In the spring of 2015 an Amtrak passenger train in Philadelphia was speeding more than 100 mph down the track when it hit the Frankford Junction curve in an area where the speed limit is 50 mph. Because of the excess speed the train derailed, and sadly the disaster resulted in the deaths of eight people and injured hundreds more.
As investigators began trying to make sense of the wreckage they came upon two critical pieces of evidence. First, they concluded that the accident could have been avoided if that train would have been properly equipped with a technology called, “positive train control” which automatically slows a speeding train as it comes upon turns in the track. Second, investigators said the other and more glaring cause was “the human factor” which is code for the engineer was not paying attention while at the helm.[i]
In many respects, I believe that unfortunate incident is parable for the current direction of our country. We are a runaway train speeding toward a precipice and the engineers aren’t making any moves to apply the brakes to slow us down before it’s too late. There are many in this nation who can see that “we the people” are headed in a dangerous direction, but feel helpless to effect any real change that would bring us back from the brink.
Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Wall Street columnist recently captured the angst of so many in these uncertain times, “I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it’s a subtext in our society. I think a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley is off the tacks.”[ii]
Another keen mind who studied the rise and fall of nations down through the ages has distilled the life cycle of a nation like this:
“The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From Bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to complacency; From complacency to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.”[iii]
If that assessment of history is correct then you can clearly see that the current trend has our nation sliding back into bondage. With each election cycle that passes the stakes for our country are only raised higher, just as a speeding train eventually runs out of viable track.
I understand your anxiety. I also feel your frustration. Every four years we go through a grueling series of campaigns and then we are finally presented with the lesser of two evils when it comes to a presidential candidate. If you are like me then you find yourself voting against a candidate, rather than for a candidate. We are choosing which candidate will do the least amount of damage while in office—whether candidate A will slow down the train or whether candidate B will put the pedal to metal and accelerate us faster toward a collision.
As we take part in the election process I have felt compelled as your pastor to present what I believe are the essential biblical guidelines for how our faith interacts with politics. I am not telling you who to vote for, nor am I endorsing a particular candidate, but I am telling you that the Word of God should shape our hearts and minds more than any political rhetoric or party.
1. We are called to participate in the process (Matt. 5:13-16).
There are some in the Christian community who do not think that the church should get involved in the political process at all. Picture the ostrich with his head shoved in the sand. They say, “Politics is dirty and corrupt, we should focus just on preaching the Gospel and not get entangled in the affairs of government.” The problem with this approach is that it sounds pious, but really it actually compartmentalizes Christ between our private beliefs and public behavior.
Moreover, Jesus has called us to be “salt and light” in a decaying and dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). Salt is meant to slow the rate of decay. Light is intended to drive back the darkness. We cannot fulfill Jesus’ commands if we say that certain areas of life are “off-limits” to the Gospel.
God has called us to be salt and light in every endeavor—in our families, workplaces, schools, and even where our faith intersects with government. Besides it makes no sense for us as Christians to say, “We should obey the law, but let’s leave the lawmaking up to the pagans.” Moreover, our young men and women in the military give their limbs and their lives to ensure our freedom, and yet most won't even vote! That’s inexcusable; no wonder we are in a mess.
In the 2008 presidential election approximately 40% of the 208 million eligible voters stayed home. George Gallup estimates that about 40% of the electorate is evangelicals. Given that there is no evidence that the evangelical turnout is greater than the rest of the population that means that nearly 30 million Christians did not vote in the 2008. Obama’s victory was considered a landslide because he won by about 10 million votes.
My point is not that “had more Christians voted they could have kept Obama out of the White House (not all evangelicals vote straight down party lines),” but that Christians have the ability to heavily influence an election, which determines the direction of our nation. But we can’t have that impact if we’ve decided that our vote doesn’t really count in the long-run.[iv]
Some have said, “Well, I don’t vote because I’m just one person and I can’t make a difference.” Tell that to Al Gore who lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush by less than 600 votes.
Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
We are to preserve our nation from premature decay and closing darkness by standing as God people against the advancement of evil. God has given Christians in democratic countries a unique way to be salt and light that the earliest Christians did not enjoy. We have been granted freedom to choose leaders that will advance righteousness or unrighteousness.
