Pastor’s Column: Bible Should Influence Vote More Than Party

Most pastors I talk to cannot wait until November 9.

carl-bible-should-influence-vote-more-than-partyBut until we are through with elections – as with every other election cycle – evangelical leaders must navigate the intersection of faith and politics in America. Many evangelicals, like a lot of Americans, are becoming more disillusioned by politics.

While a majority of evangelical church-goers do not want their pastor to endorse a particular candidate or party, there is a need for pastors to model how devout Christians can remain engaged in civic affairs.

Here are my observations:

American evangelicalism is politically diverse. While the media mistakenly construes “evangelical” to mean white, conservative voters, the fact is that “evangelical” is a belief system centered on a belief in the Bible, Jesus, forgiveness of sins and the importance of evangelism. [pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.[/pullquote] Evangelicalism as a belief system includes large majorities of African American Christians and Hispanic Protestants. And so the political diversity of Americans encompassed by an evangelical belief system is broad (55% of white evangelicals lean Republican while 80% and 70% of Black and Hispanic evangelicals lean Democrat according to a 2014 Pew report).

Evangelical leaders need to pastor everyone in their church. There are devout Jesus followers across the whole political spectrum; from socialists, to Tea Partyers, liberals, moderates and conservatives, and it includes both Clinton and Trump supporters. Church leaders should focus on endorsing and teaching Biblical values as our main guide in shaping Christians’ political ideology.

A Biblically-informed policy platform will be in conflict with both major parties. Several evangelical leaders have recently written articles that identify serious Biblical conflicts with the policies held by both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and yet proceed to endorse one or the other. I am not going to do that.

The fact is that Biblically-informed public policy challenges the platfo[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]let the Bible shapes us more than culture does[/pullquote] rms of both major parties. Evangelical leaders need to prophetically challenge the policies and ideologies of every candidate. American politics will be better served if religious leaders maintain their prophetic platform to speak Biblical truth into each party.

I choose not to publicly align with one candidate over another because I believe that gives us as religious leaders a stronger position to advocate for Biblically-informed values and policies to all parties and voters.

We must maintain a degree of independence so that “the Bible shapes us more than culture does,” as Leith Anderson and Galen Carey wrote in their recent book, “Faith in the Voting Booth.” When religious leaders align too closely with one political candidate it diminishes our ability to be a strong moral compass, challenging the faults of both parties.

Cultural renewal is a result of transformed hearts. The Bible tells us that government is a gift from God that serves the common good. But government cannot change hearts and transform lives.

Both liberal and conservative Christians have fallen into the trap of placing too much hope in government to transform people’s lives. Conservatives are at fault for thinking that laws can change behaviors. Liberals are at fault for thinking that resources and better systems alone will lead to behavior change.

Evangelical Christians know that behavior change, renewed hope, and vision come from within. The Gospel of Jesus Christ offers a hope, one government can never achieve. We should advocate, we should vote, and we should work for better government, but throughout history we find our hope in the Gospel of Jesus supersedes any particular form of government or ruling party.

God’s people are called to be servants, not masters. The Prophet Daniel should be an inspiring model for us today. We see Daniel as a godly hero who remained faithful to God. But he also served – with distinction and reward – under three pagan emperors and had great effect on Babylonian society.

Multiple times Daniel had to confront the kings he served with a word from God. And every time, Daniel did so with utmost respect for the king. “Your Majesty, you are the king of kings.” Even when the king on earth was dishonoring to God, Daniel found a way to speak graciously and honorably to the earthly king he served.

For at least 70 years Daniel served as a Godly voice of wisdom at the center of influence in the Babylonian and Persian empires. Even when Daniel’s life was threatened, he flourished and had incredible influence for good.

What does this have to do with the upcoming election? For too long evangelical Christian acted as if the only way to influence society was to take hold of the levers of power by electing the right candidates. From Daniel we learn that we do not have to abandon our values and principles in pursuit of the illusory hope of building a godly society through electoral victory.

We’ll Be Okay. Maybe the most important message we need to hear is that we will be okay. We are not the first ones to feel that neither candidate is the best option. I was inspired by an African American, urban leader Sho Baraka who recently said  “As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.

It’s okay to wrestle with who to vote for. It’s okay to feel torn between allegiances. We will all be okay. No candidate and no party is going to act as a savior. Jesus is the only Savior we need.

Carl Nelson is president and CEO of Transform Minnesota, the evangelical network.