In sixth grade I donned a “chili-bowl” haircut, named such because it looked like someone put a chili bowl on my head and cut off the excess hair. I thought it was the coolest haircut imaginable, but it wasn’t. In Spanish class my teacher used it as an illustration to teach us a new Spanish word, specifically how unique my haircut was. I felt like Chewbacca at a Beauty Salon Convention. I got a haircut the next day.
Sometimes things happen that challenge what we’ve always believed. A heart attack can make us realize we need to change our diet, or maybe we’re being used as an illustration in Spanish class. None of us have it all figured out, and we need to be willing to question how we’ve always done it, while simultaneously holding tightly to God’s Word.
The 2016 election elucidates this. Christians have struggled to support some earlier candidates, but never like this. Many are adamantly opposed to voting for either party’s leading candidate. Hillary, some say, was never a real option, and Trump, others say, is a donkey in elephant’s clothing. For some Trump isn’t their first choice, but “he is better than Hillary, and a non-vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary.”
While it’s true that not voting for Trump could put Hillary in the White House, how much solace can a Christian take in such an incentive? Should a Christian really have to vote for someone just because he isn’t Hillary? Moreover, is a Christian obligated to vote for his party’s candidate?
I once heard someone say that Christians who are Americans must consider the order of the two descriptors, suggesting that the rationale of our political choices is defined by the adjective that precedes the noun. And so we can either be an “American Christian” or a “Christian American.” If we say we are a “Christian American,” then we are saying we are Americans that happen to also be Christian, and our nationality is more important than our faith. But if we say we are “American Christians,” then we believe we are Christians who happen to also be Americans, and our faith is more important than our nationality.
Thus, the answer to the aforementioned questions might rest in how we understand the relationship between our faith and our nationality, namely, which word modifies the other.
Biblically, there is no directive that requires a Christian to vote for a party’s candidate. There is an encouragement to be involved in the voting process (Rom 13), and there are principles that guide us in how to vote, one of which is that we “ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). In this passage, some of the disciples wrestle with the Jerusalem government over the practice of their faith, and their response is that they were “Jewish Christians,” not “Christian Jews.” Their faith was more important than their nationality, and they were convinced that their status with God was far more important than their status as Jews; they were willing to go to jail for it.
American Christians have usually had a feasible option in at least one of the major parties—even if it meant holding one’s nose while voting—but there is usually enough respectability about the candidate that a Christian could vote for him without at the same time undermining his conscience. This, however, has produced a “yellow-dog” mentality for some Christians—the belief that Christians must vote for his party’s candidate, even if it is a yellow dog. This simply isn’t biblical. What is biblical is yellow dog Christianity, meaning that in whatever is happening politically, a Christian’s responsibility is first to God, not a political system. If forced to choose between a yellow-dog democrat and a yellow-dog Republican, a Christian should choose yellow-dog Christianity.
God never directs us to choose evil, even some “lesser” evil, but he does tell us to reject every kind of it (1 Thess 5:22).
Christians struggling with their 2016 presidential vote need to consider whether they are Christians who are American or Americans who are Christian, and then vote in a way compatible with living on the new earth with an eternal God, more so than living on the present earth under a temporary president. Moreover, Christians shouldn’t feel obligated to vote for one of the two major candidates, and Christians shouldn’t pressure other Christians to do so. This should be the case with every election, but this particular election has forced us to rethink the issue. So let’s do our American duty and vote, but let’s allow our Christianity to trump our Americanism, because this is the “trump” that matters most.