In 2000 I attended a church college-aged group Election Party. Namely, we all brought food over to someone’s house and enjoyed each others company while the 2000 Presidential Election results played in the background. This election ended up being a controversial one as Al Gore (D) won the popular vote, while George Bush Jr (R) won the electoral vote. Either way, the election was extremely close, with George Bush Jr winning the presidency. But the election results themselves don’t really matter for this discussion. During one point of the evening, I was talking with the church’s worship leader and he mentioned that whoever Christ would vote for would hopefully win. A classic enough statement, but he followed it up with an even better one, ‘Though Christ probably wouldn’t have voted’. While I don’t remember the exact phrasing of that discussion a decade ago, I remember the sentiment. “Who would Christ vote for? Probably no one.”
WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? – became popular during my school years as a reasonable method for evaluating our own actions. If we, as Christians, are meant to emulate Christ it becomes important to ask ourselves, What Would Jesus Do? In the above story, that question was essentially asked about the election, “Who would Jesus vote for?”. While WWJD is an important question to consider in our daily lives, it is a useless question if we don’t seek to understand Christ’s motives behind his actions. Christ lived in a completely different time and many of our individual actions today do not have a direct example in the Bible to follow. “Who would Jesus vote for?” Jesus never described voting as the Jews didn’t have that luxury, let alone whether he was a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, Constitutionalist or Independent. He rarely even directly discussed political matters. Later however, Paul did in his letter to the Romans:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
So If Christ were to vote for a leader, he would presumably follow the Romans 13 dictum. Maybe one who brings wrath on the practicer of evil, being a servant of God and devoting themselves to God? Maybe that’s who Jesus would vote for. But how often do we actually get a candidate that is like that? Politics is so muddled, how do we even know?
Maybe historical examples would be of use. They are easier at this stage because hindsight is perfect. Would Christ vote for Hitler? Or Nero? I certainly hope not! If so, I’d have to reexamine why I believe what I believe. So if not Hitler or Nero, why not? Tyranical Dictator and Mass Murderer come to mind. Hmm, okay, what about Kim Il-sung? He murdered less but was still a Tyrannical Leader. What about Napoleon? or Alexander the Great? They still murdered but at least Alexander did well for his country. What about Abraham Lincoln? or Churchill? Not your typical mass murders or dictators, but still very powerful men who oversaw the death of many. Where’s the line? Is it a gray area or is it a fine line?
So far all that I’ve written is questions and no answers. Who Would Jesus Vote For? How can we even know if the candidate is a Romans 13 candidate or not? Is it a moral gray area or a fine line?
Let’s reexamine Romans 13 to further illuminate these questions and maybe get at some answers. Romans 13 is incredibly often used as proof that every Christian should be a good citizen and obey the government no matter what. That however, can not be the case. Simple thoughts of past dictators should be enough of an example that Romans 13 is not all-covering of all authorities. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Pol-Pot, Kim Jong-il, in fact read this book for too many horrid examples. However, maybe it should be considered. Should Christians have been good citizens in Nazi Germany? Paid their taxes, quietly done their job, and taken part in mass murder? Many did, and continue to do so around the world in horrid regimes. However, many did not as well and the many martyrs of the Christian faith show by example the right response to evil authority – they were martyred for not obeying the human authorities.
In Romans 3, 10 chapters before Romans 13 in the same letter Paul asked “Let us do evil that good may come”? and then stated that the condemnation of those that slanderously report that is just. Those that think Romans 13 justifies submission to all authority on this planet, no matter how evil, and try to get Christians to join in on the evil have just condemnation. Romans 13 applies, and can only apply, when doing so doesn’t include or endorse action taken against God’s superseding law; or in other words, Sin. Considering the amount of sin that modern and historical governments act on and endorse, Romans 13 is not making a good case for being a good citizen. Sure, we can all obey the law when it says “No Jaywalking”, but what Christian among us can rightfully endorse the law when one does Jaywalk and is then stolen from or fined for doing so? God’s Law is “Do Not Steal”. Yes, the jaywalker broke the law so punishment is natural but is it Christ-like to then force him to pay you or to lock him up? The law is endorsing sinful behavior and is counter to the governing authority described in Romans 13. It’s easy to state that Romans 13 doesn’t apply when in a Christian persecuting nation, because it is obvious that Christians should preach the Gospel no matter what the governing authorities say. It isn’t so easy when it’s the matter of throwing a jaywalker into jail. But maybe it should be. Let’s see what Christ has to say about it.
One of [the Sadducees], a lawyer, asked [Jesus] a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law”
And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.
The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
If Christ was serious about how the entire law rests on these two commandments, then we need to take by faith that following those commandments is the best course for us. Regardless of the consequences and regardless of whether you live in Nazi Germany or a freer country. Despite Christ’s words making common sense, they are radical on a deep level. Just look at the earlier jaywalking example. Yes, he broke the law so he “voluntarily” incurred a fine or jail time (if he chooses not to pay and resists). But saying that the punishment is a loving act, is like saying that violently restraining a drunkard from drinking is a loving act. Not like spanking a child. There is a reason parents stop spanking their children when they mature. Last time I heard about ‘interventions’, they usually treated the individual with respect and attempted to love on them and persuade them to change their ways. Not by locking them in their house so they can’t go hurt themselves. Radical isn’t it?
With regards to our earlier questions, while it may not be apparent I hope I clarified the answers. I will explicitly state my opinions below, but because all humans have slightly different understandings of morality I won’t state it with 100% confidence that I am totally inline with Christ, though I and most Christian readers seek to be so. While I may be full of pride, I’m not quite so full as to say that I have the full mind of Christ. If Christ was serious, then we should be serious. If an action isn’t loving of your neighbor, we shouldn’t take it nor endorse it. I, for one do not vote in most circumstances and feel that it is an appropriate reaction to Christ’s commandments.
If I was to vote, it would have to be under an extremely rare occasion where the candidate met the Romans 13 guidelines with 100% assurance. How can we know if we’ve received a candidate like that? It isn’t a gray area, it’s a fine line; it’s apparent and obvious. If you can imagine Christ himself doing what they do and it isn’t repulsive to you; then that’s a good hint. I for one cannot imagine Christ physically taking money from the Rich Young Ruler and giving it to the poor (welfare), despite that being what Christ hoped for and requested. I for one cannot imagine Christ attacking another people group but instead to turn the cheek (warfare). Though I can imagine a pure defensive action on our own property as Christ defended the Temple from those who sought to gain at the expense of other’s spirits. I for one, cannot imagine Christ bearing anything but the best of fruit.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.
In closing, I’d like to end with the Romans 13 verses that immediately follow the authority verses.
Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.