Principles for Voting
Voting simply based on abstract principles divorced from the dynamics of the historical process and from the specific challenges of our times – God’s purpose to our generation – won’t be really Biblical voting. Like the men of Issachar, need to understand the times to know what Israel should do.
Book of the Week:
– The Biblical Philosophy of History by R.J. Rushdoony
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Welcome – after a break of several weeks – to Episode 19 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking about voting and principles for voting. Or, rather, we will be talking about voting in the greater context of social and political action. Or, hopefully, we will even touch on the issue of voting in the even greater context of God’s plan for history. Before I continue, I need to mention that there is a slight change in the regular layout of Axe to the Root podcast, and that is that I will have to shorten this and all future episodes to about 20 minutes. The reason, in short, is, we are expanding, and there is demand for airing Axe to the Root episodes outside the Reconstructionist Radio. So I will have to speak less, and yet manage to say enough to make it full of content enough to be able to be of service to you.
What I am going to say won’t necessarily agree with other speakers on the issue – may be it won’t agree even with those of my friends who are the closest to me theologically and ideologically. I don’t claim to speak authoritatively, though, trumping their views from a supposed higher intellectual ground. On this issue, of voting, I am still developing my views. The Bible doesn’t clearly and decisively speak on principles of voting – or I should say, voting as it is understood today, in the context of our modern political system and social order. There is a reason for this, and it is that our modern political system and social order don’t have Biblical origins but are a re-creation of the older pagan forms of government. Yes, I know, they are rather modified from their pagan origins by centuries of Christendom, and there is a veneer of legality and lip-service to moral principles, as well as some real influences of Christian ethics in our modern system. Clearly, our modern culture is not Rome, and our modern political order is not the Roman Empire, and it will never be, no matter how many evangelical pastors are trying to make it Rome again by their insistence on a faulty reading of Roman 13. But while our culture today has strong and permanently established Christians checks and brakes to a full return to the brutality and tyranny of a pagan social order, the ruling ideology of civil government today is still pagan, and we as Christians have done little to nothing to change it, especially over the last 100 years. Our government is still pagan, our justice system is still pagan, we have a number of false governments that can only exist in a pagan context – executive powers, standing armies, police, regulatory agencies, government schools (remember, they are a taxing power, therefore part of the same tyrannical system), taxation agencies, immigration restrictions, prisons, etc. Voting, therefore, since it is part of the political process, is just another ritualized motion in the gigantic liturgy of this pagan political process. It does bear a faint resemblance to the original voting in the true republic, that of the Hebrew nation under the Law of God, where the local communities elected their judges. But today’s voting is not for the election of judges – a legitimate Biblical function of the civil government – but for the election of people to unlawful positions, executive and legislative, that are not commanded nor even allowed in the Law of God. I have talked in another podcast about the un-Biblical character of the standing army of police, and in the lectures at the Freedom Conference in Tucumcari, New Mexico in June (available on Reconstructionist Radio) I talked about the evil of the executive state. To say it straight, from a Christian perspective, voting in the modern context is overrated – it may be good for certain purposes, but we need to keep in mind that in most cases, it simply legitimizes a system that is by definition unjust and anti-Christian.
Obviously, from a Christian perspective, there is a tension – moral and intellectual – when it comes to voting. On one hand, since it relates to civil government, voting has to do with issues of justice in the society, and a Christian can’t just ignore these issues, and can’t just ignore opportunities that God gives to do something about injustice. Justice and righteousness are the foundations of God’s throne, as numerous verses in the Old Testament declare. Do we sit idly when God gives us an opportunity to help our culture to more justice? On the other hand, however, voting in the context of a political and social system – being an integral element in the religious, statist worship of that system – may be a legitimization of idolatry. It is not for nothing that under Communism, voting was mandatory – not officially, but there could be unofficial consequences for not voting. Not that the individual vote counted towards who would be elected (as Stalin said, “It’s not important who and how will vote; what’s important is who and how will count the votes.” And no, this is not a fake quote as some claim; Stalin’s former secretary Boris Bazhanov included it in his memoirs published in Russian in 1992), so, not that it mattered who the voters voted for, but that not voting was considered a form of resistance against the state and therefore was not to be tolerated. So what do we do? If we vote, we participate in the government’s idolatrous liturgy; if we don’t, we may miss opportunities to testify and correct the evils of our age. Is voting in the context of the modern state analogous to bowing down before the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3? Or is it like Naaman’s bowing down in the temple of Rimmon while supporting the hand of his pagan king, in 2 Kings 5? How do we know? How do we solve this apparent tension between outward participation in what in our day amounts to a pagan ritual and the ethical/judicial command to us to set the captives free, to rescue those led to slaughter, and to dispense justice in the land?
