BY KYLAN SCHROEDER
If we understand from Scripture that “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:9), how are we to act in our present system with the responsibility of choosing our own representatives? After all, the Bible was written in times when issues were decided by kings on thrones, not a ballot box down at the YWCA on Bancroft. Thankfully, our Creator and everlasting Savior has not left us without direction here, and I think His guidelines for political participation are as worthy of our attention as the booklets crammed into our mailboxes.
As Christians, we are charged to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21). Jesus was addressing the specific issue of paying taxes, but His answer compels us to yield not only to our earthly leaders but also to our heavenly Father (Matt. 5:42). Perhaps obedience to the former is a key part of service to the latter, as all areas of life belong to Him alone.
Paul, also inspired by the Holy Spirit, said the same things: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. …Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor” (Rom. 13:1, 7). Note that there are no limitations about the type of political system or the ruler’s character, as our Lord is Lord in all places and at all times. Even more than obeying our leaders, we are commanded to be concerned for their welfare and bring them before God in prayer for their sake and ours (1 Tim. 2:1–2).
This is, in short, another way of loving our neighbors, whether they are elected to authority over us, voting in the stall next to us, or at home not exercising their right to choose. If Jesus is Lord of our hearts, we will, by His strength, seek the good of those around us. Taking advantage of the chances we have to influence those in power is one important channel of blessing in our society. Imagine, for example, what would happen if local Christians united in using our votes to provide the best possible care for orphans and the elderly (James 1:27). We would, perhaps, prove to those watching that we aren’t seeking the favor of men but the approval of God, Who alone promises to repay those favoring the poor and helpless (Luke 14:12–14).
National elections and their high-profile candidates make bigger, louder headlines, but local referendums and offices—the ones I rarely bother to research, thinking that I will be here for only a few more years and thus won’t have to live with the consequences—have more direct and lasting effects on our neighborhoods. Where education standards set by the federal government often take a few years to trickle down, a county or district education bill could decisively change the atmosphere, leading to either more art and music programs or fewer open campuses. There is a growing movement towards eating “locally grown” food as people reevaluate the importance of their neighborhood community, so maybe we who are led by the Spirit should ask Him to give us greater wisdom for stewardship of our homegrown political scene.
Unlike many commentators these days, I do not think that a commitment to Christ leads His followers into a specific political affiliation. After all, no one party or individual outside Jesus fully represents His will for Berkeley or America, just as even Israel’s best kings sinned against His will at times. Indeed, is it not better that His people obey Him everywhere so that He is most fully represented to the world? Sometimes this may mean carefully following an unbeliever, as when God chose to work through the Persian king Cyrus in rebuilding Jerusalem’s temple (2 Chron. 36:22–23; Isa. 45:1–5). Shared faith is not a requirement in order to run for office, especially in our secular system, and those who say “Lord, Lord” must be tested: “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
Ultimately, we must seek to love others and let Jesus rule over our convictions in every area, for after all the ballots are cast He has the final say: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” (Dan. 2:20–21).