A Confessional Approach to the Ballot Box
This election season has been one of frustration for most of us. As is their wont, the media have appropriated both the airwaves and cyberspace for the money-making opportunities they see in the race. Thus, we have been bombarded with articles, blogs, and editorials explaining how and why each of the main candidates for the presidency is essentially the worst of all possible worlds—on both ends of the spectrum.
So, as people of God, what are we to do? When we approach the ballot box next Tuesday, will we be able to do so in good conscience and then be able to sleep with the choice that we make?
It is not my intention here to take a side or campaign for any particular candidate. I have made my decision and assume many of you have made yours. What I do hope to do is to help us to think, and to consider that to which we, as Cumberland Presbyterians, have dedicated ourselves in regards to the political process. As a confessional people we are guided by both scripture and a common confession; our Confession of Faith is not as apolitical as some might believe.
Section 6.28 of our Confession of Faith states, “It is the duty of people to participate in civil government in such ways as are open to them, especially in exercising the right to vote. It is the duty of Christians to enter civil offices for which they are qualified and for the purpose of working for justice, peace, and the common welfare.”
This section lays out what we believe to be the duty of citizens with respect to our government. The first thing that should be pointed out, of course, is that we are strongly encouraged to vote. Voting, according to the Confession, is the bare minimum of our involvement.
There are other ways in which we can participate in civil government as well. We might choose to attend town hall meetings, to serve on local boards and in local organizations, or even to run for office ourselves, to make our communities better places in which to live, work, and grow. The point is not how we are involved but that we are involved, and for a specific reason.
This is where things might get a bit tricky, though. Our involvement in civil government, including voting, is mandated toward a particular purpose. We are not encouraged to vote or involve ourselves in politics for our own selfish interests, but so that we may participate in the work toward justice, peace, and the common welfare.
Sections 6.27 and 6.29 of the Confession of Faith address the purpose of government from the Cumberland Presbyterian perspective. Section 6.27 states, “The purpose of civil government is to enable God’s creation to live under the principles of justice and order. As it faithfully upholds the welfare of God’s creation, civil government lies within the purpose of God and functions as a useful instrument to enable people to live in harmony and peace.” Section 6.29 reminds us that the government’s duty “is to protect the religious freedom of all persons” (emphasis added).
In this, we understand our government to be motivated by servanthood. It exists to serve God’s purpose, not our own. When we look at scripture we see God’s purpose for creation. Micah 6:8 states, “[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Justice, kindness, and humility. These are the things that God asks and requires of us.
Civil government, then, according to our Confession of Faith, should have as its goal the provision of justice, peace, and the welfare of all persons. In many ways these are two ways of saying the same thing. We are to work for the good of our neighbors and our communities.
We have the opportunity to fulfill one of our obligations and roles in government next Tuesday, 8 November 2016. As frustrating and ugly as this campaign season has been, we must keep our heads and approach our obligation to participate in a confessional manner. First of all, we must vote. Our Confession of Faith does not tell us who to vote for but it also does not give us the right to sit out an election and shirk our responsibilities.
Secondly, I believe it is possible to cast a ballot in good conscience when we recognize the purpose for which we do so. In a very real sense, we cannot cast our vote for a person, because as Christians we recognize that only in the return of Christ will kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of the Lord and of the Christ (Section 7.08). No person—no politician can do that. We cast our vote for a purpose and are guided by a confession of what we know to be God’s vision for our world.
We are to constantly strive for a world which pursues hope over hate. As citizens of a republic, we pursue justice, kindness and peace, humility, and the common welfare through the ballot. So let us go to the polls…let us be guided by our common confession and our faith, and in the midst of this tumultuous time let us continue to pray that God’s Kingdom would come not just through our words but through our actions.