The question presented is whether it is a sin for Christians to vote. The way in which the issue was originally stated was that “Christians should not vote.” “Should” indicates duty or responsibility, meaning that Christians have a duty to abstain from voting in political elections. If the Christian has a duty to refrain from voting, then to cast a ballot is a violation of that responsibility, and therefore a sin. Thus the question, “is it a sin for Christians to vote?”
As neither republics nor democracies are contemplated in Scripture as ongoing forms of government, one must look to underlying Biblical principles to answer the query. I thus begin with the foundation and work my way up. Please read what follows with a forgiving eye. I spent about five hours today reading and writing on this issue, and below is the result. Although the writing is porous, I am sure the theological footings are sound.
All things are lawful for the Christian unless the Bible either explicitly or implicitly prohibits it.
The default position for the Christian on matters of conscience is that all things are lawful unless prohibited by the Word of God. Paul wrote in Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . . [I]f you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Gal. 5:13a, 18. However, Christian freedom does not negate those things prohibited by God, thus we read further in Galatians 5: “[D]o not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. . . . Now the deeds of the flesh are evidence, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you . . . .” Gal. 5:13b, 19 – 21. Christian freedom, therefore, has certain limitations, which can be characterized as moral, rather than ceremonial, law. Therefore, we can now partake of catfish, but we are not allowed to steal a rod and reel to catch it.
The idea espoused by Paul in Galatians is applied by Paul in Romans: with regard to a kerfuffle involving permissible foods and the meaning of certain days, Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. . . . Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Rom. 14:14, 16 – 17. Christ having fulfilled the law, dietary restrictions had been annulled. However, some people in the church still felt it wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, among other issues addressed by Paul in Romans 14. Paul stated that he knew it was lawful to eat all things, but if his brother’s conscience impelled him to abstain, then that brother should not offend his conscience. Perhaps Luther had this passage in mind when, at the Diet of Worms, he exclaimed, “acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound.” (If you’ll recall, the vast majority of Luther’s 95 theses pertained to the selling of indulgences, and the representations made by Tetzel were not found in Scripture.)
Nevertheless, some things are certainly forbidden by the Scriptures. Prohibition can be, and often is, explicit: “thou shalt not murder.” However, sometimes Biblical principles must be applied to a given situation to make a determination as to its moral implications. One such example could be whether a husband should take a job with marginally higher pay, but much more recognition, that will require him to be gone from his wife and child four days and three nights a week. While no verse of Scripture is plum on point, myriad verses regarding the manner in which a husband should treat his wife, and love her as Christ loves the church, should inform that decision. See Eph. 5:22 – 33.
The lodestar for calibrating freedom and prohibition is “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; Rom. 13:9b. The clearest elucidation of this is, again, found in Galatians 5: “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Gal. 5:22 – 23. (See also, 1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves to God.”) Whereas, those things characterized by “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” are sinful and therefore forbidden. (As an attorney, I especially like the Mother Hubbard Claus, “and things like these.”)
Christians are free to do what they will so long as their acts are not immoral or evil. Against the fruit of the Spirit “there is no law.” However, some Christians are permitted a law unto themselves insofar as their consciences do not permit them to engage in certain freedoms they would otherwise have as Christians. (One might here say that some people are forbidden by their consciences to vote, and those weaker vessels should not be forced to breach their consciences by those with a less opaque view of law and freedom.)
The Bible plainly permits God’s people to work in pagan governments, so long as they do all things for His glory.
It is plain enough that no specific prohibition exists against voting. Therefore, we now move to examine whether God permits His people to actively participate in civil government. Joseph, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Zaccheus, the centurion who had the sick servant, the centurion who met Cornelius, and Sergius Paulus: All people of God working for pagan governments.
Moses recorded that Joseph was elevated to penultimate leader of Egypt when he was thirty. Gen. 41. His power was sweeping in this role: “without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Gen. 41:44. His duties were cumbersome, causing him to go over Egypt overseeing the process of storing up grain during the seven years of plenty. Gen. 41:44 – 49. Then, once famine came, it was to Joseph’s discretion how the bread was meted out (pun intended). Gen. 41:55 – 57. These were tedious tasks, but the Bible records that Joseph did them, and accomplished good for God’s glory.
Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (that’s, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for those keeping score at home) entered “the king’s personal service” following their education. Dan. 1:5 – 7. Daniel’s fortitude in the face of idolatrous government is an example for us all. But note that he didn’t quit the king’s service, but showed civil disobedience, first with regard to diet under King Cyrus, then ultimately in the lion’s den under King Darius. See Dan. 1:8 – 21; 6. Even though these men had to engage in disobedience to the State to act in conformity with God’s law, God did neither punished nor chastised them for their employment with the State. They were never required to run away from the pagan government.
The centurion who met Christ in Matthew chapter 8 was likewise not told by Jesus to quit his military service to Caesar. The centurion, if you’ll recall, had a sick servant at home who was “paralyzed” and “fearfully tormented.” Matt. 8:6. Jesus offered to go to the man’s house to heal his servant. Matt. 8:7. The centurion demurred, saying he wasn’t worth and telling Jesus, “[J]ust say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” Matt. 8:8 – 9. Jesus “marveled” and told His listeners, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.” Matt. 8:10. Jesus immediately healed the centurion’s servant and never told the centurion to forsake his role as soldier. Matt. 8:13.
