The 2020 presidential campaign has begun in earnest. President Trump has officially launched his campaign for re-election, and 20 Democrats running for their party’s nomination have participated in the first primary debate.
As political tensions remain high, most Americans are bracing for a brutal 17 months of politicking. What’s more, as the campaign wears on, a barrage of political advertisements, robo-calls, and 24-hour cable TV coverage will inevitably exacerbate our political polarization.
It is easy to get discouraged by fiercely contested elections and campaigns. Many observers, disappointed in the failure of candidates to maintain even minimum standards of civility, can indulge cynicism and withdraw from the political process. However, Christians must resist this biennial temptation to disengage and instead grapple with how to engage politically.
As Christians face pressures to disengage, Family Research Council’s new publication “Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting” will help us think through political engagement and possible objections to it in a manner that’s both faithful to the gospel message and responsible according to biblical principles.
First, it has become common to hear Christians, especially younger ones, explain they are just not interested in politics. Often this dismissal of politics is delivered with a veneer of piousness suggesting that political engagement is somehow beneath those serious about the gospel. However, this is not a position Christians can or should accept as compatible with the Bible.
“Politics” includes much more than television debates and campaign ads. The word comes from the Greek word “polis,” or city-state. Politics is about how people organize their lives together in community. Understood from this perspective, politics is intimately connected to the concept of loving one’s neighbor.
Christians need to realize the outsized significance of government and the role it plays in loving their neighbors. Can Christians really care for their neighbors if they don’t engage in politics, the arena where society’s basic rights and freedoms are shaped? The United States wields unrivaled influence in promoting religious liberty and human rights (or not) around the world. How can American Christians love the people of the nations without having a vested interest in their own government’s approach to these issues? By voting, Americans determine who will represent their country abroad and whose values will be exported.
Second, Christians must also consider their obligation to vote. Paul explains in Romans 13 that government is ordained by God and authorized to wield the sword for the administration of justice. That includes representative democracies like the United States, where citizens exercise the first office of government by voting. Thus, God has assigned American citizens a role in promoting justice through the agents we elect.
Third, during election season Christians must decide between particular candidates to support. Christians should never conflate the message of the church with a political party. We must reject the tendency to baptize a political party and adopt their platform wholesale. However, while policy positions on key issues matter, it is also imperative to recognize the phenomenon of America’s two-party system and the need to navigate this reality.
America’s two major political parties are increasingly divided on several issues, including abortion, marriage and sexuality, and religious liberty. Although neither political party perfectly represents evangelical Christians, party platforms do allow us to make considered judgements about whom to support at election time. Politicians increasingly vote in line with their party’s platform—averaging 80 percent over the last 30 years. Thus, for Christians, insofar as a platform addresses issues informed by biblical morality, it is easier to make an informed decision about which party to support based on the platforms.
As November 2020 approaches, Christian voters will be inundated with messages about how to engage the political process. By approaching the campaign from a framework grounded in biblical reflection, Christians can faithfully navigate the next seventeen months and make God-honoring, thoughtful decisions on Election Day.