BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES, DEMOCRACY'S DEMANDS--AND CURRENT FIGHTS OVER LAWS REGULATING VOTING.
Vast numbers of Americans of fundamentally contradictory political positions are Christians. That means that for most, at least, they truly want their actions to be shaped by biblical principles. Is there some way for all Christians to listen carefully enough to biblical teaching so they can hear the concerns of those who vehemently disagree politically with them?
The areas of sharp political disagreement today are vast: climate change, racial justice, economic justice, etc.
But here, I want to focus on just one important question and area of disagreement. What do biblical principles mean for the current sharp disagreement over what legislation best protects the democratic principle that every citizen has the right to vote?
It does not take much attention to the news to realize that there is a huge political debate and divide on this question. Many people think that there was widespread voter fraud in 2020 that undermined the democratic principle of one person, one vote. Many states are passing laws that restrict easy access to mail-in ballots. Many states are passing laws that reduce the length and places for in person early voting. And much more. Georgia even makes it a crime now to give food and water to someone standing in line for hours to wait to vote.
My question is this. Is there any way that more careful attention to relevant biblical principles would help Christians listen to each other across this vast political divide? I believe the answer is yes. I believe—I hope and pray-- that many millions of Christians on each side of this political debate want to submit to biblical principles.
So what are the relevant biblical principles? The most basic principle is that God has created every single person in the image of God: “God created human beings in his own image… Male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Every single person is equally precious to God. God loves every single person – no matter their color, race, gender – – with equal love. Since that is who every person is, God’s people will seek to treat every person that way. Not all religions affirm this basic point – – see for example the caste system in Hinduism. But it is the core of what biblical faith says about the equal worth and dignity of every person.
The early church lived out this basic principle in dramatic new ways. Jesus’ gospel was not just for Jews but also for Gentiles – – people everywhere. The church, Jesus’ new redeemed community, is to be a picture of God’s will now and also the future when Christ returns. Saint Paul said that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female”( Galatians 3:28). And Revelation 7:9 describes what happens when Christ returns and completes his victory over all evil. Standing, worshiping God, is “a great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people and language.”
Biblical teaching is clear and unequivocal. Every person has equal dignity and worth.
A second biblical principle is crucial. God demands truth and hates lies. One of the Ten Commandments forbids lying. Proverbs 6:16ff says there are six things God hates. One is “a lying tongue” (v. 17). And Proverbs 12:22 says “the Lord detests lying lips.” Revelation 21:8 declares the terrible truth that “all liars” will depart eternally from the living God.
These two biblical principles – – “every person has equal dignity and worth” and “God hates lies” – – are crucial for our question.
These two principles are also central to democracy. America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, states bluntly: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” And that means among other things that government derives it’s just powers “from the consent of the governed.”
It has taken centuries for this nation to move slowly toward embracing the full meaning of that bold declaration. Slavery totally violated this principle. After emancipation, Jim Crowe laws and lynchings denied the vote to African-Americans. Women finally received the vote only in 1920.
But today, virtually all Americans agree that American democracy means that every citizen has the right to vote and that every vote counts equally. Christians who embrace the fundamental Biblical principle that every person is created in the image of God and is of equal worth and dignity will affirm and demand the basic democratic principle that every citizen has an equal vote and every vote must be counted fairly.
Truth is also essential for democracy to work. Wise political decisions are only possible if the relevant facts – – eg, economic, scientific – – are widely known. If large numbers of citizens vote based on what is simply not true, democracy slowly collapses. Today there are vast sources of “fake news” that promote what is clearly untrue. But regardless of one’s political persuasion, we can agree that democracy will simply collapse if vast numbers of citizens vote on “Facts” that are simply untrue. If most of the citizens most of the time vote on the basis of ideas that are simply false, democracy will not work.
So what does all this mean for today’s hot debate about what our voting laws should say? Do these principles provide guidance – – for Christians of every political persuasion! --about how to settle the hot contemporary debates about voting laws?
Every biblical Christian should agree on the following. 1) The laws should make it as easy as is reasonably possible for everyone to vote. 2)The laws should make it as difficult as is reasonably possible for voter fraud to occur. 3) We should seek the best available evidence (truth!) about which voting laws will accomplish both goals.
Of course there will be disagreements. But the best way to solve the disagreements is for people with opposing views to come together and listen to the others’ arguments. That’s hard, very hard! I am not naïve enough to think that this will happen widely. But that is what democracy demands. And even if only a substantial minority of people on both sides succeed in doing this, change for the better will be enormous.
I believe Christians of every political persuasion could make a huge contribution to our democracy today if we would try our best to do this. In fact, I don’t see how we can claim to be biblical unless we vigorously and persistently seek to do this.
I hope that already today, there are smaller and larger groups seeking to initiate such dialogue. Let me know if you are aware of good efforts.
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