With the November elections drawing near, the campaigning has reached a crescendo pitch. Ads promoting (or more often, condemning) candidates make up what seems to be the majority of the commercials on TV. Our post office boxes are filled with campaign flyers. And driving past the Eagle County building, with its thick jungle of campaign yard signs, is more distracting than cell phone texting. Regardless of the signs and slogans, there's one issue that drives the votes of millions of people in our nation: their faith. Which raises the question among many: What role should faith play in an election?
You don't have to look long or hard to find churches and religious leaders throwing their weight behind certain candidates. This is true on both sides of the political spectrum. The threat of losing tax-exempt status doesn't seem to deter many in the faith in community. As a Christian pastor, I find this trend disturbing.
Jesus made it clear what he expects of his Church: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them ... and teaching them" (Matthew 28:19,20). The ultimate goal of Christians and Christian churches is (or ought to be) winning hearts and souls for Christ. The tool God gave his Church to accomplish this goal is the gospel - the good news of our Savior and our salvation.
The purpose of the government is very different. Unlike the Church, the government's concern revolves around behavior, not faith. St. Paul wrote, "He (that is, the government) is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). God expects the government to maintain order, protect its citizens, and see to it that we can live our lives in relative safety and peace. The tool he gave the government to carry this out are laws and the enforcement of laws.
Christian voters would be wise to keep these differences in mind. We should not expect our church to tell us whom to vote for; we dare not expect our elected officials to carry out the job God gave his Church.
That's not to say that we should leave our faith behind when we enter the voting booth. If we're sincere in our beliefs, of course they will influence our opinions and decisions in all areas of life, including politics. Christians, like anyone else, ought to vote their consciences. And the Christian's conscience will naturally be influenced by his or her faith. But let's be careful - very careful -that we not confuse the role of church and state at election time or any other time.
Then, regardless of which candidates are elected, let us cheerfully obey what God commands us: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Timothy 2:1,2).
- Brent Merten is pastor of Mountain Valley Lutheran Church, 802 Brush Creek Terrace, Eagle.