This has been a tumultuous year in our nation’s history. The COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, unrest in our urban communities, and a divisive presidential election coming up in November are all weighing heavy. Christians rightly recognize this season as an important time to pray, repent, and stand up for truth. Yet, I’m concerned that there are also some misunderstandings and misplaced emphasis regarding how Christians think about America. How should a Christian in 21st century America think about politics, act in society, and vote in political elections? These are deep, broad, and complicated issues. I don’t claim to have the final word, but as a Christian and an American, I do offer these five reflections for you to consider. Whether you agree or disagree with my perspective on all points, Christ-centered discussion on difficult topics is healthy.
1- America is only a temporary home for Christians. God sets the time and place for every nation in history (Acts 17:26). No matter what nation you call home, Christians live in exile on earth (1 Pt. 1:17). We are citizens of heaven, and God’s kingdom is our eternal home (Phil. 3:20). Whether you live in a land of great freedom and opportunity, a land of great oppression and injustice, or a complicated mix of both, your home country will be forgotten in eternity. God’s plan for renewal and restoration will only be fulfilled in the new heavens and new earth, not America or any other earthly nation. This eternal perspective should help us to think appropriately about earthly triumphs and troubles. It means we’re not overcome with sorrow when something in our nation goes wrong, and we’re not overly enthusiastic when something in our nation goes right. Yet with all of this in mind, we desperately pray for the grace and mercy of God to be poured out on the country we call home – and all the nations of the earth.
2- America is a great blessing, but far from perfect. There is much about the United States of America that we can be thankful for. We enjoy much personal and religious freedom. Most citizens have easy access to life’s necessities. Many can find the path to physical comfort and prosperity. And yet, sin fills every nation of the earth, so we can also acknowledge that there is much in our past, and even in our present, to grieve. The injustices in our nation’s history against Native Americans, African Americans, other minority groups, women, and the unborn are shameful. America has not gotten it all wrong, so we can and should love our country and be patriotic. But let’s not be shortsighted: America never has been and never will be perfect. So, let’s be thankful for this country as we continue to strive for justice, peace, equality, security, and prosperity in our nation.
3- There is no political party or candidate that all Christians must vote for. God and his Word have given us all that we need for life and godliness (2Pe 1:3). The Word of God shows us how to live wise and obedience lives. Yet, the Word of God does not definitely tell us what candidate to always vote for. There are two major political parties in America and multiple minor parties. No candidate, platform, or political party is right all the time. There is no candidate – even a Christian candidate – that all Christians are biblically required to vote for. Christians can agree on faith and morality, but disagree on how a biblical perspective impacts the public sphere: government, economics, social welfare, criminal justice, the military, health care, the environment, international affairs, etc. Politics involves a host of complicated positions and issues. Christians must weigh these issues, pray, and vote their conscience. These considerations mean we must give grace to brothers and sisters in Christ who vote differently than us and prioritize Christian unity.
4- We should pray for, live for, and act on the hope that God transforms more Americans into Christians. While America was founded by some godly men and women, while the founding principles of America are good and right, it is debatable whether calling America a Christian nation was ever accurate. While we recognize the faith-filled foundation of our nation, and give thanks for the godly Christians who have filled and ruled our land (even as grave sins persisted), it is the people and churches in American who are Christian. The reality is that references to Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, or the Christian Gospel do not appear in any of the founding documents of America. Reflecting on this, our goal should not be to go back to some perceived Christian heyday in our nation’s history. We shouldn’t focus on turning America into a Christian nation, but on seeing God transform Americans into Christians. Our prayers and our work should be for the Church to stand faithful, the Gospel to go out, Christians to live and speak in truth and courage, and the lost to come to Christ. If God’s grace and God’s Spirit empowers his church, and more Americans call Jesus Lord and Savior, surely our society will be transformed!
5- We should pray for and advocate for godly leadership in our government, but we look to the Lord as our final authority. Whether at the local, state, or federal level, civil leaders can be godly and wise or wicked and foolish. We pray for, advocate for, and vote for godly leaders who govern according to liberty and justice, wisdom and truth, integrity and morality, humility and compassion, courage and strength. But whether God in his sovereignty gives us leaders who are good and godly or wicked and foolish, he calls us to pray for and honor the leaders he has set in place (Rom. 13:1-7, 1Ti. 2:1-2, 1Pe. 2:13-17). Yet, we don’t look to any mayor, congressmen, governor, or president for spiritual leadership. We look to Christ and the leaders in his Church to guide us in biblical morality, sound theology, and Gospel transformation. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). As Kevin DeYoung points out in his excellent blog on God and Government, we owe our governing authorities taxes, respect, and honor; but, we owe God our whole selves, our very lives, our everything.
Let’s never forget, we’ll be Christians for all of eternity; we are Americans for only a few short years. So, let’s be faithful to Jesus. Let’s love and serve our country well. Let’s be people of peace and hope, no matter what the future holds for America. Let’s seek the good of our fellow Christians and fellow humans in every nation of the earth. And let’s pray that the knowledge of God’s glory covers the whole earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).