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Vote the Bible?

By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, December 18, 2008

Yesterday I put up a photo of a curious bumper sticker:

I noted that many people in America share this sentiment. I know people on both right and left of the political spectrum who really do want to “Vote the Bible.”

But, as I mentioned yesterday, this is easier said than done. I have friends who, a month ago, voted the Bible by voting for John McCain. And I have friends who voted the Bible by voting for Barack Obama. Now I realize that some folks would immediately disagree that there is ambiguity in voting the Bible. For some, the Bible is pro-life when it comes to the issue of abortion. So voting the Bible means, simply voting for pro-life candidates and against pro-choice candidates. In practice, this usually means voting for Republicans. Yet, for other Christians, biblical clarity points to supporting the Democratic party. They see in the Bible a strong call to care for the poor, and hear much more about this from Democratic candidates than from Republicans. So, for these folks, “Vote the Bible” means “Vote Democratic!”

In this post I’m not going to argue either side of this debate. My point is that it sometimes isn’t easy to know how to “Vote the Bible.” I think those of us who seek to have our votes guided by Scripture would be well-served if we acknowledged this fact.

In the rest of this post, I want to note two main reasons that make voting the Bible more complicated that it might at first seem.

The Bible Isn’t Johnny-One-Note

First of all, the Bible isn’t Johnny-One-Note.  It includes a wide variety of themes penned by a wide variety of authors. Even if you believe, as I do, that God is the ultimate Author of Scripture, you still must recognize that God’s agenda isn’t a simple, single-issue one. For example, I am convinced that biblical teaching leads us to conclude that all of human life is sacred, including fetal life. But I will acknowledge that Scripture doesn’t often speak directly about the status of the pre-born infant. At the same time, there is much in Scripture that calls us to care for the poor and the oppressed. Biblical teaching exalts peace and condemns violence. It calls us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek rather than striking them back. Scripture warns us against the dangers of riches and materialism. It also calls us to be good stewards of God’s creation. And this is just the beginning. If you take seriously the breadth of biblical teaching, you’ll find that it isn’t easy to be a single-issue voter. In the end, you’ll have to decide which biblical teachings are most relevant in guiding your vote.

The Bible Doesn’t Directly Address our Political Options

When I last checked, the Bible doesn’t't speak directly to our political options. Let’s take the example of the poor. There’s no question that Scripture calls us to care for the poor and to help them escape from poverty. This should be a high priority for every Christian.

So how should we vote in light of the priority of helping the poor? I have many Christian friends for whom the answer is obvious. Vote Democratic! The Democrats, after all, talk more about helping the poor. They tend to see the government as playing a major role in alleviating poverty through various government programs.

Yet I have other friends who do indeed care deeply about the poor and are committed to ending poverty. Yet they vote Republican. Why? Because they believe the best way to alleviate poverty is through business development, and they see the Republicans as those who are generally more pro-business. They believe that big government solutions just don’t work, in the end, and often make matters worse.

So, there are biblically-committed Christians who vote Democratic in response to the Bible’s call to care for the poor, and biblically-committed Christians who vote Republican in response to the Bible’s call to care for the poor. They don’t differ much, if at all, in their understanding of Scripture or its authority. Yet they do differ widely in their views of economics and politics. One side sees government as offering the best way to solve the problem of poverty. They favor bigger government and more taxation to pay for it. The other side sees business in this role. Therefore, they prefer smaller government and less taxation.

At the moment, I’m not interested in who is right or who is wrong in this debate. My point is simply that two people can agree about biblical truth and yet vote quite differently because they differ over ideas that are not clearly taught in Scripture. A big-government Democrat and a big-business Republican will vote the Bible in very different ways, even though they might be equally committed to biblical teaching on care for the poor. (Of course, in these days of giant corporate bailouts, it’s very hard to figure out who’s for big government and who’s against it.)

There are many more reasons why voting the Bible isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. If you have some thoughts about this, please let us know by adding a comment below.

Topics: Christianity and Politics |

8 Responses to “Vote the Bible?”

  1. RevK Says:
    December 18th, 2008 at 5:14 am

    I mull this over and over. But here is my first salvo: I see in the creation account that God divinely institutes family, church, government, and industry (I won’t unpack all of that right now…) Since the fall, there has been the continual struggle to keep these institutions properly balanced. I am attempting to vote in such a way that these maintain their proper relationship. Mulling more…

  2. Marcus Says:
    December 18th, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Yup, yup, yup. When either side claims the biblically moral high ground, it makes me really nervous. Frankly, asking who would Jesus vote for feels a little bit like taking God’s name in vain.

    Sometimes I think Jesus and Peter would have gone fishing and caught a musht fish with two ballots already marked.

