I was going to wait and write this blog in the fall in preparation for the general election. But, in light of the multitude of questions concerning how to vote in our regional elections as well as the Presidential primaries, I’ve decided to post a distillation of my answer to these inquiries. When it comes to politics, the most frequently asked question is “who are you going to vote for?” As a pastor I seldom answer that question. I prefer answering another question which equips people to not simply know how to vote in one election but how to evaluate voting in any election. Therefore, the more crucial question is “how should I, as a Christian, prepare to vote with prayerful deliberation and wisdom?”
Given the position I have taken (for multiple reasons) to not publicly endorse candidates, I feel it is important to pastorally share a Biblical process by which candidates for public office should be evaluated. So, in light of the multiple texts in God’s Word designed to guide us in evaluating leaders in general and civil magistrates (public officials) in particular, I thought it best to give a brief distillation consisting of a five-fold paradigm to prayerfully make a decision in exercising the providential blessing, duty and privilege to vote for elected officials.
The Five-fold Paradigm
1. Character: Who are they?
In considering a candidate the prevailing issue is character. In God’s word when electing Elders multiple texts give us the qualifications that are essential. In I Timothy 3 there are 17 such qualifications. Of the 17, 15 of them deal with character and conduct. Who are they? In particular who are they when no one is looking or when adversity strikes? When under trial do they intentionally focus upon developing character that reveals to be a trustworthy leader? What is their track and what do they do in private to pursue character formation? “Circumstances do not determine your character; they reveal it and become the opportunity to refine it.” It is crucial that we never fall prey to the old canard that “perception is reality.” Perception is not reality. Perception is a part of reality but it is not reality. A crucial reminder – When electing public officials, we are not electing a Pastor. We are electing a President or state/local office bearer. Furthermore, it must be remembered that at times, God’s common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.
2. Content: Do they know their stuff?
While I fully understand the current climate manifested by a desire to elect an “outsider,” (which has proven effective at times in the past) the undeniable fact is that governing in the public square whether an “insider” or an “outsider” requires a clear and knowledgeable grasp of the issues and challenges attendant to the office being sought. I lament the loss of the “public servant” in our government but I also understand that men and women who serve as civil magistrates must know what needs to be done and how to get it done. It is imperative that they “know their stuff.” Have they demonstrated the ability to work with others while holding to principled positions?
3. Competency: Are they effective leaders?
Have they developed and displayed the skills to effectively lead others to achieve a noble mission together? In other words, can the proposed candidate produce unity when confronted by situations where a multiplicity of perspectives, a diversity of desires and a disparity of objectives are competing for supremacy?
4. Convictions: What are their heart-felt beliefs?
Attempting to ascertain a leader’s true convictions is a crucial component of deciding before the Lord if a candidate is worthy of our vote. Confessional convictions will ultimately be authenticated or exposed as superficial as a leader’s operational convictions are observed. For example, if you desire to know what a candidate truly believes, take note of where they invest their time, abilities and resources. Another instrument to determine a candidate’s true convictions is to note how he responds to adversity in life. Adversity is a test and a test reveals three things – what you know; what you don’t know; what you need to know. So when adversity comes, what does the candidate do – learn, or die in a pile of self-pity? When adversity tests a leader, their response will tell you what their deepest convictions are and give you an indicator of how they will respond to the “pressure cooker” of public service and the temptations of power.
5. Core: The foundation and capstone of candidate assessment.
So how do we assess the core of a candidate’s life and abilities and avoid being judgmental? The answer is simple, yet profound. A prayerful assessment of a candidate’s past provides clarity for interpreting a candidate’s promises in the present as well as anticipating how and what they will propose in the future. It is a truism because it is true. The best interpreter of the present and the best prognosticator of the future is a man’s past. Furthermore, by examining the history of a candidate to know their core you also obtain an effective instrument to assess the four preceding components of the paradigm. One’s history ultimately reveals the core of a candidate and in so doing brings light to determine the authenticity of their character, content, conviction, and competences. So, when assessing a candidate take the time to learn their past, to interpret their present and anticipate their future. But, it is also important to leave room for growth if the candidate’s history has revealed a patterned commitment to being a humble and intentional learner.
A Final Exhortation – Prayer
The simple fact is that the responsibility of selecting leaders for the public square is of such importance that they must never be made without focused seasons of intercessory prayer seeking guidance from God’s word and “wisdom from above.” In God’s Providence, many have died for us to have this privilege of voting. Use it wisely, and then, cast your vote under the eye of God.
Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama. This post was originally published on his blog.
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