My friend Jon Trott recently asked his Republican friends on Facebook whether or not they would consider voting for President Obama a sinful act. I have so many thoughts about this that it sent me back to the Scriptures and provoked a long conversation with my wife this morning at breakfast.
One of the commenters on his post went like this:
“If you believe in your heart that doing something is wrong, and do it anyway, that is most definitely a sin”
and then when pressed to answer the question, went with this:
“Yes Jon, if I were to vote for Barack, that would be a sin (for me, but not necessarily for everyone).”
Now this being the season of Lent, I think it’s appropriate to look into this deeply. Here are the Bible verses in question quoted by the commenter:
22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happyis he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Rom. 14:22-23, NKJV)
And along these same lines is a verse that I believe is the inverse of the social/ethical question of sin and conscience.
“Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17, NKJV)
So back to the question of voting, because this comes up every election season. Is voting itself a spiritual practice? If so can it ever be sinful? If not can it ever be good? Here are my thoughts on the issue:
In these passages both Paul and James are dealing with the issue of Christians engaging socially in a sinful world and maintaining their true identity. For Paul the issue was relational and social regarding the matter of food sacrificed to idols. Can a Christian in good conscience eat what was first offered to an idol? For James the issue was that rich Christians presumed they could just make plans and money here and there and live comfortably irrespective of the effect it had on others. James warns them that such an attitude brings them into judgment.
Here are many random thoughts on applying these two passages to voting for a presidential candidate in November. First, all of our actions as Christians are spiritual in nature and must be lived out that way. But our dealings with the State must be weighed carefully. Aligning ourselves with a political party and voting for a Presidential candidate is the smallest thing we can do for our country, not the greatest. The greatest thing we can do for our country is be faithful as Christians, which means prayer and supplication, take Communion together, and worship Christ as Lord instead of the President.
We live in a society that has never been truly Christian but regularly pretends to be. Evangelicals have never really been in control but pretend to be every four years, and the media eagerly parades our participation as power brokers. Its all a big joke that does not honor Christ as Lord.
But I think the Apostles Paul and James can serve to warn and encourage us to self examination this Lent in our speech about voting. Are my actions as a citizen done for Jesus Christ? The question is not whether President Obama is sinful for being prochoice or for sanctioning drone strikes in Afghanistan, or whether Rick Santorum will make us a Christian nation like Ronald Reagan did (which is fallacious and absurd talk). Paul asks us whether what we are doing can be aligned with our love for our fellow Christians in the church. Will participating in a corrupt State system be too much for my weaker brothers and sisters? And James says “the good you know to do” is to not presume that my vote will enable a particular party to do God’s bidding. It surely will not. God does far more through the State without their knowing than because they’ve acted in His name. The good we are to do is to say “if the Lord wills we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15), so in my actions as a citizen of heaven I am seeking God’s kingdom and holding this worlds goods temporarily.
My actions as a Christian regularly make my actions as an American all but irrelevant. I’m not saying they’re completely unimportant, but they certainly don’t warrant all the chatter assigned to them. Listening to James means learning to be quick to listen, slow to speech, and slow to anger.This is a wisdom missing from this electoral season. So here’s to irrelevance! Here’s to quiet and patient service!
Here are some useful questions for self examination this Lent:
Questions for Self-Examination
1. Have I been faithful to participate in the worship
of God’s people?
2. Have I been fervent in prayer? Was there warmth?
3. Have I prayed at my stated times? with my family?
4. Have I practiced God’s presence, at least every
5. Have I, before every deliberate action or conversation,
considered how it might be turned to God’s
6. Have I sought to center conversations on the other
person’s interests and needs and ultimately toward
God, or did I turn them toward my own interests?
7. Have I given thanks to God after every pleasant
occurrence or time?
8. Have I thought or spoken unkindly of anyone?
9. Have I been careful to avoid proud thoughts or
comparing myself to others? Have I done things
just for appearance? Have I mused on my own
fame or acclaim?
10. Have I been sensitive, warm, and cheerful toward
11. Have I been impure in my thoughts or glances?
12. Have I confessed sins toward God and others
13. Have I over- or under-eaten, -slept, -worked?
14. Have I twisted the truth to look good?
15. Have I been leading in my home, or only reacting
In his set of questions for self-examination, the late
Jack Miller (pastor in Philadelphia and founder of
World Harvest Mission) gets right to the point: *
1. Is God working in your life?
2. Have you been repenting of your sin lately?
3. Are you building your life on Christ’s free justification
or are you insecure and guilt-ridden?
4. Have you done anything simply because you love
5. Have you stopped anything simply because you