate is going to do this and that and make the country a better place for you; for me. As followers of Jesus, though, that’s not our call. That’s not the example He set for us. We are to put aside our own interests and put the interests of the people around us first. We don’t ignore our interests entirely, but we must be intentional about treating the people around us as if they and their interests were more important than us and ours…just like Jesus treated us.
And in case that isn’t clear enough, think about it in these terms: How will our vote impact the single mother trying desperately to make ends meet and always feeling like she’s just a little bit behind the ball? How will it impact the immigrant who is working hard every day to put food on the table and learn English so that his children have the chance at a better life than he’s ever known? How will it affect the young, black man who has been raised right, but lives his whole life knowing that people around him view him just a bit more suspiciously than his white friends and scared that a chance run-in with a police officer could end up with his family planning his funeral? What will it do to the life of the Christian small business owner who is trying his best to respectfully operate his business according to his faith and yet feeling incredible pressure from hostile local authorities not to mention social media to give it all up and operate how they tell him to operate instead? How will it translate to the single, young woman who has just discovered she’s pregnant and can’t imagine how she’s going to add that to her exciting, busy, work-focused life? There are hundreds of more situations we could imagine, and which are not our own. When we vote, these must be at the forefront of our minds and hearts. Such intentional, thoughtful love for others always brings glory to the God who does the same. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.
One more question: Am I casting this vote as an expression of my faith in Christ, or some other motive? In Romans 14, Paul deals with the same issue he’s dealing with in 1 Corinthians 10, but with the Roman church instead. It was one of the big fights of his day. Paul told believers there what I’ve told you this morning: That they should hold strong convictions rooted deeply in their faith in Christ even if those happen to differ from the convictions of another believer. We are to bear with such differences with grace and compassion. But we are to hold to our own faith-rooted convictions in spite of pressure to conform when we don’t believe we should because any action we take that is not propelled by our faith is sin. “So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong to make someone fall by what he eats. It is a good thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. Whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that is not from faith is sin.” It is sin because whatever we do that is motivated by something other than faith in God is motivated by faith in someone or something else and that’s idolatry. What this means is that when you walk into that ballot box, if your vote is not explicitly and intentionally an expression of your faith in Christ, then it is not glorifying God. Worse, in doing so because you are being motivated by something other than faith in Christ, your very vote is sinful. In other words, this is really serious business. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.
Now, as for who you vote for, that’s up to you. Pray. Weigh the issues. Consider the candidates. Consider too the fact that you’re not just electing a single person to office, especially when it comes to President. You are electing someone who will put into place more than 2,000 different people in high level administrative and policy-setting positions who can have a quiet, but profound impact on life in our nation. Pray. Consider things like judicial appointments. Consider character. Consider your neighbors. Pray. Consider the people you’ve never met, but whose lives will be irrevocably changed because of your vote. Pray some more. And then go vote. Vote your Scripturally-directed conscience and convictions. Vote to honor Christ and advance the kingdom. Vote to the glory of God. When you vote, vote to the glory of God.