The election of 2016 has proven to be a circus of extreme personalities and worldviews thus far. For months, much of the western world considered Donald Trump’s run for the republican nomination to be a joke and we all waited with semi-bated breath to see how the proverbial chips would fall. Suddenly, we are left with two primary nominees that much of the United States would prefer to not endorse, and Christians are entering the fray to seek and offer advice on “the right” or “the Christian” thing to do. Up until now most conservatives have suggested writing in a candidate and seeking some moral high ground that would absolve them from responsibility when Trump or Hillary is elected but yet still fulfill their privilege and right as an American to vote. Over the weekend, however, one of the most respected theologians amongst reformed and conservative evangelicals, Wayne Grudem, wrote a polarizing article with his explanation for why voting for Trump is the morally right thing to do. People are writing open response letters, evangelicals are taking a hit, more conservatives are coming out of the Trump-supportive closet, and Millennials are promising to leave the church.
In short, we have a mess.
Here’s the deal, folks. There is not now, nor has there ever been a perfect candidate for the office of President of the United States. Democracy is not God’s form of government, and even though we live in a privileged nation with a unique opportunity to be a part of the decision making process, your vote (or lack thereof) is one hundred percent between you and God.
God’s form of government.
Americans like to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we are God’s country and chosen people. We are not, in fact, God’s chosen people. Israel was the only nation to hold that unique and precious title, and when God set up their government and nation in the way He deemed best, He established Himself as the King. They had a theocracy. This simply means there was no human king, president or leader, only priests and judges who had the Law of God and communicated His will and rulings to the people. When the Israelites desired a king, it was only because they saw what the pagan nations around them had, and God sternly rebuked them for sinning against Him. Not only that, He promised that it would be their downfall and after only three kings the nation was divided, and ultimately fell and the people were exiled.
“But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.'”
– 1 Sam 8.6-7
Is democracy a good form of government? Yes. We have been blessed to have a system in place which maintains some semblance of order and balance whereby one person or group cannot rule sovereignly over another. It is the best system? No. God’s system of Theocracy is best, and all others are man-made. We could – and many have – spent hours debating the best forms of government, social systems, and politics, but there is currently no existing system that is determined by and governed by God and Scripture. Therefore we cannot claim God’s authority in determining our self-government, and we are constrained to apply God’s moral and ethical principles within a broken and worldly system.
Our Hope in a Broken System
Because we are seeking to honor God in a broken system, we must always remember that God is in sovereign control. He alone establishes kings, governments and systems and the person who is elected next to the office of President of the United States will be stationed there by God and God alone (Dan 2.21). He works out those plans in mysterious ways, and we would be wise to remember that there are times when He works the miraculous completely outside of our input and there are times that He utilizes our efforts towards His ends.
When the Philistines were attacking Israel and Goliath challenged any single warrior to a duel, David stood up to him. After David defeated Goliath, the Philistines were “thrown into a confusion” and they killed themselves (1 Sam 14.20). There are other examples of kings uniting to fight together against Israel, and God sent them into a confusion whereby they killed each other and Israel never even entered the battle (2 Chro 20).
God did not always keep the Hebrew people from battle, however. We also see that God gave David success in numerous battles and wars, as long as he followed the direction and leadership of God. There was never a time when the battle plan was the same and God provided success to Moses, Joshua, Saul, David and all other leaders who followed His lead.
God is unpredictable and He uses people in very different ways to accomplish His ends. Sometimes, in fact, He tells different people different things in order to fulfill His plan. Paul was the first and arguably most successful missionary to reach out to the Gentiles and the known world. He made it his goal to take the Gospel everywhere. Towards the end of his ministry the Holy Spirit began to lead Paul and tell him to go to Jerusalem:
“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”
– Acts 20.22-24
However, the Holy Spirit instructed other believers to tell Paul to not go to Jerusalem:
“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”
– Acts 21.4
Not only that, God sent a prophet to warn Paul of what would happen if and when he went to Jerusalem:
“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘ When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”
– Acts 21.10-12
All in all, it was the plan of God for Paul to go to Jerusalem. God was indeed telling Paul to go, and it was His plan for Paul to suffer there, and part of the preparation God utilized for Paul’s heart was the warning of other believers. By the time Agabus prophesied about his imprisonment and torture, Paul knew that he was ready and willing to die for the Gospel.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”
– Acts 21.13-14
We also see clearly that God used Judas as an integral and prophesied part of Jesus’ very own death. It was foretold hundreds of years before hand that Jesus would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11.12-13, Matt 26.15, Matt 27.3-5), and that by a friend (Ps 41.9). Not only was Judas’ specific role predestined and foretold, the entirety of the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning of time (Gen 3.15, Rev 13.8, 1 Peter 1.20).