One attempted solution in our day is the purist solution: Don’t vote at all, and don’t participate in politics or government at all. It used to be the solution of modern evangelical pietists. Almost every single evangelical celebrity used to be against voting or political participation. Jerry Falwell, just a few years before he started Moral Majority, was still preaching against political participation by Christians. (To his credit, he did later address his earlier views and repented for them, which can’t be said about some of the modern churchian celebrities.) The same attitude to voting and political participation has been expressed before by some modern celebrities like Franklin Graham and John MacArthur, and they still spoke against political participation just a few years ago. Ironically, when such celebrities finally decided to change their views on voting, it was to advocate for voting for a cult member, Mitt Romney, not for the only real Christian and Southern Baptist in the race, Ron Paul, who even had his confession of faith in a prominent place on his campaign website. And neither Graham, nor MacArthur, nor any of the others ever offered a statement of repentance of their earlier views. I bet future generations will scratch their heads how we could be so blind to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on leaders of such poor quality.
There is a more consistent and more principled purist position, though, and it is that of a small group within the Reformed churches, the modern covenanters. Their position is similar to that of the pietistic evangelicals – no voting at all – but the similarity is only on the surface. In reality, it is much more consistent and well-defined, and it is not based on the pietistic premise that politics is bad by default. To the contrary, modern covenanters believe that politics – like everything else – must be subject to the Law of God and therefore is a legitimate area of Christian endeavors and work. Their rejection of political participation today comes from their understanding that godly politics can be done only in the context of a political system that has explicitly vowed to serve God. The nature of the fundamental political oath is determinative to their decision to participate or not. Since our modern political system is based on a religious oath which is not explicitly Christian, it is therefore idolatrous and any participation in it that would require taking such oath would be idolatrous. Modern covenanters would participate in the political process only when it becomes Christian by explicit oath.
While somewhat consistent, though, this position has serious drawbacks. For one, modern covenanters’ view on the nature of civil government is not very different from the modern state. What they envision is a modern government whose executive power is harnessed to serve Christian goals – defined, of course, by a priestocratic elite of church elders. Thus, they never discuss if the nature and structure and principle of operation of the modern state are Biblical; they take those nature, structure, and principle of operation for granted, as something not to be discussed, and are only concerned with the ritualistic part – the oath. To give a Biblical analogy, modern covenanters want Moses to take over Egypt and use the Egyptian state as it is, without any structural or operational changes, and make it serve Yahweh. And second, their position destroys any possibility for peaceful, gradual change of the modern state into a Christian civil government. If they don’t participate, they can’t influence the process of changing even the oath; and they can’t train a future generation of Christian magistrates. The only change, then, will have to come through a violent overthrow of the system. Their explanation is that such change will come when an existing ruler converts and changes the oath – in other words, they are expecting a sort of messianic figure who will be powerful enough to change the whole system for them, and yet be a new and therefore inexperienced convert, for he would have to convert midlife to Christianity (an old believer wouldn’t even participate in the political process). Such faith in a new convert who will also be the messianic figure to overhaul the system and its fundamental oath is not exactly a consistent position.
Then there is the lesser-of-two-evils crowd; the majority of American voters, on both sides of the political spectrum, well represented also within the broadly Evangelical and also Reformed churches. The belief there is that voting is almost a sacred ritual which shouldn’t be missed because somehow “this election is the most important election at all,” and if we allow for the greater evil to be elected, it will get really bad. The ideology behind this position is simply fear. I take that back: not simply fear but fear developed to the level of elaborate political propaganda and manipulation, with the purpose of conditioning the minds of the electorate to support whatever candidate their party nominates. Thus, Democrat voters have been voting – against their own professed ideology – for rich white politicians at the payroll of Big Business; and Republican voters have been voting – against their own professed ideology – for practical socialists and progressives. The negatives of this position should be obvious to all, and the history of the US of the last 50 years is an abundant proof that such position not only doesn’t solve any problems, it is part of the problem itself. It can be useful only in limited circumstances, for meeting emergencies – real emergencies, not the constant political and media manipulation of the voters in the US. Limited, as in places in the Middle East or North Africa where a socialist dictator may be a better option for Christians than a Muslim radical, and there is an imminent disaster coming. In the US, to be honest, the scares never really materialize, and are only good for the politicians’ agenda.
