I vote. And I encourage you to vote. But let me state right up front that I am not going to tell you who to vote for. I don’t endorse candidates and I don’t endorse parties. I know some pastors endorse candidates directly, and I know many more who do so indirectly, by saying something such as, “No honest Christian can vote for candidate ‘X’ or for any candidate in party ‘Y.’” I won’t criticize those pastors, many of whom I deeply admire for their work for Christ. But years ago, I made the decision not to endorse candidates or parties. I want to be able to speak truth to both parties. And that’s harder to do when you support one or the other.
And both parties need a hearty dose of truth more then they need my endorsement.
Before I get into the specifics of how I determine as a believer who to vote for, let me remind you that Christians are citizens of two kingdoms. Don’t take this as unpatriotic—for it’s not—but my first loyalty as a Christian is to the Kingdom of God. After that, I am loyal to the United States of America. I love my country deeply. I love my God more. Whenever there is a conflict—and there are always conflicts between God’s kingdom and any earthly kingdom—my priority is the Kingdom of God.
If we try to unite God’s Kingdom and an earthly kingdom, it will backfire. It has been tried many times in the Christian era. The Roman Catholic Church and the Roman Empire tried it. Several of the protestant reformers in Europe tried it. Some of the separatists who came to America in the 1600’s tried to set up a theocracy and let the church rule the state.
It has never worked. And it never will.
Though we like to say—I do as well—that we are “one nation under God,” we cannot say that we are “God’s chosen nation.” We operate best when we recognize that church and state are separate. “A free church in a free state” has long been the ideal. We can and should influence the state for good, but we cannot equate the two. No state has ever operated completely by God’s principles. No state ever will. There will always be conflict.
My first priority is God’s kingdom; my second is our country. When I get the two reversed, God’s work suffers, and I become over-political and under-Christian. I am afraid that this happens to far too many believers during election cycles.
Despite my prime commitment to God’s Kingdom, I work hard to be a good citizen of the United States of America. I follow her laws, respect and pray for her leaders, pay my taxes, participate in the customs and holidays of our country, honor those who serve the nation and her communities, and I vote.
I don’t take my vote lightly. I spend much time in research, reading, evaluating, listening, and praying before I vote. I have never voted by party loyalty, which has frustrated many of my friends who have great loyalty to a party. I do examine all candidates in the light of Biblical teaching on leadership. At least in my mind, I look for three broad things in a candidate—character, competence, and core values. Let me explain:
The first thing I look for is Character. To get my vote, a candidate must convince me that they are a man or woman of character. They must speak the truth, have a deep level of integrity in both their personal and public life, treat people with love and respect, have high moral standards, have a long record of compassion and generosity, and keep their word. (I’m not looking for perfection, for it does not exist in this world, but I do want to know that past mistakes and sins have been admitted to and repented of.) It helps if the candidate is honest and open about their family life, their personal morality, their finances, and their business life, for public action is based on personal character.
In the last election, I heard many objections to putting such a high premium on character:
- “I’m not voting for a pastor, I’m voting for a President.” Sorry, but Biblical standards of leadership apply to all people, not just pastors. You cannot so easily dismiss Biblical teaching.
- “All have sinned and all men are flawed, so you can’t hold it against them.” Of course, all men have sinned. Of course, all men have flaws, but that does not negate in any way the Biblical teachings on honesty, integrity, morality, love, or any other virtue. Continued sin or a pattern of sin that is unadmitted and unrepented of indicates a serious character flaw. We can’t use a legitimate Biblical doctrine (“all have sinned”) to justify continued ungodly behavior—and especially not in a leader.
- “God can use an ungodly leader for His purposes.” That is another great example of taking a doctrine out of context to justify voting for an ungodly person. Of course, God can use anyone for His purposes, and there are many kings in the Old Testament and people in the New Testament to illustrate it. In the New Testament era, for example, God used both King Herod and Judas for His eternal purposes, but I wouldn’t vote for either one of them for any leadership position. Interestingly enough, I heard that line of thinking, that “God can use an ungodly leader” to justify voting for both Clinton and Trump in the last election. If you carry that position too far, then why are we voting anyway, since God can use anyone?
- “I’m voting for the platform, not for the candidate.” Sorry, but platforms aren’t on the ballot. Only people are on the ballot. This is a nice sounding statement, and I understand why people say it, but it isn’t completely honest. In the American republic, we vote for individuals. (For example, I am a strong believer in a balanced approach to budgeting. It’s nearly always been in the party platform of at least one party and sometimes both, but once in office, it is usually forgotten.) Platforms are an attempt to get votes but they don’t make policy; people do.