Sometimes God’s plans do not make sense to us. Sometimes God tells different people different things in order to bring about His end. Sometimes God even utilizes sin to accomplish His goals – such as the murder of Jesus.
We Must Act Under Conviction
Because of these realities, we can only weigh our decisions against Scripture and against the personal direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our conscience will bear witness against us if we disobey the direct commands of Scripture or His personal instruction, and the Holy Spirit will never instruct believers to do something contrary to Scripture. It is His specific and clear purpose to teach and direct believers in righteousness:
“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”
– John 16.8
God is working in and through us to develop Spiritual maturity and growth. He is working out our salvation, and helping us die to flesh and to sin. He has given us the Spirit to convict us of sin – to remind us of what Jesus has taught us and what God defines as sin throughout Scripture, and to push us on to righteousness. He will therefore never contradict God or His ordinances in Scripture.
There are times and circumstances, however, that are morally neutral and require personal and direct leadership from the Spirit. This is where the Spirit can and may tell two different people two different things – like Paul and the disciples. For us, then, we are bound to follow the conviction of the Spirit we have personally:
We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
– 1 John 3.19-22
Our conscience will bear witness against us or for us on these issues. It is under this reality where we find beliefs on drinking alcohol (not unto drunkenness of course), politics, professions, hobbies, etc. These are extremely sensitive topics because very real sin issues can and do enter into the conversation as defined by Scripture, but not always.
As this relates directly to the election, we will find a variety of consciences and convictions. There are some issues that are discussed in the election which are directly sinful or weighable against Scripture. When these issues single handedly remove a candidate from our list of possibilities we call them “Single Issue Dispositive” issues. For most Christians, abortion is a single-issue dispositive. Most Christians will not vote for or endorse any candidate that would murder an unborn baby. The opposite would be “Single Issue Sufficient” whereby a candidate’s stance on any one issue would outweigh any other position he would take. Does Trump’s pro-life position justify every other position he holds? To some it might, to some it might not.
The big conversation, however, is about character. Some would argue that since the Christian community by-in-large called for Bill Clinton’s resignation after having an affair, that it would be hypocritical to vote for Trump because he has been married three times and divorced two. Some would argue that his affiliation with playboy and the corporate success ladder, his explosive personality, and his racist disposition would all be enough to make his character wicked enough to make him non-viable as a candidate. Unfortunately, as Albert Mohler stated so eloquently:
“We have always voted in a fallen world for fallen candidates in a fallen political construct and done the best we could.”
When evaluating character as means by which to judge a candidate, we will all have different requirements and varying opinions. Both candidates verbally affirm a Christian faith, neither are perfect in character and neither uphold fully Biblical values. Hillary is comfortable with abortion, Trump is racist.
Some have responded that it is better to not vote at all or to write in another option, citing the Scripture:
“…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
– Rom 1.32
It is true that we will give an account to God for every decision we make, including giving approval to wicked men. It is also true that we are not appointing a man (or woman) to spiritual leadership when choosing a president and choosing a candidate who we believe is better suited for the job may not necessarily be someone with whom we align on all moral or Biblical issues.
In short, if you cannot vote for one candidate or another by your conscience, then for you it is sin to vote against your conscience. If you cannot vote at all because of your conscience, then by all means do not vote because for you it is sin. If you can vote for one candidate over the other, by the direction of the Holy Spirit and in light of Biblical truths, then by all means vote for that candidate. The Holy Spirit might be telling you one thing and another person another thing in order to achieve His end of the next president (whom He has already chosen and appointed, by the way). What is critical is that you have examined the facts, laid the issue before God and Scripture, and are acting under the guidance of the Spirit.
In all of this, let us not sin.
We must be keenly aware of the conversations and difficulties that arise when discussing politics. Some people are highly educated and skilled in the art of political science and social reform. Some people are not. Within the moral grey-realm of Biblical application, some people might be convicted strongly on one side of an argument while others are convicted strongly on the other side. For instance, does the dignity of human life require that we welcome all would-be refugees into our country? Even though my conscience may not allow me to turn away someone who is suffering and looking for hope, I cannot condemn someone else’s conscience who would seek the safety of the nation and his family first and refuse that person. This is not a moral absolute, and we must all turn to and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives. With that understanding, we must also recognize God’s authority and direction in other believer’s lives and never condemn them by our own conscience alone. They must be condemned or justified by their own conscience and walk with God.
And this, friends, is the beauty of the democracy: we are free to do just that.
So no, I will no tell you who is the morally right or “Christian” choice. Because God might be up to something way bigger than anything we can imagine. He might also be convicting your conscience differently than He is convicting mine – and it is all to same end. If we trust God, His sovereignty and His plan, then we will never judge one another and we will never sin against one another for having a different opinion than our own, but will encourage one another to contemplate the Scriptures, to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act (vote) in a way that falls in line with our beliefs and walk with God.