What Every Christian Needs in Our Political Age
The kingship of Christ completely reorients the way that followers of Jesus live in our political age. But how does this play out practically? How can we know what to do, who to vote for, and how to relate to people with whom we disagree? For Christians to be faithful to Christ in this cultural moment, we need prayer, wisdom, and a biblical understanding of the conscience.
Prayer Is Political Action
We often engage with politics by reading the news, scrolling through social media, or discussing policies with friends. But while there are many ways we could engage in politics, there is one thing we must do: pray. Prayer is a political act because it is an appeal to the king of kings who has all authority and power. And praying for government officials shows up in the Scriptures, not as a suggestion, but as a command (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Why do we spend so little time praying for politics? It may be that, deep down, we believe there is more power in politics than there is in prayer. If we want to see change we assume that the best use of our time is to skip over more “spiritual matters” and engage in political action. Of course, we should not pit prayer and politics against one another. We must engage politically, but we ought to begin (and continue throughout the process) by appealing to the One whose power is unmatchable and who governs all of human history.
We need to pray for our leaders in all levels of government. Pray for the president and vice president. Pray for our senators and congressional leaders. Pray for our governor, mayor ,and our local council members. And pray for the church, that we would be faithful to Christ the king and therefore offer a different kind of community than our city is used to seeing.
A Christian’s main political engagement, regardless of who is in office, should be prayer. But along with prayer, we also need wisdom.
Wisdom for Our Political Age
In areas of life that are black and white, God gives us laws: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t cheat on your spouse. But in the gray areas of life, God gives us wisdom. And the majority of life’s situations are in the gray areas where moral rules don’t provide clear answers. Should you take this job or that job? Which school should you attend? Which apartment should you rent?
There is a lot of gray space in politics. Who should you vote for? Which issues matter the most and how do they relate to one another? What do you do when you agree with a candidate on a very important issue but disagree with that same candidate on several other issues? The Bible doesn’t give direct answers to these questions, even though they are all incredibly important. But while we often look to God for direct answers, God wants to give us wisdom.
Wisdom is the practical skill to know what to do when the moral commands of Scripture don’t clearly apply. And when it comes to politics, we need wisdom as much as we need oxygen. That’s why king Solomon (a political ruler), when he had the chance to ask God for anything in the world, chose wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-9).
There are three key areas where we need wisdom in politics. First, we need wisdom to know who to listen to and trust. Media voices pressure us to pick a side and then view those on the other side as evil or corrupt. We then remove all differing views from our life, creating an echo chamber where we only hear what we already believe. Instead, we need wisdom to know who to listen to (ideally from multiple platforms) and mature believers to guide us through difficult issues.
Second, we need wisdom to know when and where to engage. Far too many people seem to think that Facebook comment threads are the best place to talk about nuanced, personal topics. To know whether it’s wise to engage in a discussion or not we should ask, “Is this the right time or place to have a political conversation? Is there a good chance the conversation will be fruitful? Can I keep my cool in the conversation?”
Finally, we need wisdom in who to vote for. The Bible won’t tell you who to vote for, but it will give you wisdom and principles that can guide your process. In 1774, John Wesley offered some helpful wisdom on voting:
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy.
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
A Biblical View of Conscience
For a follower of Jesus to engage in politics today, they need prayer, wisdom, and a biblical understanding of the conscience.
The conscience is like an internal warning system, giving a sense of what’s right or wrong when the mind may not be clear about it. Joe Carter provides a more technical definition: “Our conscience is a part of our God-given internal faculties, a critical inner awareness that bears witness to the norms and values we recognize when determining right or wrong.”
While all Christians must submit to the authority of Scripture, there are areas where Christians’ consciences will be bound in different ways. Take, for example, alcohol. The Bible is clear that getting drunk is a sin but it does not condemn drinking alcohol in moderation. Therefore, many Christians choose to drink alcohol in moderation. However, there are also many Christians who choose to abstain from alcohol because of their conscience. There is neither a “right” or “wrong” side of the issue, but rather freedom for Christians to act based on their conscience within the bounds of Scripture.
The same principle applies to politics and particularly to voting. All must submit to Scripture. But some may feel in their conscience to vote one way whereas others feel in their conscience that they should vote another way. There is room for both because we are not bound to other people’s conscience.
In short, vote your conscience. But make sure your conscience is chastened by Scripture.
Our Ultimate Hope
Remember that Jesus is our ultimate hope. He’s not a Republican or Democrat. He’s the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He’s not lobbying for votes, he’s ruling with grace. He’s not campaigning for a party, he’s building his kingdom. And our allegiance lies with Christ alone.