Wee little Zaccheus was a tax collector, in charge of obtaining the lifeblood of the government from its people. Luke 19:2. When Jesus went to Zaccheus’s house, for which He had opprobrium heaped upon him by the crowds, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9. The Lord required only repentance from Zaccheus and not retirement from his cushy government job.
That Italian cohort, Cornelius, was “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household.” Acts 10:2. This man was used by God to display how Christ had fulfilled the Law, tearing down the wall between Jew and Gentile. While Cornelius was corrected by Peter, it was for falling down at Peter’s feet, and not for serving in Caesar’s army. Acts. 10:25 – 26. In fact, from reading Acts 10, one gets the view that serving as a centurion was an honorable rather than dishonorable profession.
Lastly, “the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence” was converted after summoning Barnabas and Saul to preach to him the word of God. Acts 13:7. Luke does not record any effort by the evangelists to convince the proconsul to renounce his position in government.
Plainly, God permits His people to make a career of working for the government, whether in the highest seat of government or as a soldier. If making a career, whereby the majority of the waking day is spent in service to government, in a pagan, not merely secular, government is permissible, to the degree that such men can be accurately described as “devout,” then it stands to reason that biannually taking thirty minutes to vote is permissible as well.
Scripture calls for Christians to do good to all people and love our neighbors and enemies alike, which can in part be accomplished by voting blameless men into office.
Above, we have discussed the general freedom afforded in Christianity, and God’s permission to His people to work in government as civil servants or soldiers. We now move from that which is permissible to that which is required.
There exists in Scripture a positive command to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Gal. 6:10. Additionally, Christ iterated the Law when He stated, “you shall love your neighbor,” and went a step further in stating, “love your enemies.” Matt. 5:44 – 45. In our republic, we are both the governed and those who elect the magistrates who govern: we are the government. It is our duty, therefore, in our capacity as the government, to “do good to all people,” and to love neighbor and enemy alike. Certainly, myriad ways exist to accomplish this. But one way in which we can love our neighbor is to do what we can to elect leaders who will do rightly by our neighbor, to elect judges who will judge our neighbor in accordance with law and equity, and to elect men who will protect us properly (though without imprudent use of force). In a simple moment of voting we can aid our neighbor by electing sober minded people to office. In electing people who can effectively govern well, we are in effect doing “good to all people,” and abiding by the command to “love your neighbor.”
Perhaps this is why Calvin wrote, “And ye, O peoples, to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it, that ye do not forfeit this favor, by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.” Kuyper, Abraham, The Stone Lectures, available at http://www.kuyper.org/main/publish/books_essays/article_17.shtml?page=4.
Therefore, in our republic, whereby the people send representatives to govern the nation, we have a manifest duty to “do good to all people,” and to love neighbor and enemy alike, by electing wise and judicious men to govern us and the country. For if we choose to be ruled by wicked men, then we risk the national fate of Israel after the crucifixion and the judgment of our Lord for not actively doing good to all.
Within a republican democracy, it is just and right to take part in choosing leaders. Even that wrecker of the old order, Roger Williams, acknowledged that Christians may take part in the selection of leaders by “election and appointment of civil officers to see execution of [civil] laws.” Williams, Roger, The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, available at http://classicliberal.tripod.com/misc/bloody.html. He went on, “the sovereign, original, and foundation of civil power lies in the people (whom they must needs mean by the civil power distinct from the government set up). [A] people may erect and establish what form of government seems to them most meet for their civil condition; it is evident that such governments as are by them erected and established have no more power, nor for no longer time, than the civil power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust with them.” Id.
For further reading, may I suggest Boettner’s essay called Calvinism and Representative Government, available at http://reformed-theology.org/html/issue07/8.htm.
The Bible, Calvinists, and other right thinking Christians have always maintained that Christians owe certain duties to the State.
Governments exist because of sin. But for sin, there would be no need to police the streets, enact civil and criminal laws, or have a judiciary. Puritan Samuel Bolton wrote, “Blessed be God that there is this fear upon the spirits of wicked men; otherwise we could not well live in the world. One man would be a devil to another. Every man would be a Cain to his brother, an Amon to his sister, an Absolom to his father, a Saul to himself, a Judas to his master, for what one does, all men would do, were it not for a restraint upon their spirits.” Bolton, Samuel, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, quote available at http://www.founders.org/journal/fj28/article1.html. In this vein Peter explained, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” 1 Pet. 2:13 – 14 (written by a man later crucified). Similarly, Paul wrote that “rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.” Rom. 13:3 (written to the seat of government for Nero and Caligula). Governments, therefore, are placed by God to keep order and punish certain evils.
The indefatigable Luther endorsed this view when he stated, “Since the devil reigns in the whole world, God has ordained magistrates, parents, teachers, laws, as shackles, and all civil ordinances, so that, if they cannot do any more they will at least bind the hands of the devil and keep him from raging at will.” Grabill, Stephen J., Ph.D., Natural Law and the Protestant Moral Tradition, available at http://www.acton.org/commentary/commentary_351.php?view=print. I rather like this rather punchy quote from Calvin regarding law as enforced by the magistrate, “The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work.” Id.