By far the best of all currently existing views – shared by many of my closest friends – is the view that voting must be based on character: we must examine the moral character of the political candidates before us; we must judge, first, based on their profession of faith, as far as we can from their own statements, second, based on their walk in life, third, based on their record of voting so far, etc. this position has numerous direct verses for support in the Bible unlike the previous positions. There are a number of qualifications for rulers in the Bible that establish the necessity of orthodox faith and good moral character for the candidates. It is obvious why we should vote only for candidates of exemplary character, irrespective of pragmatic reasons – whether they have a chance of winning or not. Our voting only for candidates of character is our way of taking the testimony of the Gospel to the political process: by voting only for Biblically qualified candidates – that is, candidates of approved moral character – we are declaring to the world around us our commitment to our covenantal – that is, ethical/judicial – principles. There is a bonus to voting only for Biblically qualified candidates as well, and it is in the fact that there is less need for external checks and balances for a candidate whose self-control provides internal checks and balances. Like in everything else, internal self-government makes external control superfluous – it is for this reason we Christian Reconstructionists have called for less focus on institutional governments and control and more focus on self-government, the foundation for our Christian libertarianism in politics. Moral character equals self-government, for self-government is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); and a political candidate who has shown a sufficient amount of self-control in his personal life would be expected to show a similar amount of self-control in office, or at least, during the election campaign (so that we are not ashamed of him).
As good and consistent this position is, though, I must say, it is not sufficient – and here lies my partial disagreement with many of my friends. Yes, character is important, no doubt about it. In fact, I would say that there are important points in the other two views as well; practicality – or call it pragmatism if you will – has its place, even if limited, in all our dealings, including our voting. And yes, I also believe that politics, as it is practiced today, is rotten, and barely deserves participation, specifically in the voting booth. I would also agree that an explicit Christian oath and requirement for a Christian oath is the ideal situation, and before there is such an oath, any political system must be held under suspicion by any professing Christian. So character is an important part of our standards for voting for a candidate, and yes, a candidate who has proven his character to be of low moral quality, should not be supported, even if his opponent is Hillary Clinton.
But character is not enough. Because there is a higher, more comprehensive principle, and that more comprehensive principle has to do with issues higher than the individual candidates, and even higher than the specific act and process of voting. I call this principle “God’s purpose to this generation,” based on the words of Paul to synagogue in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:36: “David, after he had served the purpose of God to his own generation.” (The English versions translate it “in his own generation,” but there is no “in” or any other preposition in the original, only the word generation is in Dative, which means the correct preposition in English should be “to,” as in something given to them.) Voting, of course, must be governed by the ethical/judicial principles of the Law of God, but not just abstractly applied without respect to the times. The concrete reality of the times and of God’s specific purpose to this specific generation must be understood and must be taken as the grounds for our decision how to vote and whether to vote. Or, to be more comprehensive, for our decision how to participate politically and whether to participate politically at all.
You see, my problem with all the above approaches is that they are all approaches based on a stagnant and abstract view of reality and human society, a view rather divorced from history and the specific historic situation we are facing today. Generations of men are not all the same, they do not have the same circumstances and the same challenge, and they do not have the same purpose. What one generation finds a severe challenge, another generation may just take for granted. What in one generation may be considered victory, in another may be a defeat. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are eternal ethical/judicial principles, but these principles still need to be applied to specific cases, and the specific cases most often depend on the specific purpose God has for our specific generation.
This principle of action – and especially political action – depending on the historical purpose of God for the specific generation is clear in the tribulations of Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 38. The officials of king Zedekiah requested that Jeremiah be thrown in jail; or, because Israel didn’t have prisons and jails like the surrounding pagan nations – the Law of God doesn’t allow for prisons and jails, they are part of an anti-Christian social order – Jeremiah was thrown in a water reservoir that was not used. His crime? He called for surrender to the Chaldean army, because that was the purpose of God to their generation, to go to Babylon and stay there. Now, 250 years earlier Elisha did exactly the opposite to his countrymen in Samaria, encouraging them to persist because God had sent His fiery chariots to rescue the city. An another 700 years earlier, God was telling Joshua to not fear, because any place where he would put his foot will be his. Obviously, fighting a war against God’s enemies wasn’t always part of God’s purpose for every generation; for God’s covenantal purposes, Judah had to surrender and go in captivity. Not that God was a capricious God; to the contrary, there was a clear reason why He changed the purpose: Israel had to suffer the consequences of their sins. But it took a prophetic word to declare God’s purpose to their generation.
