Why "Voting Christian" Might Be a Faulty Framework

Last week Jerry Herbert, former director of the American Studies Program and a current traveling speaker for the Center for Public Justice delivered his lecture, “Faith and Politics”, to students at Cornerstone Student Ministry. His lecture began with a description of several videos he’s seen floating around the Internet about how to vote as a Christian. The first repeatedly reminded viewers to “Vote biblical!” on important issues: defending marriage and family, sanctity of life, protection and rule of law, and defending Israel. The other claimed that politics is about power and Jesus is more concerned about the powerless, so our focus in politics should be on serving the “least of these.” Both videos purported to describe the best way of voting if you’re really voting Christian.

As Herbert pointed out, both of these videos come from people who are Christians, who rely on the Bible, and who want to do the right thing. They just are on different party sides and have different priorities on different thing. But Herbert questioned whether that is even the framework we should use when thinking about politics.

 Former Congressman Tony Hall (left) and Congressman Frank Wolf (right) put partisan differences aside to work on several issues.

Former Congressman Tony Hall (left) and Congressman Frank Wolf (right) put partisan differences aside to work on several issues.

He referenced Romans 13:1-10 in answering that question. To contextualize the passage, he started in Romans 12:9, pointing out that the middle of the passage was about government. Government, though, was book ended by two different sections talking about love. Romans 12:9-21 talks about living with compassion and love instead of judgment, and Romans 13:8-10 reveals how love is the fulfillment of the law. So, in this way, Romans portrays politics in a wholly different light than the videos did.

American politics often tells us that we have to go after our own individual interests and the interests of our group. That’s how the American system works–the American government tries to referee public interests, and the myth is that if there’s a level playing field, the struggle between interests will improve the common good and justice will be done. Rather than putting faith first, we use faith a veneer over this political myth.

Herbert suggested an alternative based on the book Healing for a Broken World by Steve Monsma. He suggests there are four principles necessary in our biblical understanding of politics: the biblical narrative itself, which tells us we are to be agents of God’s healing restoration; justice, freedom in a way that respects and supports others; solidarity, equality that comes from giving out of plenty and a sense of mutual serving, not sameness; and civil society, the idea that government should be limited by the rights and authority of other institutions like families, schools, businesses, and churches.

Of course, as Herbert then discussed, this doesn’t make being a politically active follower of Christ easy. We have adopted the pattern of American democracy, and we don’t really have a Christian constituency that’s sorted out how to work this way yet, because no one really tries. As Christians, we can find ourselves on different sides of the issues, and that’s o.k.: the important thing isn’t our political priorities, but our perspective on those priorities. Rather than focusing on our political differences, we should be looking with a loving and conciliatory perspective on the whole process.

Herbert gave the example of Frank Wolf, a very conservative Republican congressman from Virginia. He met Tony Hall, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio, and the two found that they were both Christians. They decided to start talking about what that might mean politically and were able to find bipartisan solutions on multiple issues like hunger, human trafficking, land mines, and even transportation, inviting in other Christians as they went. Neither gave up his ideology, but both were able to listen to and learn from other ideas instead of dismissing them, and it resulted in some great reaching across the aisle.

As Herbert put it, when we really believe in the reality of Christ’s lordship, things change. Jesus’ declaration of the Kingdom meant that the promises of the Creator were coming true. We get to be a part of what God does with this world¬- not just as Democrats and Republicans, but as Christians, no matter what side of the party line we stand on.

-Chloe Hawker is an international relations and politics major at Carnegie Mellon University
Photo courtesy of Dan Roberts