This was written and sent to Grace Seal Beach the week before the 2020 presidential election.
Four years ago, recently confirmed as the next senior pastor at Grace, the presidential election divided the country. Our church wasn’t immune. At least 10 people left the church over the election. Half progressives, half conservatives – it seemed the only thing they had in common was anger at how we weren’t “standing for what was right.”
Because of that experience, I was less than eager to pastor through another presidential election. And as you know, the situation this year has only become more divisive as a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and an overdue national conversation about race have only escalated the weight of what is said and not said during this season. While I think it is healthy for a pastor to be tentative to offer any political opinions, it is not fair to you to have a pastor who is silent on what Scripture says on any topic.
I am deeply grateful for how the vast majority of people in this church are thoughtful, measured, and humble with each other. You’ve taught me much about what it means to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. You’ve sought to live at peace with one another and eager to maintain the bonds of Christian fellowship. Thank you. My experience with the vast majority of the church is that you want to bring your faith to bear on your voting in a way that is healthy and encouraging.
As we’ve been preaching through the Lord’s Prayer during this season, it is worth considering how the Lord’s Prayer can guide our theology during this election season.
- “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” May God’s holiness be shown in how you vote, advocate, and grieve over the next few weeks.
In political polling, the only thing that seems to matter is, “Who are you voting for?” But, honestly, I am much more concerned with what your voting (or not voting) says about your heart. Are you voting out of love for God and your neighbor? Or is your voting a demonstration of selfishness and wrath? Is your voting a mark of faith or worldliness? Would you vote any differently if you weren’t a Christian?
I know that some of you would like me to endorse or condemn President Trump, or endorse or condemn Vice President Biden, but I’m not going to do that. There are a number of reasons for that, but mostly it is because it would not be helpful to you. You must personally wrestle with your conscience in this election. It is not enough to vote for the “right” candidate (if there is one). You must do so with a clear conscience before God on your own. And if you vote differently than I do but do so with peace before God, I don’t want to put a stumbling block in front of you by voicing a different opinion.
- “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” Remember that your citizenship is in Heaven, and it is that kingdom that lasts, not this one.
As I mentioned on Sunday, a few years ago Becca and I went to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. We were there for a little over a week and happened to be there for their presidential election. We were able to connect with one of my childhood friends who moved to Paris after college, married, and was involved with a church there (the American Church in Paris – a beautiful cathedral on the Seine River with English services, if you’re ever there). We attended worship that Sunday with her and her husband (a native Frenchman), then went to lunch together afterward and heard about the election. While our faith was the same, our earthly citizenship was different. Because I wasn’t French, the election that day was a curiosity, something I had little personally invested in. For my friends, though, the results of that day were deeply important. Because I was a citizen of a different nation, the results of that day would not shape my identity, hope, or fate.
“What a different attitude than when the American election happens,” I thought. When it was France, I could be calm and rational. Could I do the same if it was my country? Or would I show that I was overly concerned about this kingdom instead of the one to come?
It’s not that presidential elections (French or American) are wholly unimportant. What happens in them can shape a country for a time. And there are probably some Christians who need to care more, not less, about politics. But my experience is that there is probably more need for correction on the other side. We are too invested in the kingdoms of this world. As Christians we always need to remember that we are foreigners in this election. There is no happy ending to kingdoms of this world. But there is for the Kingdom of God. Our primary citizenship is in another King, and it is from Him that we draw our hope and identity.
- “Give us today our daily bread.” Today’s bread is enough.
One of the values of praying for today’s bread is that it focuses us on the present, rather than worrying about the future. Today has enough trouble of its own. It is easy to worry about how this election could impact the future. And while it is wise to consider the long-term impact of any policy, it is unhelpful to worry about things outside our control. Those worries and fears are preyed upon by both sides of the political aisle. We need to remember that even if the worst fear-mongering is true from either side of the aisle, God is in control of providing.
We do not depend on the government to give us bread, but God. While the government can do either good or harm for its people, it is not the ultimate source of anything on its own.
- “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” We must never forget that we are forgiven people.
As Christians, we are not people who have received what we deserved. Quite the opposite. We have received what Christ deserved but freely shared and gave us.
Christians can disagree on how grace should shape political policy, which is understandable. But it cannot be forgotten. We cannot become self-righteous or mean-spirited people who forget the joy and humility of our salvation.
- “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The election brings temptations; God’s Spirit can sustain us through them as we resist temptation and deliver us from evil.
We are naive if we think that elections are not temptations. They can tempt us in different ways: some are tempted to grab power in unjust ways; some to speak unlovingly to others; some to despair; some to divisive speech; and probably a dozen other ways. But we are all going to experience temptations tied to the next three weeks. Pray for yourself, pray for one another, and please pray for me. We all need God’s sustaining strength through this time. And be gracious with those who are walking through different temptations than you are right now.
I will be praying for you in the next few weeks. It is a hard season for your heart, but it is also a time that God can use to grow you in your longing for Him. Whatever happens on November 3rd, I pray that you will love Christ more on November 4th than you do now.
PS. I’ve put together a list of resources for those who want to reflect more on how their faith intersects with the political realities of the day. While there is no shortage of those purporting to offer Christian voter guides, think pieces, and take-down articles, these are the ones that I’ve found most helpful, personally.
- Books on political theology and political theory
Jonathan Leeman – How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (if you’d like a shorter version of Leeman’s writing, here’s an article he wrote recently on the ethics of voting and here’s an offer for a free audiobook, “How Can I Love Church Members with Different Politics”)
- (YouTube video) Why do black Christians and white Christians vote differently?
- “How could Christians support the other side?” If you’re an ardent Republican or Democrat, it might seem impossible to you that Christians could see it differently. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to read what other Christians have written, if for no other reason than to better understand and love your brothers and sisters:
More conservative – Decision Magazine
More progressive – The AND Campaign
- Pastor Don’s article in GraceConnect this fall on trying to discern what Jesus would do in today’s political climate