The necessity of having a clear historical understanding of the times we live in is obvious also from that famous phrase, the men of Issachar in 1 Chr. 12:32, who came to join David at Hebron. These men, the text says, “understood the times, knowing what Israel should do.” Again, this was a political/government undertaking, they came with the specific purpose to turn the kingdom from Saul to David. Under any of the views I described earlier, there would be no necessity on them to elect David over Saul; what was needed was specific understanding of the times, as well as a prophetic word (1 Sam. 16). Their political actions had to be based on more than just abstract principles of character or nature of government; they had to be aligned with God’s purpose to their generation. Only then could their undertaking be in agreement with the Law of God, and with the plan of God for their nation.
There’s a multitude of other examples in the Bible showing that a bare knowledge of the Law of God or of the ethical principles for politics and character is not enough for one to get involved in politics or civil government. My favorite modern example of historical understanding is Gary DeMar’s reply to those who use the verse, Give to Caesar what is Caesar; DeMar’s reply is, “We don’t live under Caesar anymore.” There has to be specific understanding of the historical challenges and the historical purpose of God to our generation. In every generation, there is a multitude of wrongs to be corrected, a multitude of good works that can be done, and sometimes there are mutually exclusive alternatives for action, neither of which is lawless per se. (Neither defending the city in Elisha’s time nor surrendering the city in Jeremiah’s time were wrong per se.) How do we know where we need to invest the resources of our generation, the efforts of our political system and government? The Bible doesn’t give specific instructions for every generation; it gives us the eternal principles of the Covenant of God. So there has to be specific understanding of the times, based on the Biblical testimony, of course, but also applied to our present use, to borrow a phrase from John Calvin. And when we have that wisdom and understanding of applying the revelation of the Bible to present use, they will become the foundation for our principles for voting.
So before we go to vote, when we are vetting the candidates, we as Christians need to be asking ourselves this question: What is God’s purpose to our generation? What are the most important issues of justice our generation is facing, issues that can be resolved through government action – or inaction. What are the specific challenges? What are the specific opportunities for action. Does that purpose of God require that we skip voting this election, because any vote would only be a legitimization of things contrary to God’s purpose. May be there are candidates with good moral character, but can we vote for them if we judge them clueless about the real issues and the purpose of God to our generation. There is a number of good Christians who are running in this campaign, but almost all of them are statist in one way or another, being in favor of foreign wars, or standing armies like the police, or regulations, etc. Do we vote for such people just because of the good character; or do we place the purpose of God higher than that and refuse to vote for them? Could there be a situation where a man of lesser character has a better understanding of the real issues, and perhaps should be trusted with authority? Etc., etc.
Thus, voting – or not voting – simply based on abstract principles divorced from the dynamics of the historical process and from the specific challenges of our times – God’s purpose to our generation – won’t be really Biblical voting. We need to understand the times to know what Israel should do. At our point in history, we have a very specific problem: statism. (Which, as Rushdoony said in his Foundations of Social Order, is idolatry) Our previous generations have slept comfortably while both the right and the left side of the political spectrum have been turning the US into a land controlled by the executive power of the government. We have comforted ourselves with the lie that the government is there to protect our Christian roots. It is not becoming more and more obvious that the real purpose of that Beast of the executive government is to wage war against the saints. It’s about time to wake up and oppose him. Our government is not the government of Romans 13 anymore, and hasn’t been for over 100 years. It is the government of Revelation 13. And when we vote – or don’t vote – we need to understand that the great battle of our time will be Christendom vs. the modern pagan state. And based on that, pick our candidates.
The book that I will assign this week is a small book but very important, for it gives us a Biblical understanding of the principles of understanding history. Correct, we need to understand history to know to vote; when we don’t understand the times, we won’t ever be willing to join the David’s of this world, and we will always stand with the Sauls. The book is R.J. Rushdoony’s The Biblical Philosophy of History. Read it, let it sink for a while, then read it again. The book is not your regular book, it is written in a language that most people are not used to.
And again, help me continue my work in Bulgaria. The long vacation I took from Axe to the Root podcast was not really a vacation; it was a trip to Bulgaria for a worldview conference. This is not the place to share about the victories and the opportunities for the Gospel in Bulgaria, so go to BulgarianReformation.com and subscribe to our newsletter. And then hit donate. It’s a ministry and mission unlike most other. We are changing the culture. God bless you all.