There is a reason I put character first in my list. I believe that it is the most important Biblical qualification for leadership. It is the first thing I look for in a candidate in any race, from local school board member to president.
The second thing I look for is Competence. I also want to know if the candidate is competent to do the job for which he is running. Does he (or she) have the necessary skills, talents, temperament, and experience to do the job? If I’m voting for a school board member, I want to know if that person has a solid operating knowledge of education, districts, schools, budgets, teachers, and student needs. If the person is running for a legislative office (Senator, Representative, etc.), I want to know that the person knows how to get things done in a legislative body. Can he or she work with others who disagree? Is the person a good communicator? Does the candidate have the intelligence and perseverance to work through the long process that turns an idea into a bill and see it through to become a law? Is the person an independent thinker rather than just supporting the party agenda? Does the candidate have the emotional stability and self-discipline to handle disagreement and even anger?
And, of course, if the person is running for President, there are more necessary skills than any one person can possess. So I want to know if the candidate can attract and work with top-quality people who know their field of expertise such as the military, the economy, intelligence, housing, medicine, business, education, justice, international trade, diplomacy, etc. Does the candidate have the temperament and ability to listen to, recognize, and accept good advice from experts? Can the candidate communicate effectively to all Americans and set a positive leadership tone for the country as a whole? Is the candidate able to pull an increasingly diverse group of citizens together in times of crisis? Can the person handle both the domestic and international issues that a president must deal with? Can the candidate make—and stick with—the tough decisions that will benefit the country over the long years even if the decision is unpopular? Does the candidate have the right balance of compassion and toughness?
Character is the first essential, but character without competency—the ability to do the job at a very high level—will lead to disaster. There are multiple examples in American history of men of good character who simply weren’t competent enough to do the job.
I’ve made a promise to myself and to God. I won’t vote for a candidate who doesn’t have the character and the competency to do the job. It doesn’t matter to me what party they are a part of or even what their platform is. If they don’t qualify in those two areas, I will not vote for them. I will not vote for the “lesser of two evils” if neither of the “two evils” has the character or competency necessary to do the job. Occasionally, but rarely, this means that I could not vote for anyone in a race.
The third thing I look for is where many start: Core Values. I need to know whether the core values of the candidate are close enough to my core values. The “core values” I’m talking about are deeper than a candidate’s “platform.” I want to know what the candidate really believes and what they will really work for based on their talk, their voting history, and their track record. It’s easy to say what you will do during the election cycle; it’s much tougher to do it when you’re in office.
For that reason, I’m a skeptic on party platforms. Too many candidates say whatever it takes to get the vote. We see it in the “dance” of most politicians. Democrats participate in what I call the “Democratic Shuffle.” They “move to the left” in the primary to get the party loyalists and then “move to the center” to get the independent voters. The Republicans do the “Republican Shuffle” by moving to the right and then back to the center. It may get votes, but it just leaves me thinking, “Who are they?” and “What will they stand for—and work for—once elected?”
Still, though, I look at their platforms to see if their stance on issues aligns with the Bible on issues such as abortion, the economy, the environment, fair wages, family, immigration, justice, poverty, race, and world peace. I want to know if they have a plan to deal with our huge deficit, with cleaning up our air and water, and with solving a coming Social Security crisis. I want to know their thoughts on fair tax rates. I want to know their thoughts on police, the military, government regulations, the border, and what to do with “Dreamers.” I want to know their thoughts on economic fairness and how to solve the huge poverty issue in America. I want to know how they will work with other world leaders and what they think about our role in international affairs and world issues.
I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with any candidate on all the issues—I’m far too opinionated for that. But I do want to know that a candidate has a consistent track record on the issues and that they have done enough thinking, talking, praying, and working that I can be sure of their stance. I don’t expect to agree on all issues, but I do want to know what their core values are.
So that’s what I’m looking for in a candidate. Is the candidate a person of high moral character? Is the candidate a competent leader? And does the candidate have core values that align closely enough with mine that I can vote for him?
I believe that we hurt the cause of Christ when we support, campaign for, endorse, and promote candidates who don’t meet these standards. We often complain about the poor quality of candidates. We may have inadvertently contributed to that by our willingness to endorse candidates of low character, incompetency, or with core values that don’t come close to aligning with the Bible.
Understand that I am not speaking for-or-against any 2020 candidate by name or implication. And I am not speaking as a member of any particular party. I am speaking as a Christian and a citizen of the United States of America who deeply loves our country. The political process often frustrates me, but I will continue to seek and vote for leaders of good character who show every indication that they are competent and have solid core values.
So I am doing my best on all levels to find candidates that meet these standards. And I encourage you to do the same. These standards are needed by our leaders if we really want to be “one nation under God.”