The alternative of Christians being passive, apathetic or uninvolved in the political process is demonstrable and frightening. Dr. Jeff Meyers noted that during the 20th century atheistic leaders (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) gained control of nations all across Europe, Asia and Africa and the result was that, “Almost 170 million men, women and children were shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned starved, frozen, crushed, or burned to death by tyrannical regimes.”[v] Evil triumphs when Christians fold their hands and do nothing.
2. Before we go to the polls we should pray. (1 Tim 2:1-3)
Maybe the greatest thing that we can do in this political process is pray for the leaders of our nation and that God would raise up men and woman of faith who would run for office. If those in power aren’t saved we should pray for their salvation. Paul admonished us in this way:
“1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior . . .”
Understand that the Apostle Paul is writing this instruction to his protégé Timothy at a time when the vile emperor Nero was at the helm of the vast Roman Empire. At this time, Christians were viciously persecuted, tortured and killed for sport in the Roman colosseum.
Prayer for those in authority will create better social conditions favorable to the preaching of the Gospel. The prayers of those first century Christians must have made a difference because within a matter of a few decades the Gospel went from being oppressed to transforming the world’s most powerful empire. Paul understood that smallest man or woman on their knees before a Sovereign God was more effective than the mightiest Caesar sitting on the throne.
Emma Daniel Gray died on June 8, 2009, at the age of 95. There was a big story about her in the Washington Post because for 24 years she was the woman who cleaned the office of the President of the United States. She served six presidents till she retired in 1979. What made the story even more interesting was that Mrs. Gray was a devout Christian. She would stand and pray over the President's chair each time she dusted it—her cleaning supplies in one hand, the other on the chair. She'd pray for blessings, wisdom, and safety for the man in the Oval Office.[vi]
3. Our vote should be shaped by biblical principles.
Jesus is not a Democrat, a Republican, Libertarian or Independent. We should never give-in to the rhetoric that one party or another is the “Christian party.” When it comes to voting we should not be swayed by our geographical location—whether we live in a red or blue state. We should not be persuaded by our political affiliation—how you are registered doesn’t matter. We should not vote based on our racial identification, nor should be we tied to our union obligation. Instead, our vote should be primarily influenced by our biblical convictions.
Allow me suggest a few non-negotiable items that should be paramount when we vote.
· Sanctity of human life (Ps. 139:13-14)
Americas would never put themselves on the same level as Nazi Germany which eradicated 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, America is the world’s leading practitioner of abortion and has extinguished nearly 9 times as many lives as the Nazis since Roe v. Wade. Someone has calculated that if we observed one minute of silence for every child aborted since 1973 then we would stand silent for a little over 98 years. It is inconceivable that any Bible-believing Christian could support a candidate who morally has no problem with the mass murdering the unborn.
· Traditional marriage (Matt. 19:4-6)
Marriage between one man and one woman is the basic building block of society. When you undermine the biblical model of marriage then you are also attacking the foundation of civilization. The current administration endorsed SSM and celebrated the homosexual agenda by bathing the White House in the colors of the gay flag. This disgraceful act once again legalized what God called an abomination and the five Supreme Court justices that voted in favor of the ruling may have chiseled the date June 26, 2015 into America’s headstone as the day we as a nation died. Therefore, we cannot support a candidate that promotes the destruction of traditional marriage and the family.
· Religious liberty (Ps. 33:12)
Psalm 33:12 says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” War has been declared on Christianity in our nation. We have seen the Ten Commandments taken down from civic buildings, prayer taken out of schools, Christian business sued and fined and even some public officials put in jail because they would not compromise their faith. We must vote for a candidate who is going to champion our first amendment right to the freedom of religious expression. Just listen to words of a few great American presidents on this.
George Washington set the tone as our first president declaring, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”[vii]
Consider the words of John Adams, the nation’s second president, “The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, were the general principles of Christianity.”[viii]
Woodrow Wilson in 1911 said, “The Bible is the supreme source of revelation and meaning of life, the nature of God and the spiritual nature and needs of man. It is the only guide of life which really leads the spirit in the way of peace and salvation. America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the Holy Scriptures.”[ix]
Ronald Reagan, “If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, we will be a nation gone under.”