God has required of His people that they be obedient to the State: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Rom. 13:1 – 2. Paul wrote to Titus to “Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed.” Titus 3:1. Peter wrote to the church scattered abroad to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.” 1 Pet. 2:13 – 14. Although our only allegiance is to Christ, we are nevertheless saddled with the command to submit to civil authority. See Col. 3:22 – 24.
God has said that we should not only submit to authority, but we should pray for our government as well. “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.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. As important as the directive here is the reasoning behind it: “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” The reason we are commanded to pray for those in power is so that we will be enabled to live pacific lives, exemplifying godliness, and maintaining dignity. The reason provided by Paul is vital to a proper understanding of the Christian’s role in a republic. For “entreaties and prayers” were all Roman citizens had at their disposal to sway Caesar. While we are still armed with entreaties and prayers, we’re also girded with the privilege of voting, and may and should do so in order that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” We control not only whether we pray for our leaders, but the object of those prayers.
I suggest Theodore Beza’s On the Rights of Magistrates for some foundational reading on this subject, available at http://www.constitution.org/cmt/beza/magistrates.htm.
By ignoring State-supported immorality, the Christian facilitates calamity and brings at least temporal judgment on himself and his nation.
In response to my argument that a government should not permit the slaughter of innocent babies (by “innocent” I meant before the laws of man, and was not making a theological point about original sin), it has been proffered that the only true innocent to die at the hands of government was Christ, “yet he made no answer for himself.” By that statement, it is supposed that since the Roman government, at the behest of Israel, killed Christ, then those who could vote to effect change in American policy vis a vis abortion or some like immoral policy not only need not do so, but should not do so (as again, the original point made was Christians should not vote).
Let us deal what Christ’s death tells us about human responsibility. The crucifixion of Christ brought about both individual judgment for the men who committed the act, and national judgment to Israel. Regarding Christ’s death, Peter said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know – this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Acts 2:22 – 23. Even though the crucifixion was the “predetermined plan” of God, the men were still held responsible for this act. In order to be absolved from guilt, the listeners were told in response to their query of “what shall we do” to “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts. 2:37 – 38.
Not only were the individuals liable for their sin, but the whole nation of Israel was judged for the rejection and ultimate execution of Christ. Matthew records that the people ardently plead to Pilate to crucify Christ. Pilate, seeing no wrong in Christ, went through the charade of washing his hands to show that he was innocent of Christ’s blood. The ribald crowd shouted, “His blood shall be on us and on our children.” Matt. 27:25. Indeed it was. Terror ruled in Palestine, and in 70 A.D. the Second Temple was destroyed, and with it the spiritual economy of a people. Jesus described in chilling clarity in the Olivet Discourse how perilous that pending judgment would be.
All Christians must agree that our chief duty is to God, but if we are to carry out His law, we are to abide by the principles of Scripture. And if we abide by the principles of Scripture, we are to do that which is practicable to choose for ourselves as magistrates those people who will exhibit good to all people, and enable God’s people to “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. Bonhoeffer wrote, “The church must confess that she has not proclaimed often or clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all time in Jesus Christ and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself. She must confess her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions. . . . She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying to heaven. . . . She has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of the lord Jesus Christ. . . . The church must confess that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honor. . . . She has not borne witness to the truth of God. . . . By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty of a failure to accept responsibility and to bravely defend a just cause. She has been unwilling to suffer for what she knows to be right. Thus the church is guilty of becoming a traitor to the Lordship of Christ.” Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics, p. 117.
Indeed, “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Prov. 14:34. Bonhoeffer witnessed a church sit idly by while jingoistic antichrists took over a country, whipped it up into nationalistic fervor, and slaughtered Jew and Gentile alike. The people said, “‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” Jer. 6:14; 8:11; see also Ezek. 13.
Christians are at the very least permitted to vote, and may be required to minimally participate in this basic aspect of our political system. Nothing licentious or immoral is associated with the act of voting, and it is therefore allowable and unobjectionable. Bolstering this view, is the evidence that God has permitted fine and godly men in Scripture to work for pagan governments. Some people may feel especially convicted to not take part in the electoral process, and their consciences may force them to abstain from voting.
Although Christians enjoy great freedoms, they are called to do good unto all and to love their neighbors and enemies. Such a command compels the Christian to engage in activities to effectuate positive results for his countrymen.
In fact, Christians owe certain unalienable duties to the State, including the duty to submit to its authority and to pray for its leaders “so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” 1 Tim. 2:1 – 2. Encouraging and acquiescing to rank sinful acts by government can lead to both national and personal judgment.
Years ago William F. Buckley wrote that it was the duty of conservatives to stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” As history continues to move forward, Winthrop’s beacon will dim, and our dominance will fade. But like the conservative yelling stop at the march of liberalism, the Christian should not accept the downfall of America as a fait accompli, and instead should do his level best to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Gal. 6:10.