  3. Evan Says:
    December 18th, 2008 at 9:20 am


    The problem clearly is that no politician is 100% consistent, even if they get most things biblically “right.” So in that sense, we will always be choosing “the lesser of two evils.” And certainly, the Bible speaks to certain themes upon which reasonable minds may differ. To use your example: Is it better to help the poor by directly giving them food or requiring them to work and working to see they have jobs? Or a combination of the two? And note also, the “solution” is presented as an either/or, when there may be multiple layers of multifaceted solution to “helping the poor” which involve those and more.

    But on the other hand, “the works of the flesh are obvious.” (Gal 5) At some point, you have to get on board with the very clear directives of Scripture, and there really isn’t any good faith dispute of reasonable minds possible. And while I understand that stridency has marked a lot of political discourse, the fact that some folks are rude and strident about the truth does not change the nature of the truth. Jesus finally chased the moneychangers out of the Temple with a whip; He is God and I would not dare to emulate that, but at that point, the discussion of the issue was over.

    There have to be some issues that are deal-breakers, period. I am sure Pharoah’s food storage and distribution programs under Joseph were excellent things and likely carried forward, but the current Pharaoh lost my vote over the whole “toss the babies into the Nile” business, to cite an example. Of course, who IS to say if slaves are human beings? The Supreme Court of the U.S. ruled that they are not (Dred Scott v. Sanford), so don’t look at me, that is “above my pay grade.” My point is that on some matters, “the works of the flesh are obvious,” and disputes over such issues land you in the camp of the Pharisees. They disputed, but Jesus rejoined that it was not in good faith.

    No, you can’t “vote the Bible” by throwing a straight party lever every election. But there are certain issues over which there is no reasonable good faith dispute, and you have to take that into account. For me, that has meant ticket-splitting in some elections, voting for the “lesser of two evils” in others and having very clear-cut choices that were simple in still others.

  4. Bill Goff Says:
    December 18th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Perhaps believers on different parts of the political spectrum could agree with this bumper sticker if there were a comma after the word vote. Then it would not mean vote in a way that the Scriptures dictate (which is very difficult to figure out and follow). It would mean vote, that is, participate in the political process, as the words of the Bible encourage to do.

  5. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    December 18th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Bill: So it might be: Vote! - The Bible

  6. Mariam Says:
    December 19th, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    I’d love some more clarification, about where the Bible encourages us to participate in the political process. Because we are supposed to obey the civil authorities, and thus should exercise our choices when offered? Or is it something else?

  7. Ray Says:
    December 19th, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    The bible calls ME personally to help people, not to abdicate that responsibility to an impersonal government. Besides, I don’t like giving government the power to make people dependent on it.

  8. Naturallawyer Says:
    December 29th, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Good post. I agree that we Christians can agree on the ends (say, alleviation of suffering due to poverty) but disagree on the means (government intervention v. private charity).

    However, I disagree that “the Bible doesn’t speak directly to our political options.” There are some political options clearly forbidden by the Bible, such as, to continue the chosen theme, oppressing the poor. It’s a bit muddier in a representative democracy where you have to trust some candidate to do what he/she says; but if there were, for example, a referendum on the ballot requiring that no employer hire homeless people (setting aside the Constitutional problems with such a ridiculous proposal), I think the Bible would directly prohibit voting for such a measure. It would needlessly oppress poor people and trap them in dire situations.

    I don’t think a line can be drawn between our exercise of political power and our responsibilities as Christians, notwithstanding the difficulty of “voting the Bible”. I would refer everyone to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (google it) for a remarkable argument that the white Christians in the South had a moral obligation to stand up against the injustices inflicted on southern black people. It may be difficult to vote “correctly”, but that does not alleviate our duty to try, and it does not excuse our failure to vote in the common good.

    That said, as a biblical matter, we cannot overlook our duty to the weakest members of society, including the unborn, infants, and the elderly. Voting for any candidate who is willing to wantonly end the lives of such innocent persons (or encourage or sanction the ending of those lives) is highly questionable, and probably an abuse of our political power as voters.

    Can you imagine if a candidate was in favor of mandatory execution of every criminal currently in jail or prison, in the name of erradicating crime? Erradication of crime is a noble goal, but the plain fact is that there are people in jail who do not deserve to be executed, and some are even innocent of the crimes for which they have been convicted. If such wide-spread executions strike you as horrifying (and cause you to reject any candidate making such a proposal), a pro-abortion/euthenasia candidate should seem many times worse, for they also support the execution of people who do not deserve to be executed, even the most innocent members of society.


Thanks for your willingness to make a comment. Note: I do not moderate comments before they are posted, though they are automatically screened for profanities, spam, etc., and sometimes the screening program holds comments for moderation even though they're not offensive. I encourage open dialogue and serious disagreement, and am always willing to learn from my mistakes. I will not delete comments unless they are extraordinarily rude or irrelevant to the topic at hand. You do need to login in order to make a comment, because this cuts down on spam. You are free to use a nickname if you wish. Finally, I will eventually read all comments, but I don't have the time to respond to them on a consistent basis because I've got a few other demands on my time, like my "day job," my family, sleep, etc.

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