· Pro-Israel (Gen. 12:1-3)
God’s foreign policy statement for any gentile nation is found in Gen. 12:1-3, known as the Abrahamic covenant. God clearly explains that He has a chosen people—the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people who have had their own sovereign state Israel since 1948. If we as a nation want to be blessed by God then we need a president who is going to bless God’s people, not bully them or make deals with Islamic nations who want to destroy Israel.
· Character and integrity (Ex. 18:21).
Listen to advice that Jethro gave Moses when he was selecting elders to help him judge the Israelites. “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens” (Ex. 18:21). Those basic qualifications are enough to rule out 90% of the candidates. As Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.”
4. Understand God has a sovereign plan and purpose (Dan. 2:20-21)
In the book of Daniel 2:20-21 the prophet is given many panoramic visions of the rise and fall of future nations, including a preview of the last days just before the return of Christ. Daniel reminds us as he interprets these amazing prophecies who is really in charge of world politics:
“20 Daniel answered and said: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding . . .”
As of this moment, God is moving the chess pieces on the board of world politics. He is setting the stage and putting all the props and characters into place for the curtain to rise and the final act of His divine drama to be played out as it was written down in advance so many years ago.
If this election doesn’t go the way that we want it to, we should not lose heart because I’m not looking for a politician to solve this country’s problems. We cannot rely on sinful men and women to balance the scales of justice, or create a program to end poverty, or bring about lasting world peace, or even to make sure that our freedom to preach the Gospel is secure. No matter the outcome on March 15 or in November God is still sovereignly running things.
My hope is not government, but in God. I don’t look to the Supreme Court for my moral compass but to the Suffering Savior. I’m a dual citizen of America, but more so of the New Jerusalem. Down here I must render unto Caesar what is his, but my real allegiance is to the nail-scarred King of Kings who told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” I’m not looking to the party of the elephant or the donkey, but to the Lamb of God who has dead but is now alive forever more and returning in power and glory to rule and reign in complete righteousness.
The issue is not, “Do you think God is finished with America?” That’s the wrong question. The right question is: “Is America finished with God?” Although we may not be able to stop the decay of our nation we can be salt and light and delay that destruction. We can’t save America, but we can save Americans by living out the Gospel. By acting as a preservative in a decaying culture we may be able to buy some more time for those who still have not repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Savior before God’s period has ended and the Tribulation begins.
Given that our time is limited and our nation in peril we ought to be doing all that we can, wherever God has placed us to be His faithful witnesses.
The legacy of Billy Graham is permanently cemented in our nation’s history as “the pastor to the presidents.” From Truman to Obama, Dr. Graham did his best to exert a godly influence on our nation’s leaders, despite their political position. Some listened to his direction, others didn’t. Perhaps, Graham influenced one president more than any other—George W. Bush. According to his own words George Bush invited Dr. Graham to spend a weekend with the Bush family. During a fireside chat, Graham presented the Gospel. Here is the 43st president’s account of the events:
“He didn’t lecture or admonish; he shared with warmth and concern. Billy Graham didn’t make you feel guilty; he made you feel loved. Over the course of that weekend, Reverend Graham planted a mustard seed in my soul, a seed that grew over the next year. He led me to the path and I began walking. It was the beginning of a change in my life.”[x]
We may not have the ear of the president, but God has given us a sphere of influence so that we can be ambassadors of Christ first and patriots second. Dr. Graham is good examples for us, of not letting politics get in the way of our true mission of sharing the Gospel with a lost world.
[i] Eyder Peralta, “Positive Train Control: The Tech That Could've Prevented Amtrak Derailment,” NPR, 14 May 2015 <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/05/14/406652406/positive-train-control-the-tech-that-couldve-prevented-amtrak-derailment>
[ii] Mark Hitchcock, The Late Great United States (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), vii.
[iii] Ibid., 35.
[iv] Robert Jeffress, Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Worthy Publishing: Brentwood, TN, 2011), 120.
[v] Ibid., 122.
[vi] Patricia Sullivan, “’Christian Lady’ Cleaned for 6 Presidents,” The Washington Post, 21 June 2009
[vii] David Jeremiah, What in the World Is Going On? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 126.
[viii] Robert Jeffress, Hell? Yes! And Other Outrageous Truths You Can Still Believe (Colorado Springs: Water Brook, 2004), 173-174.
[ix] Jeremiah, 127.
[x] Michael G. Long, The Legacy of Billy Graham (